Yesterday my host-father gave me a lesson in Ghanaian greeting etiquette.
In the evenings, he often sits on a chair in the front yard. When I get home and walk through the gate of the perimeter wall, I always call “Anoola,” which means “good evening,” and wave.
Apparently I’ve been doing it wrong! Last night he said, “You don’t greet when you are far away. You should wait until you’re closer. Unless you’re on a bicycle or in a car, then you can wave and greet from far away. But you should wait.”
“Ok, thank you for telling me,” I responded. “From now on, I’ll wait.”
I had already sort of noticed this phenomenon from walking around. Back home, I say hello to people when they’re about 1-2m in front of me. We make eye contact, smile, say hi, and maybe say “How are you?” “Good, and you?” “Good” as we pass each other.
In Ghana, however, people wait until you’re side-by-side. It threw me off at first to have people greet me just as they were leaving my peripheral vision. Do I turn and say something? But most people seem to speak as they’re walking away. One person might say “Despa” (good morning) as they pass another and the second person says “Naaaa” (fine) as they continue in their separate directions.
It seems an especially strange practice when boys are yelling after me. I’m unlikely to respond to men yelling “Hey salaminga!” anyways, but there is no way I’m going to stop, turn around, and answer when I’m already a few meters away down the road.