Have you heard someone explain something they did, said or felt simply by saying “That’s because I’m Ethiopian”? Odds are, it really is. There are specific things that Ethiopians are taught growing up. Although the younger generation is widely influenced by popular Western culture, the overwhelming majority of Ethiopians practice these customs and traditions.
“Gursha” and “enibla”
I’m going to start with the obvious, widely publicized culture. In the Ethiopian culture, it is considered rude to not share food or to not offer people near you a bite of your food. It doesn’t matter if you are in a restaurant, at home or in the office; if you are about to eat, you ask the people around you if they would like to dine with you by saying “enibla” which translates to “let’s eat together”. The person can choose to eat or decline by saying “yetebareke yihun” meaning “let it be blessed”. The more affectionate and harder offer to decline is the gursha, which is the physical act of someone, who has prepared a good handful of whatever is on their plate, feeding you. This is considered rude to decline. It is generally offered to people who are close to you, friends, family, or even a first date (it’s really not awkward).
Every culture teaches us to respect our elders, but the difference is to what extent. When we go to my grandparents’ house together with my parents, uncles, aunts and cousins, I get to experience what “Ethiopian respect” is at its best. Everyone sits in the living room, waiting for lunch to be served, and my grandfather gets up to wash his hands. When he returns, 10+ people (all adults) get up from their seats to welcome him back from the short trip to the bathroom. All respectfully say “nor”, which translates as “welcome back”. My grandfather replies “be’egziher” meaning “by God” implying a thank you. After my grandfather takes his seat, everyone else sits, waiting to repeat the process with anyone older than them. This culture practice is losing its ground with the younger generation in the cities. My sources tell me, it’s still practiced in the rural areas.
“Tu tu tu”
This culture will probably go beyond your wildest imagination unless you have experienced it. When older people come across an infant, they will complement, bless and then spit on his/her face. This is not like what you see in the movies where the bad guy being interrogated spits on the agent’s face. This is a mere spatter of spit on the infant’s face that are expressions of blessings and positive wish for the child’s future.
Coffee is made in three rounds; if you are a guest and have all the time in the world, you can sit and drink all rounds (about 4 cups of coffee). If you are in a hurry, you can just do one round, one cup. After the first round (“abol”) is served, water is added to the clay pot and placed back on the charcoal, resulting in a thinner, weaker coffee for the second round. After you’ve had your rounds, you warmly thank your host and excuse yourself.
Photo credit: buzzfeed and mesob.ch