that you probably have to be here to appreciate
I’ve mentioned before how greetings are important, but I haven’t gone into detail. They are very repetitive and formalized with set answers, but can be pretty funny. Questions go something like, “How is your family?” “How is the heat?” “How are the mosquitos?” “Are you in peace?” “Where is _____ (any one of your 50 family members)?” and a million other parallel questions. The answers are set too, and always extremely to moderately positive like “I’m in peace” “Heat only!” “They’re over there” etc. It doesn’t really matter if you match up questions with answers, since they all pretty much fit, and throughout the exchange everybody will undoubtedly interject a few “Peace Only”s and “Praise God”s.
And then if there is a lull in the greeting chatter, people frequently start it back up with a “Ca va?” –a French greeting that has got to be spoken more in Senegal than in France itself. As if they haven’t already asked in detail 25 questions relating to “How’s it going?” Cracks me up.
Last names are also an important part of the greetings, especially with more formal, older people. You just stand there repeating each others’ names back and forth quickly. It’s really funny. When greeting elders, religious leaders (Imams) and people of importance, not making eye contact is the more respectful thing to do. Which is opposite of our culture and hard to get used to, though Brittany would fit in well. In some of the religious sects, men and women do not greet each other which has been awkward a few times for me after I’ve extended a hand. Otherwise, hand shaking is an integral part of greeting and no inquiry about one’s health would be complete without it.