You had me at “hello”

Firstly, thanks to a classmate (you know who you are!) for suggesting the topic of this (and future) blog posts!

As a teacher living in Korea, my first lesson in language and culture was simple: saying “hello”.  This may seem simple, until I discovered the complexities of Korean language and culture! While I was studying to be a teacher in Canada, I met some Korean students who greeted each other with “annyeong” which meant, they explained, “hello.”  This is true, but it is only partly correct.  When I arrived in Korea, I confidently gave someone an “annyeong” and the person bristled in response.  “What’s his problem?” I wondered.  In fact, Korean is a very hierarchical society, and its language is filled with honorifics, that is, different levels of politeness.  Thus, the “annyeong” greeting that I first learned is just fine between classmates, but not acceptable for colleagues in the workplace, where things are more formal.  In this situation, “annyeong haseyo” is the standard greeting.  This works in pretty much all contexts: your colleague, taxi driver, shopkeeper, or just a person on the street are likely to give and expect this greeting.  At school, students greet teachers with “annyeong haseyo”, but teachers typically reply with “annyeong” because they are higher in status.  At the top of the hello food chain is “annyeong hasimnikka”. This is the granddaddy of them all, because well, this is how you’d greet your granddaddy!  You might also greet your boss or a senior member of staff at a company (or school) with “annyeong hasimnikka”.  Koreans may ask about your age when you first arrive, not because they’re being nosy, but because it may change which greeting you receive.  Personally, I bristle when receiving an “annyeong hasimnikka” because it makes me feel old! As a general rule, I stick with “annyeong haseyo” in all situations.  It’s the bristle-free Korean greeting!

This is Korean snow. It looks and functions like Canadian snow, but is more rare. Think of it as the “white rhino” of snow.

2 thoughts on “You had me at “hello”

  1. I find it fascinating the diversities of every society, and I am not surprised the various ways of saying “hello” is expected in the Korean culture. I am very much looking forward to reading your other blogs, especially if you continue and expand along with this topic.

  2. Thank you Diane. I’ve heard the term “minefield” used in relation to trying to navigate through an unfamiliar culture, but this may be a bit of an overstatement. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to survive without making any major blunders, at least none that anyone has told me about!

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