How do you greet someone you know?

  • Handshake
  • Embrace
  • Air kisses
  • Stoop to touch their feet
  • Fist bump
  • Wave
  • Nod
  • Put your hand to your head as if to touch your cap
  • Put your hand on your heart
  • Say hello
  • Ask how they’re doing
  • Ask about their health, family, and family’s health

What about for someone you don’t know?

I’ve seen all of the above at some time or another.

Every culture has different norms. Often there is a complicated set of norms depending on who the person is, their status, their relation to you, where you are, when you last saw them, who else is there, and how much time you have. These norms can vary from one family to another (who hasn’t been good friends with or dated someone whose family interacted differently from their own?)

Greetings are a huge part of Afghan culture. In the U.S., we would nod to someone in the hallway, give a blanket hello to the folks in our office in the morning, or give instructions for our destination to the cab driver. But here: take time. Take lots of time. Not just with your friend who you haven’t seen in awhile. Take time with every single person you interact with. (Note: the only exception I’ve heard of to this rule is migrant or road construction workers, who aren’t noticed at all.)

A typical Afghan greeting interaction goes like this –

You Ask: Hello. Good morning. How are you? How is your health? How is your family? Are you well? Is life well? Is your family well?

They Answer: Thank you, I am well. My family is well. Good morning. God is good. Very well, thank you.

When you get into the car, you greet the driver with a complete greeting before he asks where you want to go. When you walk into an office, plan to walk up to every single person in the office and have this interaction. It doesn’t matter if it is your own office and you see them every day. Greet each person individually. Every day. Quick run into the Grocery store, be prepared to properly greet the clerk who checks out your 2 items.

This is so ingrained here that when a cell phone rings during a meeting you will hear the cell phone owner answer with: Hello, Good morning, How are you, and How is your health all before the other person has a chance to respond with why they called (completely irrespective of the fact that the person is talking on a phone in the middle of a meeting).

I asked you what is the difference if you are greeting/meeting someone for the first time. Well, here, it makes no difference. You go through the entire spiel. And it should be noted that no where in that spiel do you mention your name, ask for their name, state where you’re from, indicate how you know them, or declare your purpose for this meeting. Those are pretty irrelevant. And I’ve had plenty of introductions where I never heard their name nor gave my own.

Let me also say that for someone just trying to learn the basics of language it can be challenging to learn so much so soon (especially because there are many different ways of asking/saying essentially the same thing for a greeting). But once you make a good greeting with an Afghan, you’re in. Once you can do that, additional language has a lot less added value. If you’re coming to Afghanistan (or anywhere in the Middle East), learn to greet properly.