Tanzania: Hello again ... and again
• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
This country – one of East Africa’s most peaceful since its founding in 1964 – is convulsed with a friendly ritual: long, involved hellos.
Your basic greeting, the salutation of choice for an acquaintance you meet on the road or stoop, or a stranger to whom you’re being introduced, is a six-step exchange plus a three-step, wrist-clasping handshake:
Habari? (What’s the news?)
Hujambo? (How are you?)
Sijambo, asante. (Fine, thank you.)
Salama? (Everyone’s safe?)
Salama. (Everyone’s safe.)
That’s right – you do this with nearly everyone who catches your eye. And in many cases, it’s just the beginning. There’s also a special hello for elders:
Shikamoo. (Respectful greetings.)
Marahaba. (Thank you for your respectful greetings.)
And an exchange for little kids, teenagers, or anyone trying to be hip:
Mambo? (How’re things?)
There’s terse teenspeak to factor in:
Vipi? (What’s up?)
And an extragracious greeting, usually delivered at the door of someone’s home, often with arms flung wide:
Asante sana! (Thank you very much!)
There are various intensifiers for beloved interlocutors, and choreography plays a role: an array of fancy handshakes; a dirty-or-wet-hands variant, in which the addressee proffers a wrist instead; curtsies; air kisses; and the occasional handclasp that lasts the length of the conversation.
Tanzanians are proud of this tradition, which both reflects and contributes to a pace of life that’s amiably slow. It leaves visitors feeling at home – and perpetually late. But what can you do? You hate to bring up “goodbye."