Which would you prefer – a smile or a 'Strazdvootia'?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 30, 2005

I ended last week's column on "Hi!" by inviting you to share greetings that are special to you. I suggested your good word just might go a long way toward making the world a lot friendlier.

How I wish you could read all the responses that came in from our coffee companions near and far. Here's just a sample:

IN THE OTTAWA Valley the traditional greeting is "G'day." I have been greeting everyone I meet on my morning walk with "Good morning." I generally get the same "Good morning" response. I guess people get grouchier as the day goes on, or maybe morning people are naturally friendlier. My "Good afternoon" or "Good evening" is much less likely to generate a response.

—Henry Heald, Ottawa

LEARNING A NEW language opened the door to an inspiring greeting for another coffee companion:

YEARS AGO I took a difficult three-week German immersion course in beautiful Salzburg, Austria. Even though I struggled with the language, what I remember most about that time was the encouragement I received by the wonderful Austrian greeting of "Grüss Gott!" The closest translation that I could come up with was "God's greetings!" It seemed to me to be a very cheery way to greet someone, and I especially liked the thought that a stranger was giving me God's greetings.

And really, isn't that what happens when we say "Hi!" to someone? We're acknowledging his/her presence to be a brief gift that God has given us in that moment.

—Janet McLean, Calgary

GINETTE AND TERRY Mitchell made Cochrane their home till this past summer, when they moved to Moscow because of work. Like our other far-flung e-mail coffee companions, they keep in touch with Cochrane through this column. Ginette wrote:

I AM MISSING the "Hi's" of Cochrane. Here in Moscow, the word used is "strazdvootia," which is a very official "Hi." The culture is very formal, especially with strangers. I have said hello to the same people for several months and they still give me this formal greeting as opposed to the more familiar "priviet." A bit of a tough nut to crack.

Some attempt to shorten this rather long and difficult-to-pronounce greeting by saying "strazd," but that's as far as it goes. Once in a while I test the water by greeting the doorman of the nearby Uzbek restaurant I walk by almost every day. His very serious demeanour never seems to change, maybe a little shock on his face.

There is more of an emphasis, it seems, on becoming part of the "high society," which I don't blame people for wanting.

—Ginette Mitchell, Moscow, Russian Federation

NOT ALL GREETINGS have to be spoken, according to a former owner of Cochrane's Poco Loco Pizza:

A FRIEND OF MINE, Charlie "Tremendous" Jones, the renowned motivational speaker, had a unique way of promoting friendliness. He would go up to someone and say, "Thank you for your smile." If they were smiling they would beam even broader and make a return comment. If they were not smiling, they would feel indebted and give out the smile they had been thanked for in advance and everyone would feel good.

—Ken Harder, Calgary

THAT'S CERTAINLY the experience of a reader from Illinois:

I LIKE TO GET people to smile back when I smile at them. When I get the return smile I nod in acknowledgement and we both feel better.

Today was a typical day. I had just entered a large store and was walking up an aisle. An elderly woman who seemed very depressed was being pushed in a wheelchair by another lady. There was no interaction between them. Because I have MS I sometimes have to use a wheelchair myself. I am well aware of how easy it is to become nonexistent to the world. I put on one of my biggest, happiest smiles and directed it toward the elderly woman. It took her a couple of seconds to realize it was just for her. The smile she returned to me was so wondrous it made my day. All her inner beauty glowed in her beautiful smile.

Yes, a smile is my way of saying "Hi." It has started some wonderful conversations and made lots of friendships.

—Kathy Bibber, Chicago

OUR FINAL WORD is from Don Cornell, of Amherst, New York. "How about the Hebrew greeting, 'Shalom'?" he asked. "Shalom" means "peace," and this old world could sure use lots of that right now.


© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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