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 & GesturesFor 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 GivingContrary 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.