The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the Unversity community since 1893

Thursday December 3rd

Column: How to greet the Nacirema

The odd tradition of greeting in Nacirema country is a complicated, yet important, art that one should master before arriving here. During my time in this strange land, I have had to learn the Nacireman greeting practices, so as not to startle the poor Nacireman folk by going off-script. To avoid blank stares, confusion and awkward moments, it is best to follow these two tips:

1. In Nacireman speak “Hello, how are you doing?” actually simply means “Hi.” The right response to this is “I’m good,” which also means “Hi.” 

After various interactions with different Naciremans, I quickly learned that no one really cares about how I am doing. I came to this realization after responding with answers such as “I’m stressed about my midterm tomorrow, so I’m quite nervous,” or “I didn’t sleep very well yesterday so I’m tired.” 

These types of answers ignite panic in the Nacireman folk. Contrastingly, in Kenyan culture if someone asks you how you are doing, they genuinely care and will stop to listen to what you have to say. If they do not care, they simply say “hi” and do not follow it up with a “how are you?” 

Hence, in Nacireman country I have learned to simply say, "I am good," and save my real answers for when I speak to Kenyans.

2. Nacireman folk either like to pretend that they do not know you, or that they did not see you even if they did. 

I have been in situations where I have seen a Nacireman acquaintance whom I waved to or said hi to only to have them look away after making eye contact with me. The first time this occurred I was shocked because I had spent an entire semester in the same group as this Nacireman woman. It was difficult to believe that she could not recognize me after so many hours working together. 

With time, I realized this is one of the odd customs of the Nacirema. I believe this can be attributed to the fact that acknowledging the presence of each other would have to involve some level of compassion, and at times this can scare the Nacireman folk. 

Therefore, I would advise visitors to do as the Nacireman do in order to prevent social discomfort. This means that you should look away if you have seen someone you know, and act like you hadn’t seen them if said person comes up to say “Hello, how are you doing?” And, in extenuating circumstances, continue to pretend that you do not know them and re-introduce yourself as if you have never met before.

I hope these two tips can help other ethnographers coming to study the Nacirema. Greetings may seem like a small detail at first, but they often give you a window into how people choose to interact with one another. As for Nacirema country, one can deduce a culture of isolation and apathy from their greeting customs.


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