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Language and Cultural Greetings

February 7th, 2009 · Posted by Hugo · 3 Comments

I work in a very international office, there are many nationalities present. Taking just countries in the European area, I can think of people who are: Spanish, French, Dutch, Swiss, Italian, German, British, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Polish, Russian, Israeli, Greek… I quite like the diversity!

Greeting today, a Spanish guy said “I’ll hopefully see you Monday!” I was curious, and dug into the “hopefully”. What was meant by that? Any uncertain plans? Nope, turns out, it’s more a reference to us not knowing the future. Which means it sounds really pessimistic, from an English-speaking perspective. A “something might just get in the way that would make us unable to both come to work” idea… pessimistic, eh? In English, we pretty much just state it as happening, with the rest implied: “See you Monday!”, and if I don’t, it’s not a broken promise, it’s just a “something went wrong…”

Apparently there is a pretty standard phrase in Spanish that you can add onto a greeting, resulting in something similar to: “See you Monday! If God permits it…” Some discussion later, we concluded an English equivalent might be “God-willing, I’ll see you Monday!” Which sounds really old, suggested another eaves-dropper. English really seems to have lost this element?

Can anyone come up with another way to phrase this uncertainty-about-the-future, with reference to anything from fate to providence to clean lack-of-knowledge? What would be the most common way we’d greet like this in English?

What has me more curious, is how a country’s language influences the scope of its culture’s understanding of the “God” concept. I’d think certain languages and cultures would be more open to the poetic understanding than others. On the other hand, while English seems to have lost it in greetings, it is still present does have phrases like “for God’s sake”, or “O God help us”, a phrase even Dawkins uses (according to a link I’ve shared before). Hmmm…

Still pending, I’ve been meaning to write a post or two on Shalom, As-Salamu Alaykum and Aloha ever since I saw Bustin’ Down the Door. It seems a weird mix, I know, because it contains only three examples. I should maybe add the Swiss Greutzi, I hear. Can anyone find more examples of standard cultural greetings with a connection to the culture’s religion?

Categories: Culture

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 miller // Feb 7, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    I’m inclined to think that these greetings and expressions don’t really have much influence on a culture’s understanding of God. I think the influence mostly goes in the other direction!

    There’s also the English expression “Godspeed”. Some atheists I know occasionally use it, because it is easy irony. The Wiktionary tells me that it’s “A Christian substitute to the otherwise sacrilegious ‘good luck’.”

    Oh, and luck is another thing, isn’t it?

  • 2 Hugo // Feb 7, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Ooh, luck is another interesting thing!

    I have a backgammon program on my computer that is *very* good at backgammon. (It’s an easier problem to tackle with a computer and statistical methods than something like chess or go.) It calculates which moves would most likely be the best, i.e. winning and losing probabilities with each move.

    And then it also calculates how lucky you were in a game…

    That’s a case of whether the dice gave you a result that’s particularly good or particularly bad, when there was a rather small percentage chance of being that good or that bad. It can then rate how your game went, how good each position was, based on how well you played as well as how lucky you were. Your benefit/score from your moves have two components thus: luck and skill.

    It boggled my mind when I first saw that direct measurement and quantifying of “luck”. 😉

  • 3 Hugo // Mar 5, 2009 at 2:33 am

    I’ve also received some comments on this post on Facebook. I’ll try to get around to reproducing them here Real Soon Now.

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