3 Meaningful Greetings to Make Someone Feel Important
Or, fascinating ways to say “Hello!” from various cultures.
Usually, “Hello” (or its variants “Hi,” “Hey,” “Howdy,” etc.) is the word we use to greet others in the English language, and in many other languages, too.
What historians suspect is that the word was coined by Thomas Edison in the mid-1800s, to be used as a telephone greeting.
However, the meaning of the word itself is unclear.
For most people, “Hello” is simply a word to be used when greeting others, and thus the word was defined by its function and not by its meaning.
In other cultures, there exist unique greetings with deep, meaningful messages within them. You might have heard some of these before.
Nevertheless, I hope these greetings will give you another perspective on just how powerful words can be.
Prayer of Peace
First off, there’s the Islamic greeting of Assalamu’alaikum — it’s an Arabic phrase that means “Peace be upon you.”
This greeting is prevalent in, well, Islamic countries, like those in the Middle East, or some Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Malaysia.
It’s answered with Wa’alaikumsalam, which means “And peace be upon you.”
The Jews have a variant of this in the Hebrew language, which carries a similar meaning: Shalom aleichem.
While it’s spoken as a greeting, you can guess from the translation that it’s actually a prayer. When a Muslim meets his brothers and sisters and says Assalamu’alaikum, he not only greets them, rather, he’s praying for their peace.
However, some Muslims — especially those who don’t speak Arabic and therefore aren’t that familiar with the words’ actual meaning — take this prayer for granted, and treats it just like the simple “Hello.”
I come from a country where Islam is a major religion, and yet the people don’t speak Arabic. Here, Assalamu’alaikum is often contracted into Samlekum or even Mikum (It’s kind of like turning “What’s up?” into “‘Sup?”).
This is considered blasphemy by some Muslims because when the phrase is contracted, its meaning is lost — some would even say corrupted.
The thing is, Assalamu’alaikum itself is already a shortened version.
The full version of the prayer-greeting is Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh, which means “Peace be upon you, as well as the mercy of God and His blessings.”
This one’s pretty popular in the Western world, though it originates from Eastern culture: Namaste. You’ve heard of it, right?
Namaste is commonly used in the Indian subcontinent, some countries in Southeast Asia, and among the Indian diaspora worldwide.
The words are in the Sanskrit language, and its literal meaning is “I bow to you.” Originally, this is a term of spiritual importance, and it has a deeper connotation than the literal translation.
The true meaning is not merely “I bow to you,” but more like “I bow to the divine within you,” or “The divine within me bows to the divine within you.”
In most modern usage, though, Namaste is simply used as a substitute for “Hello.” This is, in part, caused by its popularization in the West, namely in yoga-as-fitness classes.
Some people say that this kind of usage is inappropriate, considering Namaste’s spiritual meaning. It’s actually an extremely formal greeting, and there are other alternatives that are more suited for contemporary contexts.
Namaste is usually accompanied by Añjali Mudrā, the salutation seal, which is performed by the joining of the palms.
This gesture can be used for both greetings and farewells. However, like the words which it accompanies, Añjali Mudrā carries a deeper significance than a simple “Hello” or “Goodbye.”
The joining together of the palms shows a connection between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and symbolizes unification. This also represents a connection with the divine in all things.
Hence, the greetings of Namaste and Añjali Mudrā are performed to honor the divine which resides in all of us and connects us together.
Acknowledgment of Existence
This one’s my favorite. It’s a greeting from the Zulu language: Sawubona.
This greeting is prevalent in South Africa, and its usage extends more than just among the Zulu people. The meaning is “I see you.”
There are some ways to answer this greeting:
- One is by saying Yebo, Sawubona, which means “Yes, I see you seeing me.”
- The other one is Ngikhona, which means “I am here.”
It’s simple, and yet enormously profound.
Can you imagine the impact of these humble words? Just by saying that you see someone, you are acknowledging their existence. Both of you are present in this plane of being, and you recognize and respect each other.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the significance of “eye contact” plenty of times before. As they say, the eyes are the window to the soul.
Perhaps, Sawubona can be thought of as a verbal confirmation of that significance.
Additionally, some say that the “I” in Sawubona, and its responses, is more accurately represented with “We;” even when the greeting is exchanged in a one-on-one situation.
Why? Because, in Zulu tradition, the “I” represents more than just the person saying it. Rather, it represents a connection to an ancient lineage of ancestors. One’s ancestors are always present with him or her.
Therefore, when I meet you, and greet you by saying Sawubona, it isn’t just myself that’s present and speaking. My ancestors whom I’m representing is also there.
Through a brief exchange of Sawubona, we validate each other’s existence, and pay our respects to each of our long line of predecessors.
As we’ve seen, various cultures around the world have more meaningful alternatives than the usual “Hello.”
However, we should acknowledge that Hello still has its own purpose.
After all, sometimes a word’s meaning is not as important as how we say it. I mean, when Hello is said with a sincere smile and cheerful tone, it makes us feel good, doesn’t it?
The important thing is understanding the meaning of our words, and using those words in accordance with their true meaning.
Lastly, I’d like to say that I‘m not a native speaker of Arabic, Sanskrit, or Zulu.
While I’m being careful in writing this piece, I might miss some subtle meaning or philosophy of the word. If you speak these languages and notice something I miss, feel free to share your insights.
For the rest of you, what about your homeland? Does your culture have another unique, meaningful greeting that we ought to know of?
I’d be delighted to learn about them — and I believe I’m not the only one.