In my culture, it is rude not to greet someone older than you. You don’t wait to be greeted and then respond- you extend your hand for a handshake, you call out over the fence, you go over to the table, you say ‘hello’, ‘good morning’, ‘how are you?’.
Growing up, I remember getting a smart smack to the back of my legs if I refused to greet someone that was greeting me. I would often be standing at my parents’ side (it didn’t matter which one) and the person they were speaking to would suddenly notice me and want to say hi. Their voice would get high pitched, they would bend at the waist and say ‘Oh hello there’ and offer their hand for a handshake. I never wanted to greet them (I suppose all children don’t want to touch people they don’t know) but I would extend my hand and offer a handshake. As I got older, my father would say,’nope that’s a very limp handshake. Close your hand around mine (his hand was HUGE, the best I could do was try to squeeze the sides of his hand), there you go, now squeeze, perfect. That’s how you greet. Just offering your hand is not good enough. Look me in the eye. There we are, now I know you see me and are greeting ME.’
Now, I have the best handshake in the world. It’s confident, firm (but not bone crushing like this guy I know, nkt) and respectful.
But, back to Kendi…
‘Kendi, mos Mary’ (Kendi greet Mary) I instruct my daughter. She slinks away and stands behind me and buries her face into the back of my leg.
‘Oh its fine’ Mary says, giving up.
‘Kendi, high five Mary’. I continue. I ignore Mary, she won’t have to live with my daughter when she grows to be disrespectful in her teenage years.
Kendi is still hesitant.
‘Gota‘ I offer. Gota is the sheng (swahili slang) word for ‘fist bump’ a form of greeting I’ve only seen Africans and African Americans use. I offer my fist for Mary to bump.
She’s happy with that. She offers her fist and Mary bumps it and the greeting is complete.
Here’s what I have decided- I know Kendi is a baby and she gets anxious, shy, scared, bored or just plain disobedient. But, in all that, there are things she is not allowed to do. Not greet an adult is one. She can choose her form of greeting, but greet she must. She hugs family members sometimes, she gives high fives, she gotas, and she offers her hand for a handshake.
Lesson taught and learned: You must greet people who greet you (who are safe to greet because they are talking to your parents).
Another thing I have learned to teach her is this: You know when you’re standing in line somewhere and your child is somewhere between your legs or under your skirt and they are looking behind you and whining? Often, when you look to see what is going on, you’ll find a stranger smiling and calling your child over. I have taught Kendi to say ‘No’ and I teach this lesson loud enough for the stranger to hear. A stranger calling your child over is A VERY DANGEROUS THING and I don’t want Kendi to feel obligated to go where she is summoned by strangers.
Hopefully, these lessons will teach my child respect and safety.