New Caledonia Traditions, Customs and Etiquette

With the exception of some aspects of the tribal way of life, including customary tradition, New Caledonia’s local customs are very similar to those found in France and any French overseas territory.

The essentials

  • Customary tradition
  • Etiquette

Customary Tradition

The essential spirit of New Caledonia and the Kanak culture is enshrined in the ancestral rules and rituals of Kanak customary tradition. ‘Coutume’ refers to all the social rules that govern the everyday life of Kanak clans, and it is vital that visitors show their respect for customary tradition when needed and where appropriate. For example, if you would like to enter tribal lands or access places considered to be taboo, you should ‘faire la coutume’ (make the customary gesture) as a mark of respect. A greeting is exchanged and a small gift, such as a 500 or 1,000 franc note, rice, food, a souvenir from your home country or a piece of fabric known as a ‘manou’ (these may be purchased from local stores), is offered.

Although it’s not necessary to ‘faire la coutume’ when enjoying a tribal homestay in an area that often welcomes visitors, it’s always a good idea to take along a gift. As part of the homestay experience, you’ll likely learn about the meaning of ‘coutume’ and how it is practiced.

For the Kanak people, this traditional ceremony of greeting and welcome has profound significance. A customary gesture is a mark of mutual respect, establishing a unique and special bond between you and a community whose social and cultural traditions go back many thousands of years. It's a gesture from the heart.

Etiquette

Many of New Caledonia’s general etiquette rules are quite similar to those you’ll find followed in France or any other French territory. Although many are quite common in most French speaking destinations, there are a few that are quite unique to New Caledonia.

Greetings

Although many Kanak languages are spoken across the archipelago, French is the official language of New Caledonia. The most common greetings you’ll need to know during a visit to New Caledonia are:

  • To greet someone - bonjour

  • To thank someone - merci

  • To say goodbye - au revoir

Handshakes are common when greeting others, as are a kiss on the cheek.

Some other important phrases to know include:

  • Yes - oui

  • No - non

  • Please - s’il vous plait

  • Excuse me - excusez-moi

  • Sorry - pardon

New Caledonians are a friendly bunch, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself being waved at or greeted as you go about your day. Simply wave back and say hello!

Exploring the island

Before you take photographs of traditional villages or the Kanak people, ask permission. Some structures are considered to be sacred, while the local people may not be comfortable with being photographed.

If you plan to head outside New Caledonia’s cities and towns to explore forests, go swimming in water holes or visit any tribal areas, you may need to ask for permission from the local Kanak people. 

Clothing

Although Nouméa is quite a cosmopolitan city, other areas of New Caledonia tend to be a little more conservative. If you plan to enter a village, ensure you are dressed conservatively, with your shoulders and knees covered to show respect. Also, while going topless at the beach is generally accepted in Nouméa, this isn’t the case on the other islands or in the archipelago’s more regional destinations.