Given that Punjabi's are such warm and welcoming people it is only fitting that they share their enthusiasm when greeting others. Particularly when it comes to showing respect for your elders. India is such a diverse country with several different faiths which means traditions will differ throughout the regions, even across Punjab.
As a foreigner visiting Punjab it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the endless amounts of customs and rituals. However you still want to show your respect for the culture at hand and participate in their customs.
So How Do You Greet Someone?
You can be sure that no matter which region of Punjab you are in, they will all greet one another with the phrase 'sat-sri-a-kaal' which is their way of saying hello. Though don't be confused as they also use satsriakaal to say goodbye or goodnight. Concurrently they will place their hands in the prayer position and slightly bow their head. For greeting strangers in the street this is all you really need to know.
Many will also use the word jii as a way of respect to another person when greeting them. There are a few ways of using the word jii. If you don't know another's name you can simply say 'satsriakaal jii'. Or if you are greeting your sister in law you would say 'satsriakhal bhabi jii'. Concurrently you would hold your hands together in the prayer position and bow your head.
If you wanted to go that one step further than why not ask how they are, which is 'kihalhe', pronounced as key-hul-a. There are other variations to asking how one is however I found this phrase to be the simplest way. Should they ask this back to you then you can either reply with okay, which is 'theeka' pronounced tee-car. Or you could also reply with good, pronounced as va-dee-a in Punjabi.
How you greet others, ultimately is up to you and what you are comfortable with. Remember you also have your own culture and identity and it is okay to teach others how you prefer to be greeted.
The most important thing after you have greeted a loved one such as friends or family, is to embrace them in a big bear hug, wrapping both arms around the person. When I first greeted a friend of my mother in law's I gave her a hug with very little gusto as I had been greeting people endlessly since arriving. She says to me that is not how you hug, this is how you hug as she opens her arms wide and smothers me in a big bear hug.
Since then I now recognise her immediately and am sure to embrace her in a bear hug and later we have a laugh about it. Although this only applies to women greeting other women or men greeting other men. Since Punjab is still very traditional and women make very minimal physical contact with men unless they are directly related.
Therefore when greeting men I always stick to simply saying 'satsriakaal'. Although I found most men would extend their hand to shake as a way of embracing my culture. However men will typically greet other men by handshake.
The most important thing after you have greeted someone, is to embrace them in a big bear hug, wrapping both arms around the person.
When it comes to greeting your elders you must pay your respects to them through the tradition known as 'pairi hath pauna' or 'pairi pauna'. Once you greet your elder you are to then touch their feet.
This tradition is a way of showing respect to elders and sharing a connection together. Although it is tradition to physically touch their feet, many will simply make the motion of reaching to their feet or knees with one or both arms as they slightly bend towards them. Then in the motion of the cross, you are to touch your forehead and chest with one hand, then touch left to right of your chest.
Your elder will then give you their blessing and usually will touch you on the head or shoulder. This custom is actually used to greet anyone that is older than you although they may not be elderly per say. Personally I only participated in this tradition when I first arrived in Punjab as a way of showing my willingness to embrace their culture.
It was also expected of me as a daughter in law to pay my husband's parents respect each morning after rising and then again before going to bed. However they were okay with me simply saying Good Morning and Good Night, given it was not something I remembered to do on a daily basis.
How you greet others, ultimately is up to you and what you are comfortable with. Remember you also have your own culture and identity and it is okay to teach others how you prefer to be greeted. You will find simply saying 'satsriakaal' is enough to show your enthusiasm to learn their culture and embrace their traditions.
Many enjoy teaching you their traditions and will most likely let you know what their custom is around greeting others. If they don't offer then why not ask them to teach you. They will be thrilled that you are interested in learning their culture. So don't be overly worried that you don't know all their traditions.
How do you greet your Punjabi family and friends?
Is pairi pauna a tradition you participate in?