When words like these come naturally and without translation.
When food like this is standard fare.
When a primary coloured flag is the table cloth, beaded animals the props and there’s biltong in a bowl
Then you know that you’re home from home in your home. Even if its ten thousand miles and a continent away.
The South African community in Dubai is about fifty to a hundred thousand strong. Maybe more now as the only figures I can find date back five years – so just give or take a few tens of thousands.
However many, wherever people congregate, there is always someone saying something Soueffrican and it’s the English-ish language that connects long before the looks.
That and the fact that we kiss on the lips. Loudly and easily. As in a hello-how-are-you greeting. The direct, face to face, lips to lips, South African styled KISS!
Rowdy, robust and resilient – in the true sense of the word but it seems we’re one of the few countries that still partake in this heady custom, and even then it could be a dying practice. That’s if watching the youth of today is anything to go by as it seems they prefer the fist pushing, hand pumping and thumb locking greeting, as brothers in arms all done in a sassy sway and loud howzits. Like some ritualistic mating dance…and maybe it is.
According to credible sources kissing is a complex behaviour that requires significant muscular coordination involving a total of 34 facial muscles and 112 postural muscles. Its also right up there in your face and can leave you either nonchalantly and happily greeted or trying to discreetly turn your back to wipe away residual strings of spittle.
Maybe the latter is why many around the world have chosen to leave the lips and take on other forms of wordless greetings. Living in a country which hosts more than 200 different nationalities, the basic interaction of greeting can be confusing, if not highly awkward, sometimes bordering on licentiousness but mostly downright embarrassing.
The Americans are cool. They hug. Which takes on a life of its own from an A frame, front facing, butt-out posture with gentle tap on the back to a wholehearted embrace and a good few serious klaps* around the shoulders. Then there’s the moral hug…. heaven forbid that body and boobs touch at a time such as this. So it’s a sideways shuffle, one arm around the back and a halfway hip hustle, barely touching, all the while looking straight ahead and never, no, never making eye contact. Over and done in a second. Phew!
As much as hugging is a common greeting in the States, French people almost never hug. They kiss and if you think I’m going to go into the intricacies of the sexy smooch that goes with the nations name, I’m not. Use the Internet for that. French kissing excluded, they, along with other Europeans prefer the cheek-kiss greeting. This too has sub-sections as sometimes the lips make contact with the cheeks and other times it’s a vague, pretend movement of vinegar-puckered lips and a lot of hot air. This can be a once off lurch or a prolonged head bobbing motion of one cheek, one kiss, the other cheek another kiss and sometimes even and third or forth kiss kiss kiss – one on the left and three on the right. By the time you’re done with this ritual you’re likely to have banged heads, be exhausted and ready for rest, never mind the life and soul of the party.
In some places in the Middle East it is customary for men to greet each other by rubbing noses whilst it’s a total breach of protocol for a Western man to shake the hand of, or even vaguely touch a local lady in any way. Ladies can greet each other cheek to cheek and do so most enthusiastically.
It takes the recall of an elephant to remember the correct kissing etiquette and most times I don’t. This has resulted in many an embarrassing situation of an innocent greeting turning into a horribly skewed mouth mess with both parties recoiling in horror and the remnants of bright pink lipstick left perfectly placed on an earlobe or the end of a nose. Hardly the way to keep new friends or please people.
What are we to do … as greetings, in whatever form are an expected and appreciated part of every day life and an essential part of creating community.
Any and all suggestions welcome!
* klap – to give someone a good smack