Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hello? Hello? I think I finally cracked the Arab-Canadian telephone greeting gap

I have had a massive epiphany today. It dawned on me after almost two years of frustration, wondering why when I answer the phone, things don't proceed the way I think they should.

Usually my "Hello, Ann Marie McQueen" is greeted with "Hello?" (What do you say to that, when it's coming from someone who calls you?) And not once, but often several times of going back and forth with the same word.

My building manager is fond of bellowing "Good afternoon!" a few times when he calls, which I have grown comfortable repeating back to him until one of us stops.

Then there is the always disconcerting "How are you?" question, which invariably comes from someone who has not yet identified themselves.

All that to say, working the phones here, which is a big part of my job, can be more mentally exhausting that I had bargained for.

But then I realised that all this awkwardness only arises when dealing with Arabs, and it likely happens because they are so familiar with a long, unbelievably drawn out greeting process that does not exactly translate well when dealing with perpetually rushed Westerners. And as with all culture and language gaps, it takes everyone involved, but mostly me, a very long time to figure out what is happening. (It was after four months of taxi-riding in Abu Dhabi that I realised I had to say "next signal right" not "turn right at the lights" to get the desired result).

And no wonder! I asked an Arab colleague who has spent a lot of time in Canada to write out a typical greeting. And this is between people who know each other very well!
Allo? - Hello?
Allo marhaba! - Hello, hi!
Ahlan, Marhabtein. - Welcome, two hi's!
Keefek? Mneeha inshallah? - How are you? God willing you're well?
Ah wallah, el hamdullilah, keefek INTI? - Oh yes, praise God, how are YOU?
Tamam tamam, inti shoo akhbarek? - Oh fine fine, what are your news?
Wallah shi, hayni, kilshi tamam, inti shoo 3amleh? - Oh nothing, I'm surviving, everything is fine, what are you up to?
Wallah wala shi, el hamdullilah, shoo fi mafi? - Oh God nothing, praise God, what's up, what's new? (and on and on)
Every time! So, now that I know what is going on the question is, what do I do on the phone? The answer, of course, is listen. Patiently. 


Muscato said...

I had a similiar issue when I first got to Ghana.

There, if when someone calls you and says, "Good morning!" and you answer, as one does, "Good morning!" then the party at the other end will say "good morning!" again. You then say, perhaps slightly annoyed, "good morning,!". And they say it again. This could go on forever, you see, because the answer to "good morning!" is "fine morning!" and until that magic phrase is heard, you're stuck in an apparently infinite loop. Initially head-explodingly maddening, and then one day you figure it out and all is well...

Voix said...

EPIC! Thank you for this post - it makes a lot of sense.

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