The other day I took the more scenic route ( aka long distance coach) to a far off city. Roadtrip!!! Besides the long drive, the journey was very pleasant. I am not a very talkative person but as we came to our final stop, I pondered the few, probably fleeting short friendships I had made in those 18 hours. All of them started with a simple ‘hallo’. Ah, that elusive word! That elusive word that we use oh so sparingly!
I have always wondered what my mother would say if i ever went up to someone and started barking requests at them before actually greeting them. I threatened to run away from home when I was around 7 years old. Reason – my mother and father had sat me down for a talk because the previous night, I had ran off without asking the guests, ‘makadii henyu?’ ( meaning how are you?…accompanied by a cupped hand clap to show respect). Neglecting to do this customary greeting was considered very very disrespectful.
I was 7… I didn’t know the guests and my toys were waiting for me. Reasons not good enough, my act summoned the dreaded ‘talk’. Anyway later that day, backpack in hand, tears rolling down my face, I told my mom i was leaving. I couldnt bear to be disciplined for not greeting the guests..that I didn’t know. Did i mention I was 7?
The story did not end with me sleeping under a bridge. Of course after hearing the real truth of what it meant to be a street child and weighing it up against simply saying ‘how are you’ to guests as they came,the latter seemed like a better path to take. And it was a life lesson learned. Up till now, many years later, I greet people and ask them how they are before anything else.If they are older they also get the hand gesture. And if they are much much older, I might put in a little curtsey or a complete kneeling show.
I have learnt that the proverbial ‘Hallo’, ‘how are you ?’is not so common as it is in my little world. I have been to places were it is perfectly acceptable to walk up to a store counter, say your order or request and wait. No ‘hallo’ , no ‘how are you’. Gasp! I have also been to places where asking someone ‘how they are’ could land you in a 30 minute life story narrative. It won’t end with ‘ I am fine’ as expected. Second gasp!
Either way, I have had many friends visiting or coming to live in countries in Southern Africa ask me the logic behind greeting e-v-e-r-y s-i-n-g-l-e p-e-r-s-o-n AND asking them how they are e-v-e-r-y-t-i-m-e. A Thai friend on a visit discovered the greeting habit and took it in her stride. We had a good laugh when I realised she took it literally, she greeted everyone, everytime….even if she had seen and greeted them ten times already that day! Everytime she had to ask a colleague something she would say ‘hallo, how are you ?’and then continue with her question. We quickly rectified that before it became a little….wierd maybe?
Essentially greetings are a common thing all over the world. It is my opinion that they are revered and very important in african communities. They are not used only by service people,repeated in a monotone many times a day to several customers. Greetings are part of the interaction, a step that cannot simply be skipped.
We ask each other about life, we ask about the other people that are at home. Arriving at a gathering is a spectacle, greetings can take a long time, coloured by hand gestures, and sometimes totem chants. Noone is left out of the greetings. Nothing happens before the greeting happens.
So, my lesson learnt at 7 led me to very interesting conversations with several people on that long journey that day. We can say, it all started with ‘ Hallo, how are you?’.
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