Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cultural Exploration 18: Greetings and Farewells

In Samoa, as with the United States, as with any culture, there is a full gamut of greetings that vary by formality, enthusiasm, intensity, and time of day. During training, we did a full day’s work on the proper greeting for men with matai titles and their wives (Afio mai, maliu mai, susu mai, etc.), however in my day-to-day life, those are rarely used. Of more interest to me are the casual every-day greetings I use with staff, students, and people on the street.

The most basic greeting is “Mālō!” or in slightly more formal instances, “Mālō soifua!Soifua technically translates to “living” or “health, ” although it can also be used at the end of a speech to mean something akin to “Live long and prosper.” The technical translation of soifua is very similar to that of manuia, which can also be used in greetings and farewells, but they are no interchangeable. This can be confusing sometimes.

Manuia works more like the Spanish word salúd. It can be a greeting or a farewell on its own. I’ve also had people claim that it’s what you’re supposed to say when someone sneezes, although whenever I’ve said manuia after a sneeze, Samoans tend to giggle. Incidentally, manuia is also a response to the question, “How are you?” “Manuia, fa’afetai.” I use manuia most often as a farewell in the same vein as “Buenos tardes” or “Buenos noches” where you wish the person a pleasant remainder of the day; thus, “Manuia le aso,” “Manuia le afiafi,” or “Manuia le pō.”

Before school, students greet me with “Morning!” but any other time of day, I’ll usually get a “Mālō!” But here’s the weird thing about mālō: Imagine taking your dog for a walk after dinner. During the walk, you cross paths with someone else who is out for a walk. I’ve certainly lived in many places (Apia being one of them) where you could completely ignore this stranger. But, if the moonlight is right, and you feel polite, you might throw this person a brief, casual greeting. In The States, I would usually throw out a “Hi” or if brevity isn’t an issue, “Hi there.”

In Samoa, you might exchange mālōs, but by mid-afternoon, people tend to exchange s instead. It’s the technical equivalent of running into that stranger and saying, “Bye,” and having him smile and cordially return, “Bye.” I guess it seems weird to me because it uses a farewell as a greeting; I have a hard time finding an American equivalent.

Also from students, the farewell is often, “Taeao, ” literally, “Tomorrow.” This makes enough sense; in English we abbreviate “See you tomorrow” as “Seeya, ” so Samoans just abbreviate in the other direction. Supy, the inflection chameleon, has adopted using the English word “Tomorrow” as a farewell.

The farewell for going on a trip is “Manuia le malaga,” which translates to “Have a nice trip.” The response to this (Much in the See-you-later-alligator / after-while-crocodile call and response) is “Manuia le fa’amuli, ” which translates to “Have a nice time staying at home.” Again, it makes perfect sense, but it’s difficult to find an English equivalent.

So that’s all I got for greetings and farewells. Tomorrow’s cultural exploration: Vailima.

As Supy would say, tomorrow. Pictures below.

Note: Because people don't wave in Samoa, the awful picture up top was the only one I could find of anyone waving at the camera. That said, I have a bazillion of people giving 2 fingers to the camera. Here are some of those.

Random student and Site.

Phil and Sheila.


Koa, Robby, and Blakey.




Unknown said...

malo Matt :)
seki a lau blog, have been following it quite a while now & i even got my brother hooked on ur blog. Manaia lau tusitala :) such a joy to read about yesterday and today's cultural exploration the electric fan, i can see the fans in mulivai cool picture lol. after reading that im trying to mentally count how many eletric fans that my family have gone through in Vailele its torture to go through the day without the fan so i hope your fan doesnt die out. Today's cultural exploration was a pleasure to read also, never thought about the 'fa' greeting thrown out when you meet a stranger on the road but reading about it now can sound a little odd now that i think about it
keep up with your Samoan
manuia galuega o le vaiaso
greetings from Japan

Mom said...

Wow! It's impressive that everyone in Samoa seems to be familiar with the USC "Fight On" symbol.

Anonymous said...

Great read. Never noticed the "fa" greeting until you pointed it out in the article. I think it's because it's meant as "bye, I'll see you tomorrow", so it's not like "bye, forever". When you're living in a small community you WILL see them tomorrow. Whereas in big modern western cities you MIGHT see them tomorrow therefore "bye, forever" is a possibility!

Thanks again for the read.

Anonymous said...

lol....samoans are such comedians....I think, because I am one..I think they say something jokingly (i think that's a word) but add dry sarcasm in it :) ...

a samoan in amelika :)

pim said...

Great post.Learning different languages is hard but fun.We were able to grasps the culture of every languages we translate.A lost in Spanish translation or any translation should not hinder us to know exactly about one's history and culture.I could say that translators really play a big role in our society.I can't see machines taking over the jobs of human translators in the near future, as they have done with so many other professions.