Ethiopian Culture

Greetings

  • Greetings are very important in Ethiopia. It is expected that people acknowledge one another courteously even if they do not speak the same language.
  • It is rude to rush through a greeting or pass by someone without acknowledging them even briefly. 
  • Greet the eldest people first out of respect.
  • It is common to shake hands to greet strangers, using the right hand or both hands. Make eye contact during a handshake. However, this should be the only assertive aspect of the interaction. People generally hold one another’s hands quite lightly.
  • Men often greet other men that are close friends by pulling one another into an embrace (whilst still shaking hands) and using their other hand to rub the person’s back.
  • Close friends often kiss one another on the cheek around three times. If it has been a long time since people have met, they may even kiss four or five times and embrace for longer.
  • Some Muslims may prefer not to embrace members of the opposite gender unless they are a close family member. Therefore, men should wait until a woman extends her hand first before extending his own hand for a handshake.
  • The elderly are greeted with significant respect. Some may kiss their hands to greet them, while others may give a small bow or lower their head.
  • The elderly often kiss children on the forehead, and may receive a kiss on their knee or leg in return.
  • Use people’s titles to address them until invited to move on to a casual basis. Common titles include ‘Ato’ (Mr), ‘Woizerit’ (Miss) and ‘Woizero’ (Mrs).


Verbal Greetings

  • Verbal greetings vary between ethnic groups’ languages, but generally mean the equivalent of ‘How are you?’.
  • In Amharic, friends and peers say “Indemin nih?” to a male and “Indemin nish?” to a female. To say the same greeting to an elder, one says “Indemin nawot?”.
  • In Oromiffa, one greets members of either gender with “Akam jirta?
  • The Tigrinya form is "Kameleha?" for a man and "Kamelehee?" for a woman.
  • Muslims of different ethnicities may also greet using the traditional Islamic Arabic greeting “Assalaam 'alaikum” (Peace be upon you).
  • A more formal Amharic greeting is “Tena Yistilin” (May God give you health).
  • A casual greeting is to say “Salam” (Hello).
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