Culture The Beauty of Africa

How to Respectfully Greet Someone in Africa

Handshake
Written by Abraham Odhiambo

First impression matters a lot everywhere you go, and that’s why you should get salutations out of the way. Knowing how to greet someone in Africa will play a significant role in making your travel experience better. 

The challenge you’re likely to face while learning to greet Africans is that every region has different languages and cultures. Africa has the highest linguistic diversity, with over 1500 languages spoken in the different regions.

The languages form part of four language groups; Nilo-Saharan covers Eastern and Central Africa, Afro-Asiatic covers Northern Africa, Horn of Africa and Central Sahara, Khoisan covers the Southern part of Africa, and Niger-Congo covers Eastern, Southern and Central Africa. 

The common languages found across the 54 African countries are English, French and Arabic. 

One interesting fact is that the numerous languages do not affect how to greet someone in Africa with respect. Well, you should know that a greeting is non-negotiable in Africa. 

How Do You Greet Someone in Africa? 

Africans value greetings, and that’s why you should know how to greet them with the utmost respect. It is important to immediately greet everyone you meet at any time of the day.

How to greet someone in Africa. Photo/ The Christian Broadcasting Network.

The handshake is the most common way of how to greet someone in Africa. It is good to note that the handshake should always be firm, and you should also look straight into the eyes of the person greeting you as you show a smile. 

People from rural areas might prefer to greet you with two hands, which is appropriate among most African cultures. When shaking hands with a woman, some African communities prefer she extends her hand first. 

Well, how to greet someone in Africa does not end immediately after the handshake. Africans love to take time exchanging pleasantries in social discussions after a handshake. 

You should always address someone with their second name until they signal it is alright to use their first name. In the local languages, people address elders using titles for father, uncle, mother or aunt. 

It is well appreciated to ask someone about their health since most people consider that as part of a greeting. Once you finish the small social interaction after a handshake, it is okay to shake hands again before walking away. 

Apart from handshakes, some African communities prefer hugs as a way of saying hello. However, you must be very close to a person before they agree to hug you. 

Women from some communities often go for a kiss on the cheek as a way of greeting. However, a handshake is the safest bet if you’re unsure of how to greet someone in Africa

How Do Africans Say Good Morning? 

It is like a routine to say good morning before talking to someone in the morning hours of the day. But how do Africans say good morning? 

Afrikaans – Goeie more 

Swahili – Habari za asubui 

Zulu – Sawubona 

Portuguese – Bom Dia 

How Do You Greet in Different African Languages? 

Knowing how to greet someone in Africa is very important. But the real challenge comes when you have to greet using the different African languages. 

Greetings help in establishing a good rapport with the local people. Here is how to say hello in African languages. 

Swahili –  Jambo or Hujambo or Habari 

Amharic – Selam or Iwi selami newi 

Shona – Kanjan or Mhoro 

Zulu – Sawubona when greeting one person and Sanibonani when greeting several people. 

Igbo – Kodi

Hausa – Salama aleikum or Sannu

Oroma – Akkam or Attam 

How Do Africans Greet Their Elders? 

Greeting is a traditional African trait which plays a crucial role in evaluating one’s level of morals. 

Greeting an elderly or influential person in African societies is more of showing respect than exchanging pleasantries. And thus, Africans greet their elders by bowing, prostrating, squatting, kneeling and a handshake with both hands.

African greeting

A young African girl greeting her elder. Photo/ 360afric.com.

After greeting an elderly person, it is customary to talk to them in your normal speaking voice and avoid using phrases that could confuse them. 

What is Considered Rude in Africa? 

It is generally rude and offensive to point at someone or something using your finger. It is advisable not to wave your finger around if you don’t want to be on the wrong side of the Africans.

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About the author

Abraham Odhiambo

I'm a writer with interests in nature, travel, African safari and sports. I'm pursuing a bachelor's degree in Media and Communication at Egerton University.

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