Another portion of musings sparked off by yesterday’s trip. As you remember, the hectic traffic resulted in some people’s (me) missing their bus stops. I had to walk back to where I left my bicycle. At one point I stopped to take a photo. No sooner had I done it than a guy behind me said the by now thrice-accursed word.
My jaws clenched.
‘What’s wrong with ‘hello’?’ – you’ll ask, and quite rightly so.
Absolutely nothing. Unless you hear it ten times a day, yelled at you by teenagers, street sweepers, drivers, hairdressers, tourists and passers-by. And it’s always ‘hello’ – never ‘good morning’, or ‘hey’ or even a simple ‘hi’. Just ‘hello’. Usually with an emphasis on the second syllable (‘helLOO!’), which doesn’t improve it. You pass a person thinking ‘yes! I’ve made it’ – and then it comes, from behind, like a shot in your back: ‘helLOO!’ – a quick and painful reminder that you’ll never fit in.
Why do they do it? In some situations it’s pretty obvious. Like with teenagers. They’re much less complicated than they like to think and they just want to impress their friends: ‘See that foreigner over there? Now watch carefully. Here she comes… HelLOO! – awesome,eh?’
Also with old people and little children: usually they genuinely want to be nice to the poor friendless stranger in a strange country. They say it with a real smile on their faces, not the smug look-how-cool-I-am-let’s-embarrass-the-foreigner smile. The kids also want to practice their limited English, but hey – they’re kids, they have chubby cheeks and wide open eyes. Whatever they do is cute by definition.
But the rest of them? Is there some sort of linguistic sense of achievement in pronouncing this word? I’m sure most of the hello-crime perpetrators mean well, but guys – just stop.
Another point: I’ve actually done a bit of research and got answers which corroborated this theory, so I don’t think I’m imagining things – there seems to be a tiny element of sexual undertones in it, since I don’t think I’ve ever got a ‘helLOO!’ from a girl, unless she wanted to sell me something. Now, you might say it’s because girls are better behaved or more shy than men. It’s a possibility, but then why aren’t they embarrassed to come over and ask if they can have a photo with me? I’d say it requires more courage. Plus – the crown argument – my male friends say they do get ‘helLOO!’s from women, but not so much from men. If this be true, then the word is just a disguised catcall, in which case it’s more than enough to irritate a person, just like strange stalker-like guys that honk behind you to make you turn round and look at their sleazy smile or equally weird types who elbow you in order to achieve the same effect (probably because they are on foot and can’t honk).
Alternately, it might be because it’s just safer to call after a girl, since she’s usually smaller and less likely to pose a physical threat than a guy.
And finally, the last and probably best explanation. ‘HelLOO!’ and its ubiquitous partner ‘Laowai!‘ or ‘Waiguoren!‘ (both meaning ‘a foreigner’) are a knee-jerk reaction. They just can’t control it. They say it aloud even when there’s no one to say it to. What would you do if you saw a unicorn? You’d be so surprised you’d have to actually say it, right? Same here. You see a person, you notice the hair, the eyes, the nose, the cheeks – oh, dear Buddha, helLOO!
Hmm. It all sounds like a bitter rant, doesn’t it? I apologise. But it’s just one of those small things that keep growing and growing on you until the moment comes when you know you’re past the point of no return. It’s when you’re walking down a street, you see someone, you notice they stop and start looking at you, and as you approach you catch yourself thinking: ‘Go on, say it. I know it’s on your mind. I DARE you to say it!’
This is when you know.
You’ve internalised it.
PS: This post was actually supposed to be about something completely different and the particular hello-guy who inspired it was rather okay and quite blameless. I reckon my subconsciousness took over in order to vent some problems. Meh, I’ll write on the original idea some other time. You don’t mind, do you?