Saturday, October 15, 2005

Saying hello (part two)

Thanks for the comments on part one! As I said, I've done a good deal of thinking about the phrase, "Saying hello... creates a world... in which, saying 'hello' is possible." It made me think about my own patterns of who I say hello to and when and how I do it. Here are some thoughts:

The role of authority

I agree with CM's comment about authority. As a teacher, I will always say hello to my students if I see them outside the classroom. Actually, I usually greet them with “¡Hola!”, since they’re learning Spanish with me. As the one in the position of authority, I think it’s my job to say hello them first.

If I am clearly the subordinate (for example, if I see the Dean on campus), I would probably wait for the other person to take the lead on the greeting. It’s not something I do consciously, I just do it.

If I have a professional relationship with someone and the other person holds the balance of power (say, for example, my doctor), I would probably say hello anyway if I saw them outside the usual context.

Comfort level

I have noticed that if I am in a situation where I feel relaxed and comfortable, saying hello is easy. I don’t even think about it. If I am tense, apprehensive or worried, it becomes almost impossible. Example: my first few months in the gym, I would keep my eyes down and not say hello to anyone, hoping in part, not to be noticed… (or laughed at!) Now, I know a few people and will say hello to them… but it took a good long time for my comfort level to rise to that point.

Personalized greetings

My greetings will often change from person to person. Some people get a nod of the head and a smile, others get a word of greeting (varying from “Hello”, “Hi”, “Hey, how’s it going?” and so on) and others still get hugs and kisses. Depends who they are. My hairdresser, for example, always gets a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Why? Dunno. We’ve been doing that for years and it would seem funny to do anything else.

My best friend though, might get a hug or she might only get a, “Hiya! How’s it going?!”

Why wouldn’t she get a hug and a kiss, too, just like the hairdresser? Because it’s not necessarily our dynamic… If we hadn’t seen each other for ages, we might hug. Otherwise, probably not. But she still means the world to me – and she knows it. But that does lead into the next bit…


My greetings will most definitely change according to context. If I see the same person in a professional context and a social one, the greeting may well be different according to where we are. If I go to a colleague’s house for dinner, I might greet that person with a hug upon entering their house – or maybe not, depending on the situation.

Of course, business and social settings set the tone for a greeting. There are times when a good, firm handshake the only acceptable greeting.


As someone who functions professionally and socially in both English and Spanish, social greetings with Latin people are often warmer and involve kisses on one or both cheeks, depending on where the person is from. I’m quite comfortable with physical greetings involving hugs or kisses, and if I know the other person is too, then it seems quite natural to express the greeting physically.

But if I’m not sure the other person is comfortable with that (e.g. most of my Canadian-born friends and acquaintances of Anglo-Saxon heritage), I don’t even go there. I’m well aware of the fact that just because I’m OK wrapping my arms around someone, or getting check-to-cheek for half a second, doesn’t mean everyone is. Above all else, greetings should be respectful first, then friendly and then warm, I think. Again though, it depends on who, when and where.


The bit about physicality makes me think about culture and customs, too. These are very important and play a strong role in how we greet people. In a job I held a few years ago, I worked with a numerous foreigners, many of them from Asia. I never even attempted to bow, as I had heard that many non-Asians will “muck it up” and so, I was afraid to embarrass myself.

I was more comfortable with the typical Latin greeting with kisses, than trying to understand the complexities of bowing in different Asian cultures. Maybe one day I’ll add it to my repertoire of greeting customs, but I doubt it will be soon.


Saying “hello” seems so simple and so easy. And yet, there’s all kinds of other things that come into play. I’m not sure I’m done thinking about this though… There might be another post on this topic later on, so stay tuned.

But for now… farewell, adieu, adiĆ³s, ciao, or in cyber-talk… L8R!


sissoula said...

Context is key. When in Rome and all that.

M A F said...

Ah the complexity of the human condition.