In Afghanistan, greeting someone is not a trivial matter, the conventional old "Hi" or "Hello" simply doesn't meet the standard of politeness expected of an Afghan. A normal greeting between two people will be something like this: "Salaam aleikum, chutoor hastee? Jan-shuma jur ast? Khud hastid? Sahat-e-shuma khub ast? Be chair hastid? Jur hastid? Khane kheirat? Zindebashi."
Translated this means; Peace be with you, how are you? Is your soul healthy? Are you well? Are you well? Are you healthy? Are you fine? Is your household flourishing? Long life to you!.
It is such a custom here to use these long introductions that in English I find myself doing the same, once my range of Dari and Pashto greetings have run out. How are you? Are you fine? How is your family? Are you healthy? And it goes on…
Interestingly, I have never heard anybody answer anything other than, "yes, thank you I'm fine, my family is fine, everything is fine." I wonder if these formalities still serve any purpose? In reality it seems quite a drag to have to go through this process every time you say hello to someone for the first time that day. But it adds a charm and is a real touch of a long distant history where politeness and respect were of utmost importance.
And of course, to seal any true friendship in this place, you have to be prepared to sit down and take the time for a cup of green or black tea. Sweetened with spoon after spoon of sugar and sometimes an equal dose of powdered milk. This sugary sweet drink is as ancient as the tradition greetings themselves and it always provides an excuse to sit still and just to observe during another busy day.
Ben's blog posts are being published retrospectively. He wrote this post on 24th October 2012.