Somali Culture

Greetings

  • It is polite to stand up to greet people that you respect, especially those who are older than you.
  • The common casual greeting in Somali is “See tahay” (How are you?). People may also say “Is ka warran?" (What’s the news?) or “Maha la shegay?” (What are people saying?). These phrases are used to mean simply Hello/How are you.
  • To use the traditional Islamic greeting, say “As-Salam Alaykum” (May peace be upon you). This is often an appropriate greeting when meeting someone older than yourself.  The correct response is “Wa ‘alikum assalaam” (And peace be upon you).
  • Handshakes are the common form of greeting among men. Somali handshakes between men can be quite firm.
  • People generally do not touch those of the opposite gender during greetings 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.
  • In very casual settings where people are familiar with one another, handshakes may not even be necessary.
  • Women generally greet in an informal manner, hugging one another and kissing on the cheek. In some regions, women may shake one another’s hands then kiss the hand that they have touched.
  • Refer to people by their first name alone. It is rare to use people’s last names or formal titles (see Naming).
  • Somalis may refer to adults that they respect and feel a closeness to by a title such as “Adeer” (uncle), “Eeda” ( aunt) or “Habo/Habaryar” (maternal aunt) followed by the person’s first name. One does not have to be related to the person to use these titles.

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