You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. You are probably familiar with this old adage. My mother had her own version of this adage every time she wanted to drill into our heads the importance of following etiquette rules. “Good manners can cover a multitude of sins”, she used to say. So my siblings and I grew up having great regard for etiquette rules. However, etiquette rules vary from culture to culture. Etiquette rules that are observed in one culture may be frowned upon in another. Thus, when I first moved from Cameroon (a country in central Africa) to the United States, I had to learn to navigate the rules of etiquette of this new culture while giving up some of mine.

Here are 15 etiquette rules I was raised to observe. Most of these are still observed in Cameroon and other parts of Africa.

Sitting Rules

  1. In Cameroon, it is considered rude to cross your legs while sitting amongst elders. This also applies to a woman sitting among men. However, in the United States, it is very common to see women sitting legs crossed.
  2. Always give up your seat to your elders or to pregnant women. Men are generally expected to surrender their seats to women. Most Africans would remember receiving a few smacks for not getting up fast enough at the approach of an elder.

Eye Contact

  1. In Cameroon as in most parts of Africa, eye contact with a superior (in age or rank) is considered a sign of disrespect or defiance. In most Western cultures, however, eye contact is highly recommended and used to indicate interest or self-confidence.


  1. In some communities in Cameroon, it is common, even expected to acknowledge everyone you pass on the street with a greeting or a nod. After a few weeks of living in the U.S, it was easy to see why I might’ve seemed weird to most Americans as I greeted everybody I passed on the streets.
  2. When entering a room or a gathering, it is expected that the newcomer greet everyone there, even shake hands with each individual present.

Eating Rules

  1. Like most cultures, talking while eating is considered bad manners. However in Cameroon as in most African cultures, eating with the left hand is considered rude. The left hand is considered unclean and should not be used to eat. Even left-handed persons have to compromise during meals and eat with the right hand.

Handshake Rules

  1. In Cameroon, it is rude to initiate a handshake with a superior. Always wait for the superior or older person to extend their hand first. This has been a hard rule to shake off. Unfortunately, observing it may make you come off as aloof to an American.

  1. Also, a handshake with a superior is done with both hands. The left hand should lightly grip the wrist or forearm of the right hand while bowing your head slightly to show respect or deference to the superior. Such behavior might, however, be considered strange in the United States.

Communication Rules

  1. Like many countries in Africa and some parts of Asia, the Cameroonian culture is a high-context culture. It is considered bad form to criticise, insult or disapprove of someone openly. Facial expression, tone of voice, and other non-verbal hints are commonly used to show disapproval. Subtlety is viewed as an art form when bringing up sensitive subjects.
  2. In many parts of Africa, it is expected that women be addressed respectfully as “Sister”, “Aunty” or “Mama (or its equivalent)” depending on how much older than you they are in informal settings. Older men are also addressed as “Brother”, “Uncle” or “Daddy”.

Other Etiquette Rules

  1. In Cameroon, it is considered offensive to use the word “heavy” even in jest when referring to the weight of a person. “Heavy” is reserved for inanimate objects and dead bodies. I still remember the first time I picked up my baby cousin and joked about how heavy he had gotten. I got several disapproving looks from those present.
  2. In most parts of Africa, stepping over other people’s legs or feet, especially if they are superior, is considered rude. Better to walk around them. Also, stepping over a person while they’re lying down is considered disrespectful.

  1. Gifts are given and received with the right hand only or with both hands. Using the left hand to receive gifts is highly offensive. This is one of the big ones. You can never go wrong with observing this rule wherever you find yourself.
  2. In North Western Cameroon, when sharing a bottle of wine or liquor, the person who drinks the last of it has to replace it with a new bottle of wine. It is the Cameroonian version of the expression: You break it, you buy it. Thus, if you can’t afford to buy a new bottle, be sure to leave a little bit of wine in the old bottle.

  1. Puddle- or mud-splashing passers-by is considered very rude. Most Cameroonians who splash someone while driving would stop, apologise and even offer to cover the cost of dry-cleaning.


Remember to follow these rules the next time you visit Cameroon or other parts of Africa. Cameroonians are somewhat formal, so you could never go wrong with formal behavior.

Do any of these rules apply where you live? We would love to read your thoughts on these and other etiquette rules that apply in different parts of the world. Please leave us a comment!

Image Credits: pexel.com


About the Author


Serah Nkealah grew up in Cameroon, a country in central Africa. She nurtured her love of writing by pursuing a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from one of the country’s universities. It was while working as a travel agent in Cameroon that her fascination with cultural diversity around the world was ignited. Amidst helping people with their travel arrangements, she always found time to research different cultures. Since moving to the United States, Serah has had the pleasure of meeting people of diverse cultural backgrounds in Lawton, Oklahoma. She is currently pursuing a degree in Business.


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