Greetings, earthling. People all over the world—from Albania to Zimbabwe, from Belarus to Vietnam—generally answer their phones using some variation on the standard “hello”: Hallo? Alo! Halo? A lô! Hola? Alio!
But as far as international salutations go, “hello” is a relative newcomer. It went global just in the last century or so, kit and caboodle with the spread of the telephone. It originally comes from either Old High German or French, according to the folks at the Oxford English Dictionary, who can’t quite decide.
One theory suggests it was derived from the emphatic imperative—“hey you!”—of the German word “halon,” meaning “to fetch,” which would have been used to, say, hail a taxi. The other theory says the word comes from the French “hola,” which translates basically to “whoa there,” with the French “là” meaning “there.”
Telephone greetings aside, global greetings differ widely according to language, and sometimes give us funny little insights into the cultures from whence they come. So just in case you’re getting bored with “hello,” we’ve compiled a list of different ways to say hey.
1. Victory to you!
Where it comes from: Georgia, a tiny nation in the South Caucasus, a region that over the last two thousand years has been invaded, conquered and subjugated dozens of times.
2. Have you eaten rice?
?, ??????; wei, sik jor fan mei a?
Where it comes from: Mostly southern China. The phrase, or derivations of it—“have you eaten?”—is also used in several other southeast Asian languages.
3. Are you getting old?
A po plakesh?
Where it comes from: Kosovars and Macedonian Albanians also use the common expressions, “A je lodhë?” and “A je mërzitë?” which literally translate to, “Are you tired? Are you upset?” in place of “What’s up?”
4. We see you.
Where it comes from: Zulu community leader Orland Bishop has said the word is an invitation to truly witness another presence—a state of mind he says is essential to human freedom.
5. You are welcome here.
yaa' ta' sai' or yatasay!
Where it comes from: The mountains and plains of the southwest United States and northwestern Mexico.
6. Don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t be lazy.
Ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhella
Language: Classical Quechua
Where it comes from: Those three imperatives were considered cornerstones of morality in the Incan Empire—the longer-winded equivalent to the modern farewell, “Be good.”
7. What do you want?
Where it comes from: Spoken only by the fictional warriors aboard the futuristic Starship Enterprise and a handful of modern-day geeks, the language was invented by an American linguist, Marc Okrand, and first used in the first Star Trek film in 1979.