Daily Archives: May 28, 2005

Cultural clues

As I was being introduced to the family of one of my son’s classmates from law school I learned something that I had not clued into before.  The family had come to Canada from Africa; from Zambia.  The woman graduating was accompanied by friends and by her son and mother.  As Eric introduced me to his classmate, they in turn introduced both of us to her friends and her mother.  Her mother was sitting and was probably a bit older than myself.  As Eric bent over to shake her hand he did something that was culturally African; he took her right hand in his right hand but placed his left hand on his right arm just above his elbow.  I didn’t notice really.  I have seen him shake hands like this before but didn’t catch on to the significance of it.

As he did this simple gesture, the husband of his classmate remarked, “Oh! That is so African.  You can see that he grew up there.” 

I had to ask, what it was that caught his attention.  I found out something I had not learned all the years I lived in Africa.  It is a sign of great respect to shake someone’s hand in this way.  

It is kind of neat to have a son who became culturally sensitive to these subtle African ways.  It marks him as one of them.  He is in tune with even the little things that living there for years does not guarantee acquiring.  So he lives with a heart torn between two worlds – knowing the way to function in both.  Born in Canada, raised in the Congo, exiled to Canada till a way opens to return to his loved land.

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