travel tip: we don't say hello.

1:48 PM

“We don’t really say hello,” I’d answer when asked how to say that seemingly universal greeting in Filipino. “We nod or we smile. There is no direct translation. What we do, instead, is ask how you are. Kamusta ka?” After giving this explanation, most would be left a bit puzzled.

In an American colonial history book I’ve read a few years back, the same thing was observed by a certain American soldier when asked about Filipinos back at the turn of the 20th century. He said something akin to “When I pass by them on the street, Filipinos just smile. They don’t say anything.”

So, what does this mean exactly?

A part of me thinks the reason why we never developed a word for hello is due to centuries of colonization. Fear of what these bigger, taller, and better-armed white men could do led us to believe that it was better to be quiet until spoken to. By simply nodding or smiling, we got to acknowledge their and each other’s presence without being seen as aggressive. (or to exaggerate a bit – potentially subversive.)

But that’s hundreds of years ago, so why haven’t we come up with a word for it now?

A couple of reasons come to mind:
    1. Being “aggressive” is still frowned upon.
    2. To save face. It’s a bit embarrassing to greet someone and not illicit a response.
    3. We rather go American and say, “hi”. (Okay, so maybe I’m pushing it with this one.)

A friend had an insight to this and I paraphrase him, “You’re more sincere then. It’s a sign that you really want to talk. In the states, someone would ask you how you are and then when you’re about answer him, he’ll be turning away.”

I find his view particularly nice, sweet, and quite true.

a typical exchange between friends

A: How are you?
B: I'm good. And you? How are you?
A: I'm good, too.

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