Sri Lanka has a rich and diverse culture. We’re very friendly to our guests. We’re also passionate and expressive. What all of this translates to is quite a few methods of greeting. Picking the right one for the right moment can be tricky.
For example, take the traditional Sri Lankan greeting, with hands clasped together, saying “Ayubowan”. Don’t be fooled by how politicians butchered it last month while they were collecting votes. Ulterior motives distort the purity of the greeting. Like how much you bend down. Instead look to the beautiful staff of our national airline, or any presenter on any major tv channel next month during Avurudu festivities, to see how beautiful and elegant this greeting truly is.
We also have motions like the side-to-side head wobble, which to be honest is more an affirmation than a greeting. But we would be remiss not to mention something so uniquely Lankan. In a world of its own, between the front and back “yes” nod and the side to side “no” rotation, the head wobble is ambiguous in meaning, yet strangely fascinating. Much like most people of this island.
We could talk about handshakes, but everyone knows about that boring old thing the colonisers left us. Like a full suit in tropical weather, it’s elegant, it’s a power move, and it’s completely ridiculous.
However let’s talk about an import that actually makes sense: the fistbump.
It’s a form of greeting where two people briefly bump knuckles of each others’ closed fists together. The fistbump as we know it is a 20th century invention, often credited to NBA players from the 1970s. It’s an evolution of the handshake, that evolved into the high-five, which then became a fistbump. The low- and high-fives originated in the 1950s with American athletes. They thought handshakes were too formal for celebrating on the field. Besides who wants the shake a sweaty hand? Which is also believed to be one reason for the fistbump to come from the high-five; even less contact. Legend has it that host of the American reality show Deal or No Deal Howie Mandel adopted the gesture as a friendly way to avoid his contestants’ germs.
Now it’s gone global. Everyone’s fistbumping. Even here. There’s a few reasons for that.
It’s a rat race out there. So whenever we have a meeting, we get to the meat of it real quick, whether it’s business or friendly. But awkward handshakes with two people just hanging on to each other till someone lets go? Or some elaborate routine just to make a show of saying Ayubowan to you. Ain’t nobody got time for that. A fistbump is just half a second and boom, you’re on your way. You can do it as you pass by. Even cats do that.
There’s minimal contact so you don’t have to worry much about someone else’s cleanliness. Sweaty palms, creepy uncles who won’t let go, inconsiderate unwashed government bureaucrats just after lunch? You don’t need to worry about any of that.
Our traditional formal Ayubowan and the colloquial head waggle, or any other local greeting is exclusively ours. Which leads to much confusion sometimes when we have guests over. There’s many a blog post out there on how foreigners have no idea on how to interpret Sri Lankan greetings. Well, thanks to the proliferation of American culture around the world, everyone knows the fist bump. Yay! So you can use that instead and calm the mind of some hapless tourist.
For all it’s brief contact, you don’t fistbump just anybody. You need to be close, and have a connection, for a fistbump to be sucessful. It’s what’s behind the bump that matters, not the bump itself. So when you fistbump someone you create all this context around you, and you create a close bond even if it’s your first time, and it’s a little awkward and you do it anyway.
It’s what the hip kids are doing these days. We’ve all seen it in the entertainment industry. It even made it to politics. Obama was so cool doing it that even people who became cool like Bernie Sanders got to doing it too. Maybe we start getting our politicians to do it too. Would save so much time.
You don’t want to be left out, do you? #FOMO
Cover Image: wikimedia.org