May 08, 2021
We have a running conversation on messenger between my siblings, our spouses, and mom. Melissa is preparing for a procedure and when she talked about it on the feed my brother wrote back saying, “Shalom.” Melissa immediately responded, “Shalom u vracha.” Shalom is a Hebrew word meaning “peace”, while shalom u’vracha is translated as “peace and blessings”. My brothers’ response was that Melissa knew two more Hebrew words than he did, and he would have to look it up (I did as well). When he did, he responded, “Shalom u Vracha indeed.” A little bit of friendly one up man ship.
I have mentioned that I worked on an archaeological excavation in Jordan one summer when I was in school. The director of the excavation had been coming to the site for several years and had gotten to know many of the Bedouin who lived there. When they greeted each other, one would provide a greeting and the other would counter with a different greeting. The greeting “as-salaam ‘alaykum” literally means “peace be upon you,” and is a traditional greeting among Muslims. Since most Arabs are Muslims, it is also the most common Arabic greeting. The response to this greeting is “wa ‘alaykum as-salaam,” which essentially means “and also with you.” While this may have been common, the director and the Bedouins would continue the greeting, using several different forms. This would take the greeting and stretch it out over several minutes. Again, I thought, a little bit of one up man ship.
When I checked online about Arabic greetings it mentioned several common practices. If you do not feel comfortable with the religious greeting, “Ahlan” is the basic way to say “hello” in Arabic. “Ahlan wa sahlan” is the more formal version of “ahlan,” and is used with people older than you or in a position of authority. Again, the response is “ahlan bik” (if you are male) or “ahlan biki” (if you are female). Like Spanish, politeness calls for different endings to indicate gender. “Ma’a Salama” is another greeting, although it literally means “With peace” and was formerly used to say goodbye. Now it is used by many for both greeting and departure. It is not surprising how much is said by how we greet others.
Thoughts: I made a phone call when I was in Jordan to the American Embassy. I picked up the phone and the operator came on and said, “Hello.” I was relieved to hear she spoke English because my Arabic was broken at best. I began to rattle off the information I needed to convey until again I heard, “Hello.” That was when I realized this greeting was the only English she understood. American English usage has stripped much of the politeness from greeting and conversation. We do not change address based on gender or social position. While we have made our language more democratic, we have also lost the respect deserved by those with whom we speak. This respect is not confined to age or gender; it is basic human decency. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.