Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why pleasantries are so named - Today's travel digest (3 of 10)

Prologue: For those new to the site, I am currently in Texas to take my pediatric credentialing exam and visit family. Therefore, the following dialogue occurred a few clicks west of Swaziland, in a north Texas coffee house.

“Good morning!”

The eyes of the greeted met mine, wearing what is most accurately described as a blank stare.

“Good morning,” I repeated, beginning to wonder if it was actually a good morning...maybe it wasn’t. It seemed like one, but I have told that I do err on occasion.

“Uh, good morning?” countered the young lady behind the coffee counter.

She didn’t know either.

“How are you?

The stare was replaced by that forehead wrinkle and flickering twitch of the eyelids that means “I do not understand you and I am suspicious that you might want to harm me.”

I gave up.

“A medium coffee, please.”

“You mean a grande?”

“Is a grande a medium?” (Everyone knows darn well that “grande”, literally translated, means “large.”)


“Then, yes, I would love a grande,” I said in clarification, wondering if a “medio” was a small.

“That’ll be two dollars thirty-six.”


When it comes to greetings, Swazis have it right. In Swaziland, money does not exchange hands until the payer and payee greet one another. Favors are not asked until the there is a mutual well-wish. With very rare exception, niceties precede necessities.

Take this common Swazi exchange, for example: “Good morning. Good morning. How are you? I am fine. How are you? I am also fine, thank you. Good. May I have a medium coffee, please?”...and so on.

Only takes a few seconds, and I must point out that a cup of coffee, while nice in and of itself, tastes even better after some humanizing behavior.

Size inflation is no substitute for a smile.


(“Size inflation,” however, is worth its own blog entry. Stay tuned.)


At 5:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i loved this comment Ryan! Finally an American that understands me :-)


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