(Today, talking in sweeping generalities.) :)
In the US, a greeting to a stranger or acquaintance is reserved, if it happens. As Americans, we maybe say, “hey”, acknowledge a passerby with a slight head nod and a smile.
You have not greeted until you have greeted in Ethiopia, people. It’s an amazing process. One that is repeated many, many times a day. Don’t imagine a coworker slipping into work, that would be considered rude if the greeting process didn’t happen.
It starts with someone asking a question, usually, “Salem No?” but in the appropriate form if you are talking to a man, woman, elder or group. It is translated as “Is it peace?”
Then a variation of questions along this line continue as you go in for the greet.
A true sample of a recent conversation
Me: Are you peace?
Friend: How are you?
Me: How did you spend your night?
Friend: Are you peace?
Me: God be praised. Are you peace?
Friend: There is peace and your family? Are they peaceful?
Me: How is your wife?
Friend: And you children, how are your children?
Me: God be praised, they are fine. How are you children?
Friend: My children are peaceful, God be praised. How are you? How is Jon?
Me: How did you spend the night?
Friend: God be praised and your family?
Etc, etc, etc. Sometimes, I decide in my head that I will not answer a question until the other person does. I often cave. :)
To get to the conversation without appropriately assuring the other’s state would show an disregard for the person you are addressing.
Picture walking into a hardware store in the US (considered a cold-climate culture). If you were approached by an employee, it is perfectly appropriate to say, “I am looking for nails, can you direct me to them?” However, as we now live in a “warm-climate” culture, walking into a hardware store would consist of greeting the employee and inquiring about their family, even though you are perfect strangers, before you get the point of why you are at the hardware in the first place. If how different cultures relate to one another fascinate you, I recommend the book, “Foreign to Familiar”. It is so insightful. If you live in the US and are working with an international community, this is worth the read.
Somewhere in that greeting, you have also come in close enough physical contact to do the greeting motions. Man to man as well as many woman to man greetings in our area consist of a right handshake while gripping your right elbow with your left hand and with a right shoulder bump. The more you are excited to see one another, the more times you bump shoulders.
An example of meeting a stranger on a path.
The approach, greetings exchanged.
Head lowered in respect
The bump. They were strangers, just one bump.
Repeat with the others on the path.
Woman to woman kiss cheeks and many times, men and women kiss children’s faces or hands. I haven’t been able to get down a number of kisses. It seems like whatever you do, keep it in odd numbers. Three and five seem the most common to my laywoman’s observations.
Same path, another group.
The Littles endure the greetings and the kissing but really, they just want to chase their daddy.
And hunt for monkeys. :)
There you go, next time you meet someone from Ethiopia, pull out the shoulder bump. :)