Arabic in culture and tradition, Tunisia is nevertheless one of the more liberal and tolerant Muslim countries; women choose whether or not to wear the headscarf – Habib Bourguiba, the country’s first president, was opposed to women wearing the veil, calling it an ‘odious rag’. The Tunisians’ varied origins are shown in the country’s architecture, crafts, music and food.
The family is the most significant unit of Tunisian life and plays an important role in all social relations. The individual is always subordinate to the family or group. The family consists of both the nuclear and the extended family.
Dress can be informal but it is appreciated by locals if visitors dress with decorum and avoid wearing skimpy clothing, especially outside the main resorts. Visitors should respect the conventions of Islam when visiting religious monuments (shoulders and knees must be covered).
As in many Mediterranean countries, time is viewed loosely in Tunisia. Being punctual to class, parties, coffee dates or a meeting is not a common occurrence.
Meeting & Greeting
Tunisians take their time during greetings to converse about their families, friends, and other general topics. Handshakes are the customary greeting among individuals of the same sex. In any greeting between men and women, the woman must extend her hand first. If she does not, a man should simply bow his head in acknowledgement.
At parties or other social gatherings your hosts will introduce you, usually starting with the women and then moving on to the men in a rough approximation of age order, oldest to youngest. Greet and say good-bye to each person individually.
Tunisians are generally direct in their communication style but are not confrontational. One should never criticise another publicly as it can cause shame on oneself and one’s family. As gracious hosts, it tends to be hard for Tunisians to say no, so in this regard they are not direct and would rather appear to agree with you rather than overtly state their disagreement.
Tunisians are generally quite close to each other when speaking. Less than an arm’s length between strangers is normal, for example, a normal distance to maintain is as if you are sitting next to each other on an airplane. This distance tends to be greater when speaking with members of the opposite sex. Touching during conversations is acceptable if you know the person otherwise, touching is reserved for family members. There tends to be more touching between people of the same gender. It is taboo for religiously observant men to touch women and vice-versa.
Direct eye contact is a sign of respect and one should certainly make eye contact when being introduced. Many Tunisians may avoid making direct eye contact when speaking with elders or superiors. This is viewed as a sign of respect and deference. Many women will avoid direct eye contact with men they don’t know or have just met. It is polite for men in this case to not attempt to establish eye contact.
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