USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Greetings’
Gestures
Old age

The Traditional Kenyan Greeting

“When you greet someone who you consider reputable or older than you, you greet them by shaking their hands with both of your hands. You keep on holding on until they acknowledge you and say thank you. Usually, you do it with people you don’t talk to every day, like the parents of your friends.”

In Kenya, it is traditional to shake another’s hands with both of your own hands when greeting an elder or a person of high status. Because the other person is meant to have the control, it is they who decide how long the handshake should last. You are only supposed to let go after you have been acknowledged.

The informant, Alastair Odhiambo, is a 19-year-old international student who was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. Alistair and his family have deep roots in the country, so he is confident that he knows a great deal about Kenyan folklore. Although Alastair does not remember who taught him how to properly shake an elder’s hand, he does know that he picked it up after observing how other Kenyan children interacted with their superiors. He claims that Kenya has long valued respecting elders, so this tradition is only a reflection of that belief.

It is always interesting to see how ancient values and beliefs are still maintained in today’s modern culture. Even though it may not seem like much, the way young Kenyans shake the hands of their elders says a lot about the country and what they believe in. It reveals that all elders and people of high status must be treated with honor and respect. The fact that Alastair was able to learn this common practice simply by observing others tells us that it is popular and that it is used quite often.

 

 

 

 

 

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ethiopian Greeting Customs

The informant is a good friend from one of my clubs. We had met up for lunch and she shared many of her Ethiopian traditions and customs with me, as well as some superstitions of her people.


Original Script

Informant: “When you say hi to people… It’s a mess! You have to do it in a line, right? Okay so what happens is… If I was meeting another family and I showed up with just me and my mom, she would meet the most important person in that group first. Like,  she would say hi to them, I’m standing behind my mom.”

Me: “Like the head of the family?”

Informant: “She says hi to the head of the other family first, then to the second person, then to the third person. And then when she’s done, I go do it. So like if… Say we came to someone else’s house, so if we’re the visitors, she would say hi to the most important person, and I can’t say hi to people. I say to people after she has done it, because she outranks me.” (laughs)

Me: “So you just stand back and just watch?”

Informant: “Yeah, I stand behind her while she greets the most important person, then when she moves on to the second most important person, I can go on to the first important person. And then my little brother is still waiting, and then when I’ve moved on to the second person, he can talk to that first person.”

Me: “Oh, so you don’t have to wait to go through the whole family?”

Informant: “Yeah, but you got to go through the thing in that order.”

Me: “And what’s like the type of greeting?”

Informant: “Well what we do is, we do the… um… it’s either a handshake and a hug, and then it’s three kisses on the cheek.”

Me: “Is there a specific cheek?”

Informant: “It’s um… Well from my perspective it’s that cheek, then that cheek, then that cheek (She points to my right, then left, then right cheek).”

Me: “Oh, so switching back and forth.”

Informant: “Yeah. And then you say the stuff.”

Me: “Wait, wait. If you’re the visitor, you have to kiss the person? Or they… it’s kind of mutual?”

Informant: “If you’re the visitor, you walk up to the person who’s just let you into their house. It’s very rare where you’re both randomly meeting each other. It’s usually because you are going to someone’s house, or to an event, like there will be a hostess or, like, a person to go say hi to.”

Me: “Is there a different custom when you;re both strangers? Like, your not in someone’s home?”

Informant: “If you’re both strangers, you don’t actually kiss. You kind of just… touch cheeks!”

Me: “Or if you’re like friends, meeting up in a  neutral place? Where no one’s, you know..,”

Informant: “Unless, they’re not really… I mean you can kind of tell when you’re looking at people, if they are traditional. Like, if I was meeting another seventeen year-old, I would say ‘Sup.”

Me: (laughs)

Informant: “I’m not, you know, going to go through the whole thing. But if I was meeting, like, a stranger who was maybe like thrity-five, I would say the greeting in Amharic, but I wouldn’t necessarily, like, kiss them, but I would definitely go for the hug, because the hug is like the first step. But if I was meeting some who was like older, who was like really traditional, who was like dressed the way, I know for sure that I have to be nice, and I have to do it. It ‘s usually, the older the person is, the more you kinda have to bow when you go in for it. When you say hi you kind of nod tot the person. So if it’s like someone your age, you might just go like that, (head nod). But if it’s someone who’s maybe seventy, you give a little more effort because you’re sort of recognizing that they’re older than you.”

Me: “So what’s the order again?”

The informant shows me the Ethiopian greeting, starting with the bow, then the hug, and lastly the kisses.

Me: “I thought it was very more like, BOW. (laugh)

Informant: (laugh) “Yes your majesty! No, it’s kind of more organic than that, ’cause you’re both doing it at the same time to each other, so it’s more… relaxed. It’s really relaxed, and it’s not nearly as formal. Even if it is a formal event, it’s just saying hi. That’s how we say hi, so it’s very… ’cause it happens so often, it’s not something that is really ceremonious every single time, ’cause it’s just like… Over the quantity it gets really relaxed, because you just do it so much.”

Me: “Would you do this with family members too?”

Informant: “Yeah, but not if I said hi to my mom in the morning, I’d just giver her a hug. But if I was seeing like my uncle for like a really long time, that’s how I would say hi to him.”

Me: “That’s awesome!”

Informant: “But not to my littler brother. If he came home from college, he would be like, ‘Sup.” You know, it’s kind of… and age thing.”

Background & Analysis

The informant is a student here at USC as well, and although her mother is from Ethiopia, she was born and raised here in California. However, she often goes back to Ethiopia with her mom to visit friends and family.

The greeting customs in Ethiopia are much more complex than I thought! It appears to be a combination of greetings from other areas around the world, like the bowing from asian cultures, the the hug from most latin cultures, and the cheek kisses from Europe. Whereas in America, a simple handshake will suffice, Ethiopans make a clear destinction between hierarchies just through a short gesture such as a greeting.

Customs
general

Greetings in Indonesia

 

“When you greet someone in Indonesia, they only touch your hands on the tips very gently using both hands. So if describe it, it’s like you stand facing each other and put your palms together. And then with your hand, you will touch the other person’s hand only on the tips. This is hard to explain in words. They never grab your hand to shake it like in the western way. Also, if you are a young person and you greet the elders, first you kiss the elder’s hand and then you bring the hand onto your forehead gently. That’s how you show your respect. Between females, when they greet each other, they share kisses on both cheeks, also very gently almost not using their lips.”

This way of greeting, for my informant, looked very elegant and polite. She thought it was a better way than the custom of shaking hands in Western culture. It is very polite which is an important part of the culture in Indonesia. It also shows respect to each other and to elders, which is another important part of the culture. This way of greeting is more personal than just shaking hands, it helps to start relationships between people in the correct path.

For myself, I also find this way of greeting to be very elegant. In Korean culture, we also show respect to our elders by bowing, although handshakes are also common. Handshakes can sometimes have different connotations than just greetings however, as we are even taught of the best way tot deliver a handshake in professional situations. A firm but not too overbearing grip is usually recommended, as different pressures can have different meanings. When there is tension between two people, they are often depicted as aggressively shaking each others hand, trying to win over each other with the strength of their grip. In this way handshakes can almost be something condescending or something used to analyze the other. However, the Indonesia custom is not like his as it shows deference to each other and affection in their relationships.

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