How Do You Say Hello?

Flag of the United States of America

Flag of the United States of America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wrote about our experiences hosting an exchange student awhile back as you all may or may not  recall. (yes I know I still need to complete the next two parts of that series)  One of the things I learned from the experience is how differently people socialize from culture to culture. How customs differ – surprisingly – even when we don’t think the culture is all that different from our own.

A good example of this is the difference between American and German greetings.  Here, we always say Hi (or Hello) and add: “How are you”?  Our Laura came to me perplexed and somewhat annoyed one evening and inquired “Why does everyone ask me how I am?”  In Germany, people merely say Hello or Good Morning etc and smile.  It is considered at best mildly intrusive and somewhat rude to inquire further.  She went on to tell me that in Germany people can tell by looking at you how you are, so it’s not necessary to ask. Specifics about what’s going on in German lives is information saved for those who need to know – and shared in later, separate conversations.   I explained to Laura that in America asking how someone is  is just considered the polite way to greet someone.  It’s generally for form’s sake only.  I really don’t want the other person to overshare – but I don’t mind hearing that they just got back from a great vacation; or that cousin Susie just had her first baby.  Generally  the polite response to the inquiry is “Fine, and you”? In Germany, all you have to do is say hello back.  Simple, and direct.

I have been caught out a few times when someone just says hello to me and I respond “Fine and you'”?   Duh-Oh!  Has anyone else done ever done that? I always feel so dumb….  The “how are you?” part is so ingrained in me that I assume its been said; even when it wasn’t.  Frankly, I always think it’s slightly unfeeling of the other person when I don’t hear them ask.  Unless I visit Germany  because I know its normal there NOT to ask.

Of course, here in America we have our regional differences as to what is acceptable initial interaction with others.  My neck of the woods is – erroneously in my opinion – considered one of the most unfriendly regions in the US.    True, we keep to ourselves much of the time – but we’re there when you need us.  New Englanders often make the assumption that others will reach out if they want to socialize or if they need us. Otherwise, we figure you want your privacy and we’ll leave you to it. I’m not like that, I’ll tell you long, involved stories about my kids the first time we meet.  (Ok, maybe the second time…)

The folks in the Midwest take “friendly” to a whole new level.   I remember a visit to Chicago shortly after my youngest was born.  My Aunt and I were having lunch at Shaw’s Crab House downtown and I had to use the “necessary”. (such a quaint term, innit?)  As I was washing up, I happened to look up in the mirror and caught the eye of another restaurant patron.  Now, in New England when that happens you nod, and smile slightly, no teeth showing – that’s all.  Here however, I got a full on prattle.  I confess I became completely thunderstruck and unable to contribute anything other than a dazed  “Mmm hmmm” where appropriate.  “Oh Hey Howareya?  Beautiful day! Gonna be a scorcher later, yeah? I just finished replanting my flower borders yesterday. My daughter came home early from school or I would’ve had it done last week….. “  and so forth. All this, because I made eye contact, smiled, and nodded.    I wandered back to my table; and my Aunt -taking in my glazed eyes and totally gobsmacked expression -asked me what happened. She laughed when I told her and said  “Yep, that’s Midwest Friendly for you!  Dontcha love it”?  Pssst: here’s a confession – now that I’ve spent more time out there, I really do!!

Down South, they must feed you once they have welcomed you to their home.  You must eat what they serve you and you will be encouraged to have seconds, even thirds. Your hosts aren’t completely happy until you’ve eaten yourself into a food coma.  (I exaggerate only slightly for narrative purposes) Once you have been invited into a southerner’s home and heart you are family, period. Forever and ever, Amen. Since I’m still in the confessional, I’ll tell you I love that, too.

But watch out. Southern women have passive aggressive down to a science. They get away with some outrageous statements and observations just by adding this one simple phrase:  “Bless (her/his/their) heart(s)!”  “Miss Clairee, bless her heart, can’t say anything nice about anybody- so she comes and sits by me.” Or, “Poor Bobby Lee, his love of his home-brew got him pulled over for drunk driving, bless his heart. And his kids, bless their hearts, are gonna have to go live with their Aunt Lucy while he serves his jail time” I think this may be the southern way of acknowledging others’ difficulties and sort of asking for divine intervention. Or I could be wrong,  and it’s just a nicer way to gossip…

I’ve always been interested in learning about the customs and culture of other countries. Now that I have viewers and followers all over the world I would love to know – How do you say Hello?  Can’t wait to hear from you!

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11 thoughts on “How Do You Say Hello?

  1. In Bulgaria they say zdrasti for hi or zdravey for hello. In the UK we always add ‘how are you?’ but I’ve given up asking people how they are here. My neighbours just give me blank looks!

    • I got a few blank looks from our German exchange students at first when they got here. Once they got used to it though, it seemed to come naturally for them to respond, and even ask it themselves. I wonder how that went when they got back home? 😉 Thank you for writing, and taking the time to stop by my site! I will check yours out today, I am going hiking with my new camera soon. Have a wonderful day! Best, Donna

  2. We say Moi for hello in Finland! And Moi Moi for goodbye 😀 Finns are naturally reticent and shy even stoic. But underneath that veneer is a kind and upfront person. Silence is a national pastime 😀 Moi Moi! Sharon

  3. in our country,we say hi as hi and hello as hello,or “kamusta?”(how are you?) with an slight exaggerated smile(contradicting huh:))….then offer you our special dishes and smiles again….we smile and laugh most of the time its contagious 🙂

  4. Very interesting thoughts. Growing up, I always believed that unless the families had known each other for 200 years, we were strangers and treated accordingly.

    The southern hospitality was contrived, especially when tinged with a bit of distrust towards we northerners. Midwesterners were genuinely friendly and open. Same with south westerners. Oregonians were reserved, always afraid that my being a californian meant that I was looking into moving there. Californians are a micronism of the rest of the country; extreme north, distrustful. Extreme south; fake. Central valley, reserved; mountain, friendly and accepting, once they get to know you a bit.

    Great piece. Love your stories…And look, I’ve figured out the button!!!

    • Hurray for figuring out things! Thanks for your thoughts. I’ve been on a roll
      with my writing today. Please let me know what you think of my other piece, and Sharon’s article. Btw, I’m slowly talking the Viking into getting me the iPad!!! Wish me luck! 😉

    • And thanks too, I don’t have a lot of experience with the southwesterners, or Californians. Coloradans are like Oregonians-afraid Cali’s are gonna move in and take over-but also quite friendly. Pacific NWesterners are also reserved but friendly. Southerners are fake to the tourists, for sure. And I agree 1000% about the 200 yr comment. Seen it in action back in the day. Not so sure its still true, what with the influx of immigrants and stuff. The old time Swamp Yankees are vastly outnumbered…Thx again

      • Swamp Yankees, what a great description! I lived in Colo.Springs for about 3 years in very early 80’s. Loved it there and people were great, but I wasn’t enough of a true outdoors/hiking/hunter-fisherman to fit in long term, for them or me. But BEAUTIFUL country.

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