Friday, November 30, 2012

Salaam! (When Qataris Say Hello)

… a man asked the prophet (S.A.W.), "what in Islam is the best?" He (S.A.W.) answered, "To feed people and to say salaam to everyone whether you know them or not."
 

Traditional Qatari men greet one another by lightly touching noses twice.
 
Young Qataris say hello to a parent or older relative by kissing the elder's forehead.
 
Everyone (within the same gender) shakes hands.
 
But when Qatari women greet one another, there is grasping, kissing, bouncing, shaking, touching, nodding, smiling and talking.  Lots of talking!
 
It's a gymnastics event performed inside a tornado of words. Here's how it works.
 
While talking ("Sister!  I've missed you! I'm happy to see you! Welcome!"), move toward her.  Grasp her hand.  Pull her close. Bounce right cheek against her right cheek 2-4 times while performing air kiss, smiling and responding appropriately to a series of traditional verbal greetings:
 
Peace be with you
And with you, peace
God welcomes you
And you God welcomes!
What's your news?
Great good news! And you, what's your news?
Great good news! And again your news?
Praise to God! And again how are you?
Fine! I hope you are well?
I'm great! I hope you are well?
 
There are so many potential ways to continue the greeting (transforming gradually into regular conversation) that there's a formal way to end too:
 
Pardon me, sister I'm in a rush
 
To which the other replies:
 
I leave you in God's protection
 
And then:
 
May God keep you in good health
 
Move away from her, stepping slowly backwards, remembering to smile and continue talking.  The greeting isn't over until:
 
May God protect you.
 
There are plenty of other things to know about greeting Qataris (and other Arab nationals).  Formal stuff like 
  • smaller group greets the larger group
  • younger person greets the older person
  • person walking or riding greets the sitting person
  • people on your right are greeted first

And if you enter a room where people are eating, don't disturb the meal by greeting people individually.  Instead say "Peace be to God" loudly (so as to interrupt everyone equally, perhaps).
 
Then there's stuff to know like, when asked, "how are you?" one should respond, "Praise God, I'm great."  Even if you're not.  Because it's better to be thankful for the good than spread the distress of the bad. Or if he/she places a palm to her chest, it means she doesn't want to shake hands. And most importantly, whether in food, hospitality or a simple hello, it's important to give more:
 
"When a courteous greeting is offered to you, meet it with a greeting still more courteous..."
 
This seems like a lot to learn, say and do when you come from a country where the traditional greeting is (exclamation optional):

Hi!
 
And the response:
 
Hi!
 
This short standard may be easy to remember and perform. But the Qatari greeting is just…so much more fun.
group of ladies walking at The Pearl
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