This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week three: Cultural Differences.
I’m from New Jersey. I spent the first eighteen years of my life bouncing between different suburbs of New York City, and then I spent four years of college in Hoboken, New Jersey, directly across the river from Midtown Manhattan. What I’m saying is: I talk fast, I walk fast, and I wouldn’t say I have a propensity for politeness.
Let’s just say things have changed since coming to Namibia.
Namibian culture places great value on greetings. If you are from the east coast, you are probably thinking right now: greetings, what are those? Well, a greeting is when you say hi and ask about a person’s day. Here’s where the difference comes in. In the USA, I would normally only greet people that I am friends with or close acquaintances. In Namibia, I greet everyone.
Going to the post office to send a postcard? Greet the postal workers. Going to the bank to get a new debit card? Greet the bank tellers. Going to the grocery store? Greet the cashier as you check out. Going to work? Greet ALL of your coworkers. See someone that you vaguely know on the street? Greet them!
A typical greeting is as follows.
A: How are you today?
B: Fine. How are you?
This greeting is crucial before any encounter where you need someone’s help. If you don’t greet, forget about that coworker making that copy for you before your first period class. But why?
Namibians view greetings as an acknowledgement of their existence. When you do not greet a Namibian, you are not acknowledging them as a person. Which, as you can imagine, is very insulting. This common courtesy can really make or break your relationships, and it is a cultural difference that I have had to really work on being conscious of. Now, I view it as kind of an automatic ice-breaker. I never have to come up with a reason to say hi to someone.
When you are in another country, you may not think about adhering to cultural norms, but next time, think about why that particular custom might exist in that culture. What is the history behind it? Only when you put in the work to ask the right questions and listen to the answers without judgement can you begin to truly understand and appreciate a culture different than your own.
So, the next time you’re in Namibia at the rental car agency, remember to greet the worker before asking for the keys. Then drive that car to Karibib and I’ll cook you some dinner.