In Georgia, where I grew up, southern hospitality is a way of life. We abide by rules and customs that include being neighborly and welcoming to family, friends, and even strangers. There is definitive qualities Southerners exhibit from politeness to good home cooking that people from all over the United States recognize as distinctly southern.
“Now that I’ve been in Addis, the phrase southern hospitality has taken on a whole new meaning.”
Maybe it’s Ethiopia’s collectivist culture that makes the warmth and generosity of the city so tangible. According to psychologist Geert Hofstede, who developed a cultural dimensions theory for cross-cultural communication, Ethiopia scores low on individualism, meaning there is a sense of loyalty even in extended relationships. That certainly has been my experience. Here are some of my experiences of Ethiopian hospitality in my first two weeks working and living in the capital.
This first couple of weeks would not have been as a smooth a transition without the generosity of our wonderful aunties. They’ve come to our house to cook us pots and pots of food (I’m sure to turn around at the end of these 6 months and say “weyne chemersh eko”). Others have hand delivered lunch to our workplaces – and would not leave until they have watched us finish every last bite. They have all around made sure we are taken care of and well fed.
Saying “sir” and “ma’am” comes very naturally to me. Here, I’ve seen strangers at restaurants (or anywhere really) refer endearingly to one another as “enat” and “aba.” Even in hurried conversation, a quick “yene konjo” at the end will have me forgetting I just met that person a few hours ago.
I will say I don’t think I was prepared for the craziness that is Addis’s transportation networks. In my helplessness, complete strangers have come to my rescue. If the first person I ask doesn’t know, they’ll ask the nearest walker-by, then someone else who has overheard our conversation may chime in. People have literally come out of their cars to help our RIDE drivers find the obscure location. Asking someone for directions soon becomes a community event.
These first two weeks have reminded me that it is people who get you through tough transitions. I understand that, while this is the place I was born and have ties to, I may look or talk differently than the masses. I’m the outsider, or as one guy put it, “ye habesha ferenge” in Ethiopia.
“Nevertheless, I am grateful for the people, family and stranger alike, who have made me feel like I have indeed returned home.”
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship the organization and the leadership.