“Hello”, or rather, “Hellohellohellohellohello!” is something I hear often in Vietnam. In order of most helloness, I hear it from:
1. Small children
2. Grandparents making their grandchildren look at me
3. Male teenage motorbike parking attendants
4. Old motorbike taxi drivers
5. Construction site workers
I do not hear it from other Tays, due to the Unwritten Rule Regarding Tays Who See Other Tays, whereby Tays suss each other out a distance with great intensity but steadfastly refuse to acknowledge each others’ presence up close.
Because I am the recipient of so many “hellos”, it’s very confusing that the Vietnamese way of answering the phone is “a lô”, which sounds an awful lot like “hello”. The Vietnamese are a phone-loving people, and therefore say “a lô” a lot, often in traffic. And there I am, cheerfully saying “hello!” back at them when all they’re trying to do is take a phone call.
This reminds me of the sad, sad fact that English is one of the few languages in the world that doesn’t have a distinct greeting for answering the phone. If only we could be like the Japanese and pick up the phone with “Moshi moshi”. I can’t think of any better way to start a conversation.