Lifestyle and Culture in Western Sahara

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Learn about Western Sahara and its cultural history!

Western Sahara has a bucketful of surprising tourist attractions and things to do for those that decide to venture off the sandy shores. This is North Africa wrapped up into one bite-sized package, with vast Sahara sands, mammoth ancient ruins, and exotic cities that are home to a sprawling tangle of souks.

From 1884 to 1975, Western Sahara remained a de facto colony of Spain. In 1973, the Polisario Front, an abbreviation of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro, a rebel national activist movement, was established to free Western Sahara and end Spanish colonization. Thus Western Sahara was established.

Culture and Etiquette

Nothing is so embarrassing as being caught-up between deciding how to behave and not having the chance to do so especially if you’re in a foreign land! We understand that studying abroad can be a life-changing experience and, should you choose Western Sahara, our RocApply tips and guides will enhance what will already be a wonderful trip by helping you also understand the culture and etiquette in Western Sahara. The country’s culture is one of the most distinct and unique in the northern region of Africa. 

Hospitality has a long history of tradition in Western Sahara where the guests are treated with deep courtesy and given the best possible treatment from the host. Being proud of this tradition we recommend you to follow some rules that follow: 

When Greeting

Man greeting Man - Men shake hands when greeting one another and usually kiss once on each cheek if they’re good friends or family. Handshakes tend to be warm and may linger a bit. If you don’t know someone at all or are in a formal setting, a handshake or a simple nod is adequate.  

Woman greeting Woman- A light handshake is common during initial meetings. Good friends and family usually greet each other with kisses, once on each cheek, pay attention to the ‘once’!. If you don’t know someone at all or are in a formal setting, a handshake or a simple nod is appropriate. 

Greetings between Men and Women- A simple handshake is common during first meetings. It’s best to allow the woman to extend her hand or offer her cheek first. If the hand is not extended, then a slight bow or nod is the kind thing for men to do. Good friends and family usually greet each other with kisses, once on each cheek. When greeting friends, it is is not uncommon to ask how the family is doing and touch on other general topics. 

Eye Contact   

  • Direct eye contact is a sign of respect and one should certainly make eye contact when being introduced. 
  • Many people here may avoid making direct eye contact when speaking with elders or superiors. This is viewed as a sign of respect and deference. 

Many Western Saharan 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.


  • Flattening your hand with the palm down and wiggling it slightly is a common way to imply, “so-so.”
  • Tipping your hat, even if you are not wearing one, means “bravo” or “congrats.”
  • Placing your right hand on your chest is a common gesture meaning either “thank you” or is used during greetings to express “thanks be to god.”

Gift Giving     

  • If invited to a Western Saharan household, it is common to bring a small hostess gift, such as pastries, flowers, or fruits. 
  • It is best to not bring alcohol unless you are absolutely certain that the host drinks.


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