Extended greetings are an important part of social interaction and many doors will open for you if you are capable of exchanging simple greeting phrases in the local language. Even a few words make a big difference.
Most areas are Islamic, and upon entering someone’s home, announce your arrival with a confident ‘Salaam aleikum’ (peace be with you), and your presence will be acknowledged with ‘Aleikum salaam’ (and peace be with you).
This is followed by inquiries about your health, the health of your family, the state of your affairs and those of your children. You’re never expected to give an honest answer at this point. In Gambia things are always fine; in Senegal the response is always ‘Ça va’. Never mind the real troubles that might be plaguing you – these can be mentioned later in the conversation.
Although it’s not necessary for foreigners to go through the whole routine, it’s important to use greetings whenever possible. Even if you’re just changing money, negotiating a taxi fee or asking directions, precede your request with a simple. ‘Hello, how are you? Can you help me please?’, rather than plunging right in.