How to say hello in Ghana:

“The course and temperature of the first greeting are of the utmost significance to the ultimate fate of a relationship, which is why people here set much store by the way they salute each other. It is essential to exhibit from the very beginning, from the very first second, enormous, primal joy and geniality. So, for starters, one extends one’s hand. But not in a formal manner, reticently, limply: just the opposite – a large, vigorous gesture, as if one’s intention were not so much to offer one’s hand as to tear the other’s off. If, however, the other manages to keep his hand, whole and in its proper place, it is because, undestanding the ritual rules of the greeting, he has likewise executed the same broad, forceful gesture. Both of these extremities, bursting with tremendous energy, now meet halfway and, with a terrifying impact of collision, cancel out the two opposing forces. Simultaneously, as the hands are rushing toward each other, the two individuals share a prolonged cascade of loud laughter. It is meant to signify that each is happy to be meeting and warmly disposed to the other.

“There ensues a long list of questions and answers, such as ‘How are you? Are you feeling well? How is your family? Are they all healthy? And your grandfather? And your grandmother? And your aunt? And your uncle?’ – and so forth and so on, for families here are large with many branches. Custom dictates that each positive answer be offered with yet another torrent of loud and vibrant laughter, which in turn should elicit a similar or perhaps an even more homeric cascade from the one posing the questions.

“You often see two (or more) people standing in the street and dissolving with laughter. It does not mean that they are telling each other jokes. They are simply saying hello. And if the laughter dies down, then either the act of greeting has come to an end and they will now move on to the substance of the conversation, or, simply, the newly met have fallen silent to allow their tired vocal cords a moment’s respite.”

Ryszard Kapuściński, “The Shadow Of The Sun”


One thought on “Greetings!

  1. Erik R. October 28, 2011 / 3:25 pm

    How exhausting! My hands, throat and social ego are sore just from reading that.


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