I suspected that the greatest curiosity would be the gorillas I had come to see in the volcanoes national park. I soon discovered, however, that the greetings people offered when meeting me were quite unexpected – a limp arm nudged in my direction rather than an outstretched hand to shake.
This happened again and again – I suspected at first it might be the best that someone who had an injury or even had a stroke could offer, but it soon became clear that something quite different to the usual handshake greeting was the norm with each new person I met. Upon asking around, I discovered that the ‘hanging arm’ was a sign of deference and respect when meeting someone – almost as if to say “You can shake my entire arm and I won’t put up any resistance – this is a sign of the respect I have for you”.
As greeting rituals in general are so important in African cultures*, I soon became accustomed to this in Rwanda (and also across the border in southern Uganda) and learned to shake the other person’s arm gently and slowly, as the best way I could think of signaling my respect to them. I will never again visit Africa and expect a firm, decisive handshake – and would be somewhat caught-off-guard if I did!
* I should add that it’s so critical to always expect at least a few sentences about ‘how are you?’, ‘how is your family?’ etc., at the start of any African meeting… Whether business or social. What in North America would be considered ‘small-talk’ is absolutely critical in African cultures, and without it you’ve lost the trust/respect/confidence of the other person.
Who’s telling the story
Jason Cressey has a radiant smile, is interested in everything and above all is passionate about living a happy, curious and adventurous life around the world when he is not home, a small island off the west coast of Canada. He adores Turkey, where he returns every year with his husband, and travels every winter in far way and varied places such as Indonesia, Paraguay, Kiribati or the Kingdom of Brunei. Born in Yorkshire (United Kingdom), Jason now conducts in-house psychology workshops. He is also a scriptwriter and consultant on the adaptation of the documentary film of his Deep Voices book on dolphins and whales in mythology and spiritual beliefs. He also runs a bed and breakfast on Salt Spring Island, Canada, and takes groups swimming with humpback whales to Niue in the South Pacific. Yes, he makes all magic dreams possible!