If you’d seen a recent article in Matador, an online travel magazine that boosts having won travel journalism excellence awards and big brand partnerships with organizations such as CNN, National Geographic and Google, you’d have asked the same thing. WTF? It was not the first piece I’ve seen that has overlooked African and I am sure it will not be the last, but it left me scratching my head, dreaming of the delicious African dishes I have had, and wishing for so much more.
The article in question, Mapped: Tipping Customs Across the World, offered a handy world map that let viewers know whether tipping was expected in each country, or if it varied and they should first check their bill—it wanted to make readers aware and culturally sensitize them to local practices. Red colored countries signaled Tips are Expected, black Tips are Not Expected, and blue Check Your Bill. Hover over each country and you get a pop-up with more information, what percentage you should tip, if it will be listed on the receipt, how to handle the tip and so on. A pretty useful resource for the world traveler. The only problem was that Africa (with the exception of Morocco, Egypt, and South Africa) was left blank—no color, no information. It is as if we do not exist, create, eat, or tip.
By the time I saw the article through Facebook, it was already receiving criticism from people who live in or travelled to parts of the continent and have enjoyed plenty of African dining experiences that I am sure included some form of tipping etiquette. Others pointed out that the author could have easily searched sites such as The Lonely Planet Travel or Trip Advisor to get some information. Alternatively, the author could have even started start with this CNN article, 15 of Africa’s Favorite Dishes, to get an idea of restaurant owners to reach for research on tipping practices in Namibia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Mozambique, and other places.
Not too long ago, an American cooking competition show featured a Zimbabwean chef who made what looked like a fine Sadza Nehuku Nemuriwo dish. Her collard greens were in a peanut sauce—yum, one of my favorite dishes. However, I was a little perplexed when the judges proceeded to tell her that peanut sauces did not go with vegetables. One mentioned that such sauces are combined meats like chicken in Asian dishes, but not vegetables! Rubbish, I thought. This article reminded me of that, of overlooking an entire continent.
This left me wishing that African countries, or even regional blocks, had more of their own institutions for promoting culture. Particularly, cultural institutions abroad that focus of cuisine and food. Food is so central to cultural expression and understanding: everyone eats, using the resources are around them, preparation practices that have been passed down, and customs that have developed in each community. There are no blank spots, especially for world travellers.