When a Greeting Takes More Than “Hi, How are you?”


Learning from Cultural Encounters: When a Greeting Takes More Than “Hi, How are you?”


Location: Guinea, West Africa

Upon arriving in my village, I needed to learn the greetings in the indigenous language, "Malinke." Unfortunately this wasn't as simple as "Hello, how are you?" and responding, "I'm fine," as we do in the United States. Among the Malinke people, it is proper to ask at least five questions when you greet someone. Simply yelling out "hello" and waving as you pass a friend would be considered rude, even if you did it because you were in a hurry. Instead, you must stop and shake hands. Then you ask, "How are you? How is your day going? How are you feeling? How are your family and friends? What's new?" Even if you know that the person will respond the same way every time (i.e., "Fine"), it's still important to ask because it shows that you care and that you are willing to take time out of your day to talk with individuals.

For Guineans, it's the ACT of greeting that counts more than WHAT you are actually saying. It took me about four months to realize this and to get used to it. I had assumed that my neighbors would understand when I couldn't chat because I was running late or that I had an appointment to get to. Eventually, I understood that this was not the case. For Guineans, social obligations are more important than any job-related responsibility.  

Commentary on Greeting

Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Guinea, West Africa