This article describes some of the 20 most common mistakes foreigners make when they visit Tunisia. Being aware of them is useful so that they can be avoided.
1. Thinking World War 3 has started out. When really it’s a just Tunisians having what to them is a perfectly normal, a little heated, discussion. Don’t panic. They’ll go for lunch together and carry on as normal.
2. Thinking you can use your bank card to pay for anything. You won’t be able to use your Credit Card that much in Tunisia. Carry on some cash with you.
3. Telling someone off for smoking on a covered space. Remarkably Tunisian cafés are basically allowed to build indoor terraces where smoking is allowed. You will just have to put up with it.
4. Leaving a polite space between you and the person in front of you while waiting in a queue. A Tunisian person will take advantage of it and cut right in there. Get cozy and closer. Keep your spot.
5. Showing up early to a dinner party. It’s quite unpleasant in Tunisia to catch your host unawares by showing early. It’s much better to give them a bit of wiggle room and get there a respectable 15 minutes late.
6. Stepping out on to a pedestrian crossing as soon as the green light appears. Don’t do it. At least two cars are likely to have gone through the red light. Be safe.
7. Getting in a huff when there’s no ice in your drink. This can be a tough one specially for Americans who expect ice in their water or soda even on the most frigid winter’s day. Tunisians really don’t understand this tendency, so if you want ice you’ll have to specifically ask for it, and even then, don’t get your hopes up.
8. Calling an administration office at 9am or at lunch time. Of course they’re not there or they won’t pick up. Try between 10AM and 12PM and then 2PM and 4PM to be safe. Forget calling in July, August and during Ramadan.
9. Not greeting everyone individually at a dinner party or café. As a foreigner, you might get away with an awkward wave to the whole group for a while, but if you really want to integrate, just suck it up and go round each person kissing, unless they are of the older generation in which case a handshake might do.
10. Going to the cinema and expecting the movie to be in the original language. You might be in for a surprise if you didn’t check the cinema’s movie details and you find yourself watching an American movie dubbed in French or Arabic.
11. Spending way too much time in Hotel. If you’re in Tunisia as a tourist, feel free to go out and experience the country as a local. You’ll definitely regret not spending enough time doing interesting experiences.
12. Entering a store and staying silent. We have a custom in Tunisia whereby when you enter a shop or a café, you say a general ‘Asslema’ or ‘Bonjour’ to everyone there, no one in particular. This means “hello – I’m here.“ and is considered the polite way to ask for attention if you want to be served.
13. Tipping very heavily. While it’s good to tip for certain service, tipping is optional in Tunisia. If you tip very heavily, you probably won’t be provided with a superior service.
14. Going to the supermarket half-naked. In some countries going to the supermarket can just be done in your sleeping clothes (looking at you America, love you) but in many Mediterranean countries, this can be seen as quite inappropriate.
15. Don’t assume they can’t understand what you’re saying. Most of Tunisians understand several languages.
16. Not layering up. “The weather change like my wife’s mood” is a spot-on summary of Tunisian climate and weather. Always go with layers that you can strip if the weather warms up, or layers that you can add if the temperature plummets.
17. Expecting public transportation to run on time. You should never ever rely on public transpiration in Tunisia. Got no car? Best way to move around is with a taxi.
18. Not minding where you keep your wallets. Tunisia is relatively safe. But pickpockets are not non-existent.
19. Eating too close to major tourist sites. You probably won’t find real food. Prices are going to be significantly cheaper elsewhere in most cities.
20. Taking prices at face value. You’re expected to negotiate when shopping in markets.
Suggested Read: Life in Tunisia: What It’s Really Like — The Pros and Cons
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