Eritreans are courteous, friendly, and soft-spoken people who may maintain their distance from outsiders owing to the language barrier. If you are contacted by an English speaker, try to keep the discussion light and utilize common sense. Avoid showing contempt, arrogance, or harsh criticism of the country’s culture, religion, or politics, but most people will be understanding of your “mistakes” since you are a passing stranger. Don’t forget that you’re in a police state!
Do not be fooled by those that promise you a better exchange rate or any other “shady economic bargain” in return for your hard cash. A) They may be undercover government agents, putting you in serious danger of being caught by the Eritrean judicial system’s zero-tolerance policy, or B) Even if they aren’t, you risk not obtaining a fair transaction or being caught by the law, something you must avoid at all costs in Eritrea.
Taking photographs of individuals or their property without their consent is impolite. When photographing public buildings, be wary of government structures, particularly police and military structures. Taking photographs of them isn’t necessarily against the law, but doing so without authorization or supervision may be seen as extremely suspicious, leading to an unpleasant detention and questioning. Request authorization from the nearest authority (receptionist or police).
Prostitution is allowed, but only in regulated businesses that are hidden from view (certain bars, nightclubs, hotels). Overt flirtation with an Eritrean is regarded by the broader population as similar to prostitution or solicitation of prostitution, and may be very insulting if the individual in question or their family is not engaged in such activity.
Use of the left hand to greet, dine, or give something to someone is frowned upon, as it is in many East African and Middle Eastern nations. Using both hands while giving something over is acceptable and even considered polite, but not the left hand alone.
Women are not obliged to “cover up” or wear veils, but men and women who expose too much cleavage or/and wear too short a skirt/pair of shorts will be regarded as prostitutes. For smoking, Eritrean or Eritrean-looking women will be regarded harshly. Do not, however, confuse a lack of rank or formal capability for women in Eritrea with a lack of feminine modesty. In Eritrea, women drive all vehicles, including military tanks, ships, and aircraft. They also command soldiers and serve in the army and administration in the same capacities as men in all ranks. It is a nation in the midst of a rapid (and often contradictory) post-liberation cultural development.