Gambian greetings

Gambian greetings are obnoxious. There is absolutely no other way to describe the lengthy tradition that I still find completely nonsensical.

However, greeting is a mandatory part of the culture that if ignored will make you an outcast so I can properly greet in two languages (Jola and Mandinka) and get by in another two (Wolof and Pular). Most Gambians can properly greet in every local language, even if they don’t fully speak it.

It takes about three times as long as it should to go anywhere because it is considered rude not to stop and say hello to everyone you see, whether you know the person or not. It is even acceptable, required actually, to interrupt people who are in the middle of a conversation, business meeting or school lesson, in order to greet.

While the constant pressure to drop what you are doing to greet can be frustrating, it is nice to be surrounded by friendly people who take the time to get to know their neighbors. When I tell Gambians that most people in America don’t even know their next-door neighbors’ names, they are appalled. Even though it sort-of still annoys me, I’ve become so used to this social code that I’ve caught myself repeating my greeting louder again and again until the person hears me and greets back.

It is common to greet someone by saying their last name, to which the appropriate response is to tell them their last name. People often just call each other’s names back and forth but they aren’t actually calling you to talk about anything, they are just greeting you.

The direct English translation of the long-form greetings is also ridiculously silly. No matter the Gambian language, the greeting procedure goes something like this:

Peace be with you.
And with you.

How are your home people?
They are there.

Where is your father?
He is there.

Where is your mother?
She is there.

Where is your husband?
He is there.

Where are your children?
They are there.

How is the work?
We are somehow managing. We are on it, slowly slowly.

What are you doing?
I am sitting.

Oh yes, you are sitting.
How are your home people?

They are there.
Greet them for me.
They will hear your greetings.

 I often get the special addition of “Greet America for me.”
So here you finally have it America, Gambia greets you. Don’t worry, when they asked how you were doing, I told them you were there.

–JDF