Five “Hello”s

September 13, 2010

I was walking through Juk-byeon (줔변), a town relatively close to Bugu, having completed a solid beach run and just killing time window shopping before the next local bus arrived. I had been in this area before, but only in the evening and only briefly on the streets; a few English teachers host a movie night for foreign residents of Uljin-gun on Wednesdays.

A kid, maybe 8 years old, was walking in the opposite direction on the other side of the street when I must have caught his eye.

“HELLO!” he screamed at the top of his lungs.

I didn’t do anything. Didn’t acknowledge him, didn’t say hello or 안녕하세요. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk (though I’m sure some will comment that I was); I was just tired. I had just finished a long run and wasn’t in the mood to condone what was absurd behavior – the fact that many hundreds of people do shout “hello” at me from a distance doesn’t make it any less unusual. So I kept walking.

“HELLO! HELLO! HELLO! HELLO! HELLO! HELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOHELLO!”

Jumping up and down, this boy didn’t let up until I was about 50 meters away and widening the gap. Did he honestly think I hadn’t understood him? I just wanted him to behave in a civilized manner. There’s nothing wrong with someone casually walking up to me and saying “hello” straightforwardly, but screaming it across a street? Why should I give credence to the idea it’s acceptable?

Say "Hello" !!!!

There are many types of people who choose to participate in the “hello” game across countries. Wherever a differently-colored face is in the minority, and English is always the default language, kids and adults will give greetings to their foreign friends in reasonable and not so respectful ways.

1. Hello’s that defy logic

If the purpose of saying “hello” is to greet and expect to be greeted, I can’t understand why some locals would choose to just shout it at the most inopportune of times:

– As I’m skiing down a black slope in Japan
– Today, from the back of a moving truck
– Across a busy street (see above example)

If it’s your first time living abroad, I know you’re probably still excited by strangers speaking your language so loudly and without shame. But you will get numb to it, and start to wish grown men (yes… they do it too) would act their age.

2. The ‘cool kid’ hello

A group walks by, and someone wants to impress the others by being international and saying “hello” to the random foreigner. I say ‘kid’, but this can happen with groups of men in their fifties and old ladies.

“Aren’t I cool? I just said ‘hello’ to that guy!”
“YEAH! I want to be like you!”

3. The hello that grows

The same idea as #2, but once one person starts, the group starts chiming in to the point you can only respond once.

4. The soloist

Nothing wrong with this one. A single person walking along, giving a greeting in a measured tone. It’s entirely possible they’ll want to say more.

5. No English?

Even when a local doesn’t know the word “hello”, he or she may still try. These are my favorite greeters of the lot, as they require you to speak the language. In my three years living in Asia, this has only happened twice; I’m not referring to any greeting in bars, restaurants, or situations you place yourself in, just random people on the street. Once in Thailand, when the most muscular old man I had ever seen put down his cart and “wai”ed to me. And once a few weeks ago, when a Korean boy actually said “안녕하세요”. Bloody miracles, they both were.

Am I forgetting anyone?

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One Response to Five “Hello”s

  1. […] selfish. I hate being ogled by random people on the street, being the performer who is expected to shout “HELLO” in response to little kids. But I also love it. Without realizing it, living in Japan slowly […]

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