Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cultural Exploration 35: Bye-bye

Chris and I walked out of my house yesterday, ready to meet up with some others and catch the one-o’clock bus to Lefaga, and that’s when we heard it. As it almost always does, it came in the form of a child, innocent in its call, but foreboding in its longevity. I’ve heard it many times, but never on my own turf, and it stung like the point of an arrow shot from reservation land. From the house next to mine, on my school compound, came that godawful phrase: “Bye-bye.”

We were warned about the phrase during training. You hear it all the time shouted from fales and vaita’eles , they told us, You’ll hear it on the bus, from taxis, and whenever you happen to walk by an elementary school during the day. Schoolchildren will shout it, pre-school children will shout it, toddlers will let it ring. Hell, I’ve even heard stories about old men late at night in Apia singing the dreaded syllables to passing Peace Corps. “Bye-bye.”

Often it comes out as less of a greeting/farewell and more of a chant, “Bye-bye, bye-bye, bye-bye, bye-bye, bye-bye, bye-bye.”

I’m not clear on why, but the farewell “Bye-bye” is taught to almost all Samoan children from an early age. Not “Hello,” not even “Hi,” only “Bye-bye.” Occasionally it gets the full “Bye-bye palagi” treatment. Where did this come from? How did it evolve and spread? How do all Samoan children know this phrase?

When my sister came to visit, she brought her sweet DSLR camera, and taking the bus back to Apia from Saleapaga, she snapped some photos of a child sitting in the backseat of a car on the side of the road. Seeing my sister, the child waved and called out, “Bye-bye!”

My sister, being the jovial, über gregarious one, called out her response, “Bye-bye!” And my soul cringed.

“No!” I couldn’t help but mutter.

It seems like Peace Corps are battered with Bye-byes day in and day out—I’d estimate I get 10 per week—it’s difficult to see it encouraged.

There are a number of different strategies to play down the Bye-byes. Many Peace Corps will flat-out ignore it. Others give in and wave and smile at the children. My strategy is to yell out a slightly abrasive, “Fa!” I figure maybe if they hear me respond in Samoan, the English will seem unnecessary.

It’s a stupid plan, but it allows for shouting in a bitter tone, and that’s all I really need.

At one point Asolima tried to teach Keleme the concept of “Bye-bye.” I had to leave.

Maybe it would be best to start a “Hello, how are you?” awareness campaign.

Tomorrow we go back to blogging as usual. I hope you enjoyed quarterly Cultural Exploration week. We’ll do it again in April. I also hope you’re well. No other pictures today.

8 comments:

Jennifer said...

I don't understand why it's so upsetting.

Timmi said...

I prefer bye-bye to byeeee! I think we picked it up from the asians, if you see enough asian films that is. My nearly 6yo son learned bye-bye prior/after attending pre-school.

Margarita said...

You should make a tally of how many bye bye you get in a day, multiply by 365 and then have the number of bye byes in a year. Or even for the entire two years. Then you could have an approximate bye bye count. ha.

jess said...

This post cracked me up. Someone should compile a book of odd/painfully irritating phrases sung by children to Peace Corps Volunteers.

I was a volunteer in Ethiopia, and there it's a sing-song version of "hello how are you i am fine thank you goodbye" or "what is your name my name is." Schools there are teaching the important English phrases without explaining that they belong in conversations that require a second person. So close, yet so far... I completely understand your frustration. Nice to know I wasn't alone in finding it anything but cute after the first half dozen times.

gracie said...

LOL "Fa!" is the perfect repsonse to give to the annoying 'bye-byes!'... it gives them the 'dont even start with that' type of response. You can even say "Fa la ia!" it's more like 'seriously, good-bye!' :) Still fully enjoying your blogs! Take care

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k. said...

At one of the sites we were working at, a 2-year old popped out the door of a house and shouted "BYE-BYE PALAGI!" cheerfully at one of my co-workers. Fortunately, I'd read your post by then, and could tell him that it wasn't meant as "kill whitey" - he's lived in Hawai'i for a long time; "bye-bye haole" could be taken as a cue to move on.

-Kainui

Anonymous said...

LMBO! WOW! so far this is the best one I've read, not that the others are bad, but this gives me the "to be there" concept ... ha ah ha ha... I agree with Gracie, or the other response would be , kofa, alu i le fale ~ go home. My fav, "lae su'e oe e lou kiga" . your mom is looking for you ..