How do you say hello? Bruce Gulland and Liz Waid look at greetings from around the world.
Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.
And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.
How do you say hello?
How are you doing?
What’s going on?
These people have all used different English words or phrases. But they have all done the same thing. They have all greeted someone. People greet each other in every country and culture. But they say and do many different things to greet each other. Why do we greet each other in these ways? How does a person know the right greeting? Today’s Spotlight is on Greetings.
Greetings seem simple, but they are often a complex part of language. In English, people greet each other in different ways depending on the situation. For example, a greeting may use words that show the time of day such as Good morning, Good afternoon or Good evening.
People also use different greetings depending on how well they know the other person. People may greet a friend in this way:
How’s it going?
But people use different English words or phrases when they meet and greet someone for the first time. Such words can also show respect. In a more official situation people use words of greeting more like these:
How are you today?
It is very nice to meet you.
Greetings may also be different in different countries that speak English. In Australia people often say ‘G’day.’ In parts of the United States people may greet each other with ‘Howdy!’ or ‘How you doin?’ In the United Kingdom people more commonly say ‘Hiya.’
But there is more to greeting than words. Some greetings also include particular movements. For example, in many places it is common for people to shake each other’s hands when they meet. In some cultures, people kiss each other on the side of the face, the cheek. Some people give hugs by putting their arms around each other and squeezing.
No matter how people greet, the words and actions of greetings are important everywhere. There are scientific, safety and social reasons why every human culture has traditions of greeting. Scientists think that they know one of the main reasons people greet each other - and it sounds a bit unusual! People greet each other so they can smell each other! Many greeting customs include smelling. This helps people to recognize each other. In Greenland holding someone’s face close and breathing in is part of greeting someone. Maori people in New Zealand have a similar custom. They press their faces together and breathe in when they meet someone. The Social Issues Research Centre in the United Kingdom gives more examples of the importance of smell for greetings around the world:
“When greeting someone, the Ongee do not ask ‘How are you?, but ‘How is your nose?’ In India, the traditional friendly greeting was to smell someone’s head. An ancient Indian document declares ’I will smell you on the head, that is the greatest sign of love.’ Similar customs are found in Arab countries, where breathing on people as you speak to them signals friendship and goodwill.”
Some scientific studies show that even handshaking is connected to the sense of smell. Dr. Noam Sobel is a scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Dr Sobel did scientific research about handshaking. He found that people often did something within a few minutes of shaking hands with someone else. People often smelled their hands. Dr. Sobel explained to The New Scientist:
“We started looking at people and noticed that afterwards, the hand somehow by accident reached the face. When we were watching the videos we would see people sniffing themselves just like animals. This is just one more example when chemical signaling is a driving force in human behavior.”
So, why do people need to smell as part of a greeting? Smell can warn us if we sense something is not right. Some people think that the handshake began for another reason connected to safety. In the past, people may have shaken hands to show that they were not holding a weapon in their hand. This showed the new person they were meeting that they were safe. When people greet in a friendly and open way they show each other that they are not dangerous.
People also greet each other for social reasons. Asking someone about themselves shows care and concern. People build relationships together when they ask ‘How are you?’ The website torah . org explains why greeting is so important:
“We all need to be recognized. We need to feel that we matter. Every human being has a basic and natural desire to be recognized as important. And we can give some of this importance to others just by greeting them correctly. We may not put much thought into how and when we say hello to someone. But we should think about it more deeply.”
So how do people know what to do, especially when traveling between countries and cultures? Greetings can often go wrong! Jamie Bowlby-Whiting writes an internet travel blog. He told about a difficult greeting experience on his blog:
“I thought they were going for the kiss. But it was the hug. Now I just wet their face. And then hit them in the nose with my head. It was so embarrassing!”
People can avoid these embarrassing experiences. They can research how to greet correctly before connecting with people of other cultures. It is especially important to learn if there are any forms of greeting that may not be used in a particular country. For example, in some countries, like Japan, kissing is not considered a good way to greet someone. Sometimes cultures also have different greetings for women than for men.
A person may not always know the correct greeting. But the most important thing when greeting someone is to show respect. Try your best and apologize if you offend someone. Have you ever had any experience with greeting someone from another culture? Did it go well? Or did you have a bad experience? Tell us about your experiences.
And tell us how people greet each other where you live! Do you think it is a good way to greet people? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also comment on our Facebook page at facebook.com/SpotlightRadio.
The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. This program is called ‘Greetings - Ways to Say Hello.’
You can also get our programs delivered directly to your Android or Apple device through our free official ‘Spotlight English’ app. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.