Learn how to say Salaam alaykum and use it to welcome others. If you’re a man, don’t attempt to shake hands with a woman, and if you’re a woman, don’t try to shake hands with a guy (note that some African women may shake a man’s hand, but it’s better not to try to start contact, simply follow their lead). You may, however, greet each other by placing your hand over your heart.
Outside of Nouakchott, where you may not be given silverware, be cautious to eat with your right hand. The left hand is designated for the restroom, as it is in other parts of the Arab world. If you’re left-handed, give it your all.
It is not necessary to cover your head, although it is considered courteous. It may reduce the inquiry “Madame, ou bien Mademoiselle?” but Westerners, particularly women, may face unwelcome scrutiny and mild harassment across the nation. Be warned, though, that many Mauritanians, both men and women, mistake direct stare for a sexual invitation. There’s even a Hassiniya term, ayna m’tina, which means “strong eyes,” to characterize what many consider to be an aggressive behavior. However, just because you’re in a foreign nation doesn’t give the guys carte blanche to be jerks. Calling someone out on their poor behavior, or pointing it out to the onlookers, may frequently be effective. You may demand respect if you offer it. Even though they push you to see how far they can go, the Moors admire women who stand up for themselves.
Avoid touching in public if you’re traveling with someone of the opposing sex. Two guys holding hands is really far more frequent than a woman and a man. When it comes to clothing, the more flesh you expose, the more unwanted attention you’ll get. Women may wear pants in Nouakchott, but tank tops and knee-length skirts are not permitted. For ladies, long skirts are the ideal option. It’s also a good idea to keep your arms covered. Trousers expose the crotch region, which may be upsetting to those in the countryside who aren’t as accustomed to seeing this as city dwellers. The majority of people will be courteous, and you will have no idea what they are thinking.
There is never a non-sexual reason for a woman to go out in private with a guy. Don’t go inside an office, the rear of a store, or anyplace else if they ask you to. The guys are well aware that such a request is ridiculous, and no one would ask you for a private conversation unless they really cared. If you let yourself be alone with a guy for even a short period of time, everyone will think you had sex and evaluate you accordingly. As a knucklehead, not as a scumbag.
If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender tourist, do not attempt to open up about your sexuality to any Mauritanian. They will retaliate vehemently. Also, do not engage in any public actions that might suggest that you are LGBT: Mauritania has a death penalty for homosexuality.
Nasrani, Toubac, and Toubab all refer to white people. This is the moniker that little kids, and sometimes nasty adults, will call you. Nasrani refers to someone from Nazareth. Christians are all honorary Nazarenes since they follow Christ’s teachings and because Christ is from Nazareth.
Be wary of individuals who attempt to take advantage of your politeness to try to sell you anything. Be careful that nearly everyone who attempts to befriend you in a market area is attempting to sell you something at a high price. If you refuse to look at their souvenir store, they may attempt a variety of tactics to persuade you to purchase from them (including “offering them to you as a present”). Some may even accuse you of not loving Africans if you refuse to look at their business. If someone is bothering you beyond reasonable bounds, it is not rude to tell them flatly that you are not interested. If they ask for something you have, just claim you don’t have it right now and will be able to offer it to them in a month or two.