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Etiquette in Tunisia

By: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 18 Jan 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Etiquette In Tunisia

Tunisia is located in North Africa on the Mediterranean coast between Algeria and Libya. Although Tunisia is predominantly Muslim it can be a land of surprising contrasts. A little unpredictability makes for adventurous travel, but sometimes the uncertainty can trip up even the most culturally sensitive tourist. The best advice in situations like these is to move just slowly enough to let the local residents take the lead.

Language & Gestures

For example, shaking hands is a fairly typical greeting in Tunisia--between individuals of the same sex. If you're a man greeting a man, shaking hands should be fine. However, if you're a man being introduced to a woman, you should wait for her to make the first move. If she extends her hand, then you can offer a gentle handshake. But if she doesn't make a move, then you should just stick to a respectful nod.

Arabic is the official language of Tunisia, but French is still widely spoken and understood throughout most of the country. Any traveller with a good command of French will have no trouble navigating the highways and back roads of Tunisia. But the savvy tourist will be armed with a few polite Arabic phrases. Being able to sprinkle these into your conversation will ensure a smile and appreciative nod from the locals.

Family is very significant to the residents of Tunisia. Even casual greetings are paced to allow time to exchange stories about the latest family events. Inquiring about family is a perfect way to create instant rapport with your driver or guide.

Dining and Gift Giving

Contrary to many Western customs, it's not really appropriate to open a gift when it's received in Tunisia. One can only assume that this custom arose to avoid any chance of communicating disappointment to the gift giver. If you give a gift, don't be surprised if it is put away without opening. When you receive a gift, don't tear into it immediately.If you happen to be invited to a local home for dinner (perhaps resulting from that instant rapport you developed above), you should take a gift to the host. Food items like cake, nuts, candy, pastries and fruit are always well-received. Unless you know for a fact that your host drinks, you should avoid taking alcohol as a hospitality gift.

However be aware that you can't always assume that an invitation to someone's home automatically extends to your spouse as well. Conservative Tunisians still entertain only in same-sex groupings. If you’re in doubt, just ask to clarify.

Many traditional meals in Tunisia will start with the passing of a washbasin, used for washing your hands before eating. Your best bet for flawless tourist etiquette during meals is to always keep your eye on the host. Take your cue from their actions, and don't do anything before you see them doing it.

As is the case in all Muslim cultures and most non-Western cultures, never use your left hand for eating (or for much of anything else for that matter). Eat with your right hand only, with your left hand resting in your lap under the table (if there is a table). The meal will end in the same way it began, with the passing of a wash basin.

When entering anyone's home in Tunisia, be prepared to remove your shoes. If you see a collection of shoes by the front door, there's no need to ask. A polite host will always encourage you to leave your shoes on if you ask, even if they're horrified inside. Better to just be observant and follow the lead of those around you.

Shopping

When you're shopping in Tunisian markets, haggling over the price is a core element of social etiquette. However, don't start haggling if you have no intention of buying. Keep things on the level of good-natured banter. There's no need to get hot under the collar and start detracting from the worth of the item. Make the dealing fun and friendly. Who knows - you might even end up being invited to dinner.

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I would like to know why it is obligatory for a tourist to bring gifts when visiting Tunisia. I recently went to Tunisia to visit my fiancé with our daughter whom he was going to meet for the first time. I paid for the entire trip and the pocket money was also mine. Money is tight considering he just starteda government job and had not received a salary yet. Even knowing how tight money was, I was told that it is obligatory to bring his entire family mother father brother three sisters who live in their own home,grandparents, 4 aunts (mother's side) who live together gifts. Not cheap ones either. They even asked for gifts and came to see me when I was there and asked for them before even saying hello to me! I ended up spending a total of over 700 dinars on gifts to bring there which took up 3/4 of the allowable 46kg weight between two checked suitcases for the plane. I couldnt even bring enough clothes for my daughter and Ito wear for our trip of only 10 days. We had to wash and wear. And that was deemed necessary as per my Tunisian Fiancé. Once there, I gave his mother her gifts. $45 bottle of skin cream she asked for, $35 bottle of eau de perfu, chocolates, jewellery, 4 scarves, slippers, 2 long skirts and she asked my fiancé (her son) if there were more gifts that I hadn't unpacked yet. When he said no that she received everything I brought for her, she wasn't satisfied. She wanted more and told him I was cheap!!!! Even everyone knowing money is tight for me, we went visiting to the rest of his family. (His dad's sisters) for one example. We were going there uninvited. They had no idea we were coming. He said we had to bring gifts. He ended up buying yogurts, juice, cookies, fruits, veggies, 3 1.5L of pop, he spent 30 dinars just for a 30 minute visit. I want to know why it is obligatory to do such things. I am not a bank. I am caring for his daughter, his parent's grandaughter, his grandparent's great grandaughter his brother and sisters niece, his aunts great-niece all by myself and paying this trip all by myself as well. This fact is not hidden. Everyone there knows this! So knowing this, Why isn't enough just for being able to meet and see my daughter for the first time and to see me again? Why isn't the money I spent for travel ($2,000 i spent 8 months to save), the 20 hours of travel, 4 airplanes not considered enough of a gift for them!? Why is it that material things mean the most and the more you bring the better you are? I have seen this with many people not just myself. Almost if not all Tunisians are like this. Why do Tunisians do this? When is it enough? Is anything ever enough!?!?
Topaz - 18-Jan-17 @ 6:53 PM
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