The people who greet us, the greetings they use and the cultures they represent

As I travel the world, one of the first things I always love to do is learn how to greet the people I meet in their own language. ‘Hello’ becomes so much more mysterious and interesting when you hear it said, and speak it, in different tongues. It almost becomes a gateway to understanding the diversity and embracing the many cultures of the people in the world we share. Here are some of the more common greetings I have come across recently with some notes about the people who offered them.

As-Salamu Alaykum (Arabic for “Peace be upon you”)

being the standard greeting in the Muslim world, I guess there are countless settings in which it may be used. For me, this was the greeting often shared as we travelled among the Berber people in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. We were trekking to the top of Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa at 4,167m above sea level. The Berbers were a simple and very friendly group of people and I had the honour to share many cups of mint tea or extremely timely and welcome glasses of chilled orange juice as they offered their hospitality and made us welcome.

The village of Armed with Mt Toubkal towering in the background

Hakuna Matata (Kiswahili meaning, “No problems”)

Like so many Westerners, I first came upon this phrase whilst watching Disney’s The Lion King. I was delighted to hear that it was actually a phrase used in East Africa, in my case among the Guides and Porters working hard to get us to the top of Kilimanjaro. At 5,985m above sea level, Kilimanjaro is the highest free standing mountain in the world and the highest point on the African continent. I never made it to the top. I reached a height of 5,685m at Stella Point on the rim of the volcano that is Kilimanjaro. For sure the Porters and guides on that mountain had tremendous physical strength but it was their spiritual strength I admired most. Under their heavy loads in the searing heat or steep, freezing ascent, they were so often singing. If anything went wrong or hindered them, they would smile and say, “Hakuna Matata” basically meaning that life’s problems weren’t necessarily their problems and would not stop them.

Kilimanjaro from our hotel in Moshi

Namaste (Hindi greeting literally meaning, “Hello” but with significant spiritual meaning)

It wasn’t just in the mountain trails of the Himalayas where I joined hands and greeted the local people with, “Namaste”. I’d actually learnt the phrase and started using it during my first trip to India several years before I visited Nepal. Though in practical terms, it is a greeting, it is also a message of peace from the offeror to the universe and a hope for peace in return with hands clasped in prayer.

For me, this greeting punctuated some of the most spectacular and beautiful moments of my life. I worked in India for just over a year working between Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. The work was hard and frustrating but we used every moment of leisure time to explore the land and the culture. Among other wonders we saw the Taj Mahal, the deserts of Jaipur, where we sat in a traffic jam mostly comprising elephants, and the beautiful shores of Kerala, Goa and Chennai. The beauty of the land and the culture, tolerance and spirituality of it’s people was truly inspiring.

Procession of elephants on the outskirts of Jaipur
View of the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort. I can imagine Shah Jahan looking from his prison here out to the home of his beloved Mumtaz Mahal

Though it was work that brought me to Kathmandu in Nepal, within days of completing my meetings I had escaped the bustle of the city. Soon I found myself crossing the country by bus and then walking in the foothills of the Annapurna Range among some of the highest mountains in the world. Every second my eyes were open and as far as I could see in all directions the views were spectacular and breath-taking. I grew fond of the tea, the Tea houses and the friendly mountain people who hosted me in them. Having since completed a further two trips in the Everest Region (Everest Base Camp and Mera Peak) I still can’t get enough and have plans to return to Nepal as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Everest (Zoomed in pic from the Everest View Hotel above Namche Bazaar)

And A Wee Scottish Toast To Leave You With

I grew up in Scotland and this is my home. It’s where I return after every trip and where I depart from on the next one. I live in a small friendly town on the West Coast called Prestwick. The beach is a few minutes walk from my house, the people here are great and there’s a half a dozen pubs along the Main Street. When I’m training for the mountains, they are found in abundance just over 2 hours drive from my house. They are rugged, beautiful and cater to every level of mountaineer from intrepid beginner walking the path of Ben Lomond to the experienced Mountaineer climbing the North Face of Ben Nevis. Note of caution, the Scottish Mountains are deadly, especially in the winter. They should be approached with caution, appropriate equipment and the skills required to be in the mountains.

Loch Lomond taken near Balmaha

These aren’t the only greetings I have learnt on my travels. Bonjour, Gutten Tag, Dzien Dobry, Magandang Umaga Po, Jambo, are a few of the others I have picked up along the way. It’s always a pleasure to meet you and, if our paths should cross in the future you might hear me offer the Scottish Toast featured in the video below.

A Scottish version of ‘Here’s to us…’

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