A Guide to Namibian Greetings

Just recently, I reached out to greet a visitor from Europe, but the handshake was not complete – that left me both embarrassed and angry.
So, I think it is time to educate each other on the niceties and pleasantries of greetings in Namibia.

Because in Namibia, a simple “hello” with a limp wrist just won’t cut it.

Here, greetings are an art form, a three-part handshake tango called the Oshakati Mambo.

It requires focus, rhythm and maybe a dash of courage (especially if you’re facing someone with a particularly firm grip).

Part one is the classic Western clasp, a firm handshake that says “I recognise your presence … with a smile!”
Part two?

The all-important thumb lock. Imagine pointing your thumbs skyward like mini victors, a symbol of mutual respect that would make your ancestors proud.

Part three?

We return to the trusty Western shake, sealing the deal and leaving everyone feeling like they just conquered the Brandberg together.

Now, some of you might be thinking, “Isn’t a handshake a bit much for every encounter?”

Well, my friends, let me tell you a story.

Just the other day, your humble narrator (that’s me!) reached out to a tourist with the warmest handshake Namibia had to offer, only to be left with a limp thumb-press and briskly walking back.

All I could say to myself was “Ai! Etse!” and I looked around to see who else saw me standing there like a child waiting to be rescued.

Here’s the thing: greetings in Namibia are about acknowledging each other’s presence.

It’s about building a sense of community, even with strangers.

You wouldn’t walk into a room full of people back home and remain eerily silent, would you?

Speaking of rooms, entering one in Namibia is like entering a chorus – a chorus of “hi”s and “moenie”s (mornings) that welcomes everyone.

It’s like we’re saying: “Hey there, fellow humans in this confined space! Let’s all breathe the same air together!”

Look, nobody expects an entire speech, or you greeting everyone, but a simple “aweh”, “eee”, “ao” and another audible exclamation will do just fine.

In this place, you can also just say something in your language, we will know when it is a greeting and when it is a curse.

I have to say that, because some people might say “hallo” but they mean “voetsek”.

Fine, I hear you, it is not common everywhere.

Now, imagine rocking that same enthusiastic “hi” as you enter a bakery in, say, Berlin to buy some pretzels.

The response?

The silence will drive you nuts. Maybe a raised eyebrow here or two there.

You see, in some European countries greetings are more reserved, a silent nod or a muttered “Guten Tag” (good day).

It’s not that they’re unfriendly, it’s just a different social dialect.

In fact, what we call “fake smiles” are not as fake as you think, because that person made an effort too.

But here’s the twist: that Namibian “hi” isn’t just about acknowledging presence, it’s about creating a sense of community.

It’s a way of saying “we’re all in this together, even if we’re just sharing a bus ride”.

And you know what?

Maybe those Europeans could learn a thing or two from our side of the Atlantic.

Imagine a world where a simple “hi” on the bus sparks a conversation about the weather, or the latest football match between African Stars and Bayern Munich.

It might seem small, but those little connections can make a big difference.

They can combat loneliness, break down social barriers and maybe even make that crowded bus ride a little more enjoyable.

Of course, there’s a balance to be struck.

We wouldn’t want to turn Europe into a giant Namibian greeting party (although that could be fun).

But maybe, just maybe, a sprinkle of Namibian warmth could add a little human touch to those sometimes-sterile European interactions. Who knows?

The next time you board a bus in Berlin, a friendly “hi” might just spark a smile and a conversation.

You might even be hailed as a social ambassador, a pioneer of the “hi” revolution!

Just be prepared for a few confused stares at first – they’ll come around eventually.

So, the next time you find yourself in Namibia, remember, a simple “hello” just won’t cut it.

We need the entire ritual.

Embrace the Oshakati Mambo, lock those thumbs and greet your fellow Namibians (and tourists!) with the respect and enthusiasm this beautiful country deserves.

After all, wouldn’t you rather be known as the enthusiastic greeter than the phantom fly-swatter?

Remember, greetings in Namibia are a two-way street.

You offer a handshake, you get a handshake.

You offer a “hi”, you get a “hi” back (or at least a smile).

It’s about creating connections, building a sense of community and showing that we all share this big, beautiful world (and sometimes this crowded bus).

So go forth, travellers, and conquer the Namibian greeting maze.

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