103 Weeks: End of week 51 – the art of hello
Emily is an entrant in the 2012 “i am not a tourist” Expat Fair Blog Competition.
Abroad, a theatre formed by the familiar meeting the unfamiliar: people to people, people to places, even places to people. Learning of the other is necessary to carry on with conversations after that first exchange of tentative looks. Hello, I don’t think we’ve met. Each person only shares that chosen sliver of their personality. Some offering a larger piece right from the thick of it, sweeter and satisfying, while others, the absolute end of their personality loaf, a little cooled, somewhat toughened, and expectantly unflavorful. Like biting into a burnt cookie. That first taste – those first words and first inaudible exchanges - a lingering substance that unknowingly seeps into the relationship to come.
First hellos almost spring from a situational math determined by the variables of person, place, and time. For a visitor from friends or family, an immediate, acceptably goofy smile, as if from a memory, unabashfully leaps into a more malleable face. Willing to show any mood to someone known for a while and who then traveled for even more than a while to get to my apartment door, my now home. Let’s get your bags upstairs. This year, many first time visitors came to Amsterdam, happy after a nine-hour flight from the States not only to see something familiar amongst the brew of flying bikes and cobblestone roads but also to meet their dependable guide to clear the path. Their hello an enlivening attempt after an exhausting journey, usually unaware of the actual time or its facing direction.
Conversely, mine is more thought out. I’ve planned for their arrival, and brought out the needed sheets the night before. A towel this morning placed on the top. Our last Skype session got me thinking of the things difficult to say over an Internet connection; potential topics for when we finally meet in person. Ones drawn out during the last quarter of a long walk or in the middle of the main course at dinner. Wehavealottotalkabout resonates at the end of some of those first hellos. Somewhere between the “l” and the “o.”
The first hellos with a new acquaintance, however, slides out a little mechanical, one could say, in a prefabricated package. My first hello warm, but not too hot, casual, but not too cold. Composed to bear only the necessary to encourage the next steps of the conversation to, who knows - a new friendship with even a second hello. Oh hey, nice to meet you. My drink warming in my hand slightly in our first exchanges, and unintentionally, first assessments. As a not-so-much, but still, newbie, outings to cull the crowds of new acquaintances is still needed to garner a more comfortable network in this not so big, but still sizable, city. First hellos sometimes a result of last goodbyes with friends who moved to a nearby country or back to the States after their finite stay in Amsterdam. Fresh first hellos almost unheard of with the quick turn over that keeps people unfamiliar and Amsterdam unfamiliar with its people.
Storeowners, the ones who enliven city blocks with history, a dependable face amid the ever-changing inhabitants, deserve a different greeting. One that holds purpose in order to properly establish a presence in the store, and respect as a guest within their establishment. Goedemiddag! It’s important in the theatre abroad to subtly indicate ones lifespan within a city. Though still a temporary Amsterdamer, my ability to properly, and comfortably, greet and respond in Dutch signals away from the sometimes-assumed vacationer to a potentially frequent customer. My first hello truly a first impression in comparison to the other hellos, sometimes sharper and cleaner to let the shopkeeper continue with needed tasks, or open and questioning to converse away twenty minutes about, well, anything really, but usually the store. And Amsterdamers chat as much as they bike, with casual conversations natural and easy to come by.
Every first hello with a familiar, soon to be familiar, or the ones who keep the city familiar suggests conversations that will resonate beyond those initial seconds. Unspeakable conditions of comfort, interest, and even wavering thoughts signal future intentions and past goodbyes. Of course many first hellos were said before these, however this new set is more distinctive in its utility and commitment. The act of saying hello, especially with the variety of methods and languages available - people coming and going – is an art definitely worth practicing when living abroad.
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