Traditional Greetings Etiquette
Culture & Traditions Food
Etiquette Gestures Languages Phrases
& Tourism Travel
attach great importance to traditional greetings and etiquette
as it serves to either re-enforce existing social bonds or to
familiarise and create new social ties. Such formalities are influenced
by Islam and much of it
has its roots in the ancient empires of the Mandinka,
and other tribes of West Africa.
Indeed, such formalities are an essential social ingredient for
successfully interacting with local Gambian people and leaves
them more pre-deposed towards you.
Always avoid immediately getting down to the subject matter and
spend at least 15 seconds (30 seconds or more for people in authority)
saying hello and how is the family?
Anything less is perceived as disrespectful or that you are looking
down on them. If you do not follow the above advice your life
will be made very difficult.
Remember that handshaking with your right-hand is a compulsory
form of greeting except where you are visiting somebody
who has recently been bereaved in which case it is the cultural
norm that you do not shake hands with them. However, when you
are travelling out of the country or going up-river
for more than a day it is customary to shake hands using your
left-hand. If someone is busy working or with their hands &
are tied-up they may offer you their lower arm instead and you
would hold it as if it were their hand. Though it sounds obvious,
never greet anyone who is praying as they will not answer back.
Furthermore, do not give anything to people using your left-hand
as this is seen as an insult as it is the hand used for toilet
purposes and other actions deemed unhygienic.
You may think that such traditional greetings are a waste of valuable
time but the culture is
different and it is the essential key to successful interaction
in the community. On a point of note women are not expected to
shake hands (though they usually can) particularly in the rural
If you are saying hello to someone from a distance then hold both
your hands together, raise and shake them to the person involved.
When a Gambian is angry at another person then they usually do
not greet each other and just walk by feigning "I didn't
Hugging is normal between the same and opposite sexes but they
must be either related or well acquainted friends and is usually
done after a long absence of meeting each other during their daily
lives. As for kissing on the cheeks it is not unusual between
women or between a man and a woman but again they should be related
on well acquainted.
No matter how busy you are always greet people and be prepared
to stop what you are doing no matter how important it is to you.
Business always comes second! Is it
any wonder that the Gambia is renowned to be one of Africa's most
Local people greet each other with an Arabic ritual
phrase that starts with ‘As-Salamu Alaykum’
meaning "peace be upon you" and in reply you would say
"Maleikum asalaam’ ‘peace be with you".
If you learn a few simple greetings the locals will be delighted.
You can start with trying "Naka
nga def?" which means "how are you?" and
in reply one would say "Mang Fi
rek" which basically means "I'm just fine"
the above phrases are from the Wolof
language which is the country's lingua
franca. If you are really lost
then a simple "hello"
and "how are you" will
suffice as most people in the urban areas understand the
phrase and understand that as a foreigner you may not be tuned
in with local traditions.
Between Gambians, and in particular the Mandinkas,
greetings can be very extensive especially among the older generations
which involves asking about the well being of the individual's
family members then moving
down to more mundane matters such as the weather or some
other sort of local gripe. In fact such greetings can go on for
over a minute before one gets down to the subject of the discussion.
When entering someone's house take your shoes off. Your hosts
may tell you that you don't need to bother but you should insist
and leave your shoes at the door. This action shows them that
you respect their house no matter how poor.
Although most people will understand much of western customs,
do respect their religious beliefs,
cultural norms & customs if you want to avoid offending anyone.
For example, only use your right-hand to give or receive food,
money or any other item.
It is not uncommon to see two friends holding hands—whether they
are two girls or two guys. Handholding in public between two members
of the opposite sex is far less common!
When 'knocking' on someone's door you can just say "Kunk