I’ve worked with people from all over Africa, and the one thing I can generalize about is the importance they place on greetings. Ethiopians are no exception. My very first Amharic lesson was just learning the various greetings. “Salaam” is the easiest to remember; meaning “peace” (from Arabic), you can just throw it out there and know that you’re not offending anyone or screwing up gender. There are all kinds of other ways to say hello. Tenaystlelang, or hello, has the “explosive T” sound that I haven’t perfected yet, so I avoid it. Andamn adarsh/adark/adarachu/adaru (depending on who you’re speaking to) is good morning (literally, “How did you spend the night?”). Usually you don’t just say hello; you ask how the person is doing, and if you know them, you ask about their family as well. This is not just an Ethiopian thing, but the language adds a whole new added level of complexity.
Admittedly, I am really American when it comes to greetings. It’s not that I don’t like to talk to people. I LIVE to talk to people. Any people. Strangers, friends, whatever. My issue with greetings, I believe, is the whole morning aspect of greeting coworkers–and, now, my household staff. I am not a morning person. I do not believe this is anything to be ashamed of. I was wired differently than the morning people like Dan and Charlotte (and possibly Willa). It takes me approximately 5 hours to wake up in the morning. Around lunchtime I start to feel somewhat human, and then around 2:00 pm I am ready to get to work. If I could just work in the late afternoon and evening I would be far more productive than ten morning people combined. (This is why telework is so appealing to me, despite my extremely extroverted nature.)
I do try to be polite in the morning, but I’m afraid I often fail. It’s not my fault, my brain hasn’t turned on yet. And I’m AMERICAN. At home, we can just grunt “hey, ‘sup” and no one thinks anything of it. But not over on this continent. When I worked in South Africa, my colleagues would often remark that I never stopped by to chat with them when I walked past their offices. Yeah, because we all have work to do, right? Honestly, I chatted with them all the time. But it wasn’t enough, because I was supposed to say hello first thing every morning. This morning, I was trying to get the girls out the door to get Charlotte to play group. She was running all over the place (these morning people, I swear) and I kept forgetting things and running back inside. So I was a little preoccupied. I saw Dejene and Gazaw putting Willa’s car seat in the car and I said, “hey, make sure you use the latch, Gazaw… Hey Dejene, can we leave in 5 minutes?” You’d think I had yelled obscenities at them. Dejene did not answer my question. He walked over to me with a very serious look on his face and said, “how are you, Tracy? Are you feeling okay? How are the girls? Did you all sleep well?” Oops. I forgot to do the whole greeting thing. He’s a great guy and he got over it in about a minute, but I realized I need to make more of an effort to go through the whole greeting routine every day.