In Senegalese culture, one of the most important daily customs is greeting. At its base it is a simple concept: Say hello to everyone, each day. The reality is much more complex. While saying hello to someone in America may take the form of a simple head nod or a wave, many greetings in Senegal last upwards of five or ten minutes and occur repeatedly throughout the day. Indeed, the first thing I do when I leave my hut in the morning is greet my mother, Neelaan. It typically goes something like this:
Kaynak: Good morning!
Neelaan: Good morning to you! Kaynak, you are awake now?
Kaynak: Yes I woke up at 7:30.
Neelaan: Did you sleep well?
Kaynak: Yes I did, and you?
Neelaan: Yes I sleep well. Did you eat a good breakfast?
Kaynak: Yes I ate breakfast until I was full.
Neelaan: How is your morning?
Kaynak: It is fine, how is the heat?
Neelaan: It is fine because it is cold.
Kaynak: I disagree, it is hot!
Neelaan: No, it is cold today. Where are you going today?
Kaynak: I am going into the village this morning, and then I will go to the fields this afternoon.
Neelaan: That is good. Will you be home for lunch?
Kaynak: Yes I will.
Neelaan: That is good, children go greet Kaynak now.
This style of greeting is repeated with each of the adults and guests in my compound; it can take up to 15 minutes to greet everyone each morning. Children usually engage in one or two sentence greets with adults, or even just a respectful handshake.
Throughout the day I will be similarly greeted by visitors who come to my compound, folks I pass in the streets, and whichever neighbors are home as I pass by. I have learned to build ‘greeting time’ into my schedule. An example of this: it takes five minutes to walk from my hut to the boutique that sells eggs, but it actually takes me about 15-20 minutes to get there if I greet everyone in between my hut and the boutique properly.
Why then do I greet? Why not just pass by, say a brief hello and continue on my way? Why possibly spend hours a day doing this? If you don’t greet folks properly there are a few assumptions that can be made. First, you are assumed rude, especially if you’re failing to greet important persons such as village leaders, elders, religious leaders, or honored guests. Second, you are assumed to be ill or in a bad mood. In either case, greeting shows your friends, family and community that you are ready to begin your day be a productive member of society.