I’m so used to it now that it no longer seems strange, until I imagine it happening in the USA. Then I remember how remarkable it truly is.
Let’s say you studied Spanish, as I did for 4 years. And let’s say you didn’t live in a large Spanish-speaking town (which wasn’t the case for me but is necessary for the comparison). The parallel situation is, essentially, that you’d shout “Hola!” at every person who looks like they might speak Spanish. Crazy, huh?! Well, that’s kind of what it’s like here.
There was a young boy in my training site who, whenever he saw us, rode across the field on his bicycle shouting, “Hello, my name is Garnum!” Well, I’m not entirely sure that was his name because all efforts to engage in conversation with him led to his cycling away. But his opening with such enthusiasm was quite unexpected so early on in my service. Now, it is the norm.
The standard around Govi-Altai is that students who are learning English will give a confident “Hi” or “Hello.” To them I will respond in kind. Sometimes there is a “What is your name?” or “How old are you?” in either direction. A few of the daring young ones, those not yet learning English, will make the attempt at a “Hello” or “Hi” and that’s the end of it. To the shy young ones, I give a smile and a Mongolian greeting, which sometimes turns into a dialogue exhausting all my questions and answers in a few minutes.
Occasionally, I am taken aback by something quite unexpected. The best for my sense of purpose was when a girl said, “Hello, Love.” I figured I must have taught her class recently and she remembered my name. The best for my sense of humor was the boy who said, “Hi. Baby.” I was prepared to give a “hi” back, but the delayed “baby” totally threw me and I could only laugh. And every once in a while, there is a random person just waiting for the opportunity to try out the one English phrase they know, be it “Merry Christmas,” “I love you,” or “Happy Birthday.”
Some of the other volunteers have gotten “hellos” in Russian or German, but not me, not yet. If it happens, it will probably lead to a blog wherein I assert my American-ness. Until then, Goodbye!