Try to read something about the local way of life before departure. That way you will not be too surprised about the primitive circumstances in which people sometimes live. It will increase the chance that you will enjoy your trip. Try to look at everything that is there rather than wondering too long about the things that may be lacking.
Manners: In general, South Africa has European standards in this area. However, if you want to have a truly open conversation about serious topics like Mugabe or Aids, be aware of racial sensitivities following white minority rule. Do not be surprised if people take a harsh or avoiding stance towards people of different skin. Keep in mind painful things have happened and it has only been a short time since the South African power balance changed (1994) or Namibia gained independence (1990).
This applies all the way up to Etosha. Of course, there are enormous cultural differences between Europeans and the different tribes in the area. This shouldn’t lead to misunderstandings though. A number of black tribes will bow their heads in respect to older people when they address them. This can strike us as avoiding eye contact, but it is intended to show respect!
Begging: In the big cities, beggars will definitely approach you. They will ask you for money, soap or pens. Sometimes they want sweets. Some beggars immediately mention the sum required of you. By giving them money, you will not solve their problems. More likely, it will make them more dependent on this type of income. Shoestring on principle never gives money to children, at most we give them fruit or something else to eat. When children bring in money from begging, their parents will not send them to school. It is generally acceptable to give money to the old and the handicapped. The real stories behind the beggars are diverse. Few are really begging for food, most of them are begging to pay for their place in a shelter or a home. Besides, there are increasing numbers of alcohol and drug addicts in the cities. Best is to donate money to a reputable charity.
Presents: During some of our trips, it is possible to visit a school or some other kind of institution. In this case, blackboard crayons, exercise books and pens are a very welcome gift. On the way, you will meet people who want something from you. Remember that ‘to get something, give something’ applies in Africa as well. If somebody does something for you (washes your clothes or poses for a picture), you are free to give something like a pen or a t-shirt in return (besides money). Even souvenirs can be swapped for clothes, but keep in mind that a t-shirt cannot buy food.
Buying and bargaining: Potential souvenirs are sisal baskets, jewellery and utensils from different tribes, woodcarvings, gourds and batik. And how about a pair of sandals made from a worn out tyre? In Africa, it is normal to bargain for a better price. Negotiating usually happens in a happy, lively manner. The seller might start at a price that is three to five times higher than the final price. Determine in advance how much you want to pay. This way a certain amount of theatre will get you to a fair price. Stop before things start looking grim, the salesperson might not be in the same negotiating position as you. Good luck!
Always remember that you are a guest in a country where other conventions are observed. They are not deviant; you are the one that is different.