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Ngoma Ouédraogo Abdoul Dramane

Greetings in Gabon, how they work and why


they work so.

It is well known and generally accepted that any given society is


characterized by certain customs. That is to say a culture or a series of
specific social and cultural manifestations inherent in every society.
However, not everybody can easily identify and acknowledge the
unconscious rules lying behind our systematic manners within our native
communities. Doing so, undoubtedly leads people to misunderstand
such cultural facts. The aim of this essay is to revise, analyse, and
explain the phenomenon of greetings in Gabon, the country where I am
from and whose culture I am subsequently most familiar with. Thus, I
have pointed out some basic questions, the treatment of which will
successfully help us to carry out our study. How do Gabonese people
greet each other? Do greetings differ depending on age? Why do they
greet each other in such a way?

It is of high importance, before we start, to make a clear


distinction between two groups: the young people on the one hand, then
the elderly or senior category on the other hand. The division is
necessary since people in each group do not interact in the same way. In
general, people belonging to the senior category tend to be more
traditional in their greetings, whereas young people rather look modern
as they are adopting more and more the western world standards. Here
the shift from traditional to western standards is mainly due to the fact
that young people consider European and American ways more
fashionable, attractive and modern. They are eager to identify themselves
with what they see in movies and on TV. Unlike elderly people, young
people today have contact with the latest technologies including Internet
which is a considerable source of influence.
Now, how do Gabonese people greet each other? As a matter of
fact, there are different typical ways of greeting depending not only on
the age but also on the gender of the persons involved in the greeting. As
far as the elderly are concerned, they grab each others’ hands or
shoulders while repeatedly kissing each other only by contact of cheeks
–not the lips- or sometimes even using the foreheads. And this particular
behaviour with regards to greetings is the most expanded among the
elderly, no matter what genders and relationships are implied. They do so
to express respect, consideration, confidence, formality and to strengthen
relationships as well. Using the lips or to omit the above-mentioned
typical gestures would be regarded as something odd and impolite.
However, young people’s behaviour differs from the elderly
mainly from the gender point of view. Indeed, young males are usually
energetic and informal when interacting between themselves. Strictly
speaking, two young men would rather share a firm and informal
handshake including some acrobatic moves of the fingers, hand or the
whole arm. In any case the handshake is crucial as it means respect,
friendship, closeness. The rule even applies to people you do not
personally know. Those who disregard this rule are simply exposed to
exclusion, isolation or strong criticism. Nevertheless, this strong
handshake is not that popular among young girls who prefer tenderness
and friendly kisses. Therefore a young boy would kiss a young girl
instead of a handshake exchange to manifest gallantry, her beauty – the
rule has to be followed even if she is ugly since it is a matter of good
manner-. You would look distant and cold if you simply exchange some
handshakes with girls.

As a conclusion, it is really important to be able to understand the


unwritten or unconscious rules that lie behind every cultural fact. It is as
significant and crucial as it provides us with more information and
details that enable us to put such manifestations into their context and
only after all that can we unveil and better perceive other people’s
culture as such. The most important thing is to know that they are
meanings to cultural behaviours that need to be taken into account by
any foreigner who wishes to integrate the new community with
satisfaction. Actually if you visit Gabon one day, do not forget the
respective greetings if you do not want to be frowned upon.