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Tanzania: Hello again ... and again

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A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA – There is no “Hi” in Swahili. No way, in the official language of Tanzania, to execute a polite brushoff on the street and keep walking.

This country – one of East Africa’s most peaceful since its founding in 1964 – is convulsed with a friendly ritual: long, involved hellos.

Your basic greeting, the salutation of choice for an acquaintance you meet on the road or stoop, or a stranger to whom you’re being introduced, is a six-step exchange plus a three-step, wrist-clasping handshake:

Habari? (What’s the news?)

Nzuri. (Good.)

Hujambo? (How are you?)

Sijambo, asante. (Fine, thank you.)

Salama? (Everyone’s safe?)

Salama. (Everyone’s safe.)

That’s right – you do this with nearly everyone who catches your eye. And in many cases, it’s just the beginning. There’s also a special hello for elders:

Shikamoo. (Respectful greetings.)

Marahaba. (Thank you for your respectful greetings.)

And an exchange for little kids, teenagers, or anyone trying to be hip:

Mambo? (How’re things?)

Poa. (Cool.)

There’s terse teenspeak to factor in:
Sasa. (Hey.)

Vipi? (What’s up?)

And an extragracious greeting, usually delivered at the door of someone’s home, often with arms flung wide:

Karibu! (Welcome!)

Asante sana! (Thank you very much!)

There are various intensifiers for beloved interlocutors, and choreography plays a role: an array of fancy handshakes; a dirty-or-wet-hands variant, in which the addressee proffers a wrist instead; curtsies; air kisses; and the occasional handclasp that lasts the length of the conversation.

Tanzanians are proud of this tradition, which both reflects and contributes to a pace of life that’s amiably slow. It leaves visitors feeling at home – and perpetually late. But what can you do? You hate to bring up “goodbye."


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