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serve well blogNo. Seriously. Greetings!

Have you noticed the world is full of thousands of spoken and unspoken ways to meet, greet, or just acknowledge someone?
In intercultural service assignments, whether in U.S. neighborhoods or international settings, we adapt to local ways of meeting somebody, entering a room, or just passing a stranger.

Watch this video prepared by 09 Colleague Brandon Adams, and be sure to post your short paragraph response below:


Here's some quick food for thought from Sean Rawson, a volunteer with Jesuit Volunteers International:

"Nicaraguans almost always greet everyone in a room upon entering, either individually or collectively as a group. This usually means a handshake or a cheek kiss for old friends or new acquaintances alike. Even if somebody enters a conversation or a meeting, he or she generally interjects at least a "Buenas tardes" to those present. To my North American-educated mind, this initially came off as extremely rude; I'd be having a conversation or even presenting some point in a workshop, and someone would walk in late with a public "Buenas!" distracting me and the rest of the group from whatever was being discussed. As time went on during my first few months here, I began to realize that this wasn't just a group of inconsiderate youth, but in fact a great example of the beauty of cultural diversity.

Anyhow, I've been working on learning from my Nicaraguan co-workers, friends and acquaintances to recognize that human relationships are worth taking a few seconds out of a busy schedule to make someone feel recognized."

How about you? Share a custom or a story about the greetings you've learned or observed in service.

(Comments may not post immediately, as they'll go through a moderator to prevent spam.)



Current comments.

  1. Joe said:

    My service year was in Lima, Peru. The standard in Peru is that you greet every person in some way when you enter a room and when you leave the room. If it is a fe/male interaction or a fe/female interaction there is one kiss on the right cheek. If it is a male/male interaction, it is a hand shake and probably a belly pat if you're friends (ask me to show it someday, I had to master it). Guys do not kiss. So this one time, I was in the grocery store with a friend and I ran into a 2 friends, one male, one female. We were talking and the time came for us to go our separate ways. I kissed her on the cheek and then kissed him on the cheek too and walked away. I was 3 isles away before I realized that I just kissed him. I just played it cool and never looked back. Apparently he didn't. The female friend later recounted the story that for the rest of the night, he was dumbfounded and repeatedly exclaimed in all manners that he could come up with "¡Ese tio me besó!" or "That dude kissed me!" Needless to say, I was a little more careful with the kisses from there on out and thus mastered the tummy pat.

  2. Lucas Sharma said:

    Over the course of normal life, we greet people and ask, “how are you.” Our responses are typically similar regardless of our mood. Good. Well. Fine. We have been socialized to respond this way without really evening thinking about or giving an answer to the question. When I worked in Washington, D.C. last year, my clients would respond differently. Instead of saying the response I was used to, they would always say, “I am blessed.” I heard others in my neighborhood say the same when they would see friends of theirs standing at the bus and would be greeting. Always, “I am blessed.” In such a simple but different response, I came to find myself reforming how I saw my clients. Not only where they my clients, but they pointed me to God and the blessings he instills on us every time I saw a client. It was a paradigm shift for me. For me, I assumed that their lives would be too burdened with the inequalities, the struggles to get enough food, the struggles to pay rent, and to find a job. But, despite that, they too could point always to the ways they had been blessed. And in those moments, I too felt blessed to know them.

  3. Karolina Williams said:

    January in Sweden is bitter cold. Unfortunately, I did not consider the seasons very carefully when deciding to study abroad for a semester. I chose to walk to the University most days, as it was about a mile from my apartment, because I wanted to explore and meet people along the way. In my very broken Swedish I would greet the passersby with a smile and a good morning!! People literally stared at me as if I had broken a very serious cultural norm and would keep walking without a word. I was stubborn and (somewhat culturally incompetent) and thought I would break what I interpreted as an icy demeanor. Thus, I continued my bubbly greetings everywhere I went and was most often met with silence. Something strange happened as May hit, the greetings seemed to have changed with the season. One morning I was caught off guard by a walker greeting me, "Good morning, what a beautiful day." The Spring brought out walkers and the streets becamy chatty. The flowers were open again and smiles were abundant. I learned from the Swedes an awareness and a sensitivity to external and internal seasons. I recognize now the need to pay attention to these seasons within me and to validate the need for winter, as well as Spring.

  4. Ifeatu Nwafornso said:

    I am a Nigerian residing in Canada and working in Haiti. Just as their names differ, so also do their greeting method. Growing up in Nigeria, greeting was more of an obligation - especially to those older than you. In fact, failing to greet one who is older than you - be it a relative or a complete stranger at the bus stop - is considered rude, very rude! The most common greeting method is saying "good morning," "good afternoon" or "good evening", depending on the time of the day. However, when I moved to Canada (Halifax to be precise), it took me a while to adapt to the greeting method. When I walked into an office or stood next to an older person at the bus stop, I would always say - depending on the time of the day - good morning, with a smile. People thought I was nuts! I can't remember a single person ever responding to my greeting. Like in the video above, I felt very awkward and even offended at times. But like the saying goes, time is a great teacher. It taught me that a simple hello or hi went much farther than good morning. In Haiti, it's all about the kiss on the cheek. My first real experience was when I and three of my colleagues (Haitians) where visiting the community of Carrefour-Sanon in Southern Haiti and a young girl came up to us to greet us; to be honest, I initially did not realize that we where being greeted. Of the four of us I was the last to be greeted so this allowed me the opportunity to observe her greet the others. When she came up to them she stretched very close and greeted them. Watching her I thought to myself: "why is she whispering in all their ears?" Well, when it came my turn I was anxious to hear what the gossip was about only to realize it was a kiss on the cheek. How ignorant of me! I must say though that I have since become an expert on not only the cheek kissing but also the cheek to cheek way of greeting :)

  5. David Uhl said:

    In New Orleans, everyone always says hello to everyone. When you are walking on the sidewalk, you say hello to everyone as you pass. You make eye contact and you acknowledge them. I became so used to it that when I moved to DC and tried to do it, my roommates asked me to stop because they said it appeared I was trying to hit on everyone. Oh well!

  6. Annie Mesaros said:

    In Indonesia people will often call to passers-by: Where are you going?! It felt really intrusive for a long time, and sometimes when I was tired of being the neighborhood's object of attention I would get frustrated and think, you know, it's really none of your business! I found though that people were often content with a simple, I'm going there. A friend pointed out that (somewhat relating to Lucas' comment above) it's the same as when we ask people how it's going - we are offering a greeting rather than looking for a serious answer. That got me thinking about how I respond to the question of how things are going. We do tend to offer with just a fine or good even if we aren't in fact, fine. I am trying to let that soak in and inform the way I respond to greetings from friends and acquaintances. I'd say I'm uncomfortable saying if things are going horribly, but I share enthusiastic responses when it's going that way, and I'm getting comfortable with sharing the occasional, "you know, it's not going too great today." Thanks Lucas for sharing about your experience in DC, I'm going to try that out as well. I think it can have an impact on our own day as much as it can on those around us!

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