February 3, 2015

Re-Learning to be “mahalala fomba” (respectful in Malagasy) in Senegal

It is common sense to think that greetings are important in most cultures. I thought I knew that, but I never felt this impolite in my (short) life until I got here in Senegal. I never realized that I actually don’t greet people enough. For example, last week my mother reminded me to say hello to two different people  and three times in one day in  the house. Plus, I cannot say that I was not informed about the importance of greetings in Senegal.

During orientation we were told that it is really important to say hello to people. Before you ask any favor, our program staff said, greet them.  We were also advised to greet people when we wake up and ask about their night. It does sound like basic manners that everyone should have, but habits are different everywhere.

We were also taught that people will ignore us if we don’t greet them and I have a first-hand experience with this. When I am thinking about it, certain people in Madagascar can do the same. One night I was lost and I said to a woman “excusez-moi” and then asked which way I should go.  The woman replied “Je ne parle pas francais” (I don’t speak French)  in French. I think she knew where the place was but did not want to help me because I did not greet her. I learned that day that  “excusez-moi” is a good start but does not replace “Alsalama Aalekuem.”


A painting of people and trees outdoors at a museum in Goree, Senegal

Random image, Museum in Goree

The standards of greetings change according to different cultures. I think I do greet people in the United States and certainly in Madagascar, but not enough here in Senegal. It has been frustrating and irritating to acknowledge that I could not accomplish this basic manner, but I am glad to see that it is becoming more natural for me to greet everyone every day. I am learning manners in Senegal but also being aware of mine. It makes me think about the anthropologist Petrakos’ review  of the book “An Anthropology of Everyday Life” when he said, “‘An Anthropology of Everyday Life’ not only makes a convincing argument for the necessity of understanding other cultures, but it also looks deeply into our own.”


A person walking on the street in Goree, Senegal

Random image, in Goree

posted in Rebeka Ramangamihanta

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  1. Salamalekum sama xarit!
    Hello my friend! It is a pleasure to read your superb writing and reflections on your experience thus far in Senegal. You are making me want to return to see my host family and all of my dear friends there. Continue to grow in your adventures and take on the anthropology of every day life with the consideration and intuition you have already exhibited. A biento!

    says Tatiana
    February 3, 2015 at 5:23 pm
  2. Malekuem Salam sama xarit burafet!
    Thank you for your sweet comment. I really hope you have the opportunity to see your family and friends here again. Senegal is so wonderful!
    I hope everything is going well.
    Bye 🙂

    says Rebeka
    February 4, 2015 at 1:06 pm
  3. Can’t wait to read more of your posts. I am learning a lot about Senegal!

    says Sue
    February 4, 2015 at 2:51 pm

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