Hello and Goodbye

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Greeting behavior occurs in every society on earth. Human greeting behavior is fundamental in initiating communication between people and serving to establish and reaffirm the relationships of those engaged in interaction, at least according to "Comparative Ecology and the Behavior of Primates."

During my time at this wonderful institution, I've noticed many interesting greeting customs while walking around on campus. A number of the customs mentioned here are unique to major college campuses. A university campus is an environment where you regularly walk long distances but you also see people that you know along the way.

Say you are walking past Sproul when you spot a mild acquaintance walking towards you. The person has spotted you as well but he or she is fairly far off, 50 feet or more. So what do you do? You can't just say "hi" from that far off, so you have to act like you don't see them. You'll start looking around, acting nonchalant. All of a sudden things on the ground seem very interesting. When you get to the hot zone - about 15 feet away - you'll abruptly look up, say hi and move on.

Between males, the nodding of the head is always a good greeting. Sometimes it's not actually a nod, it's more like a reverse nod, with the head moving up. This form of greeting is usually reserved for two people who don't know each other very well, but are willing to acknowledge each other's presence.

You see someone you know and say, "What's up?" They answer with, "What's up?" Hmm. A question for a question. At first, I thought this was a weird thing to do but it has now become socially acceptable.

Over time, "what's up" has evolved to "what up," "whassup," or my favorite, "sup." "Sup" is not a question, it's another form of "hello." The first time I heard this one (in 1993), I half expected the person to pull out an ornate goblet of wine for me to drink from.

It's also fascinating watching people try to avoid awkward greetings. They'll put on that face - you know the one I'm talking about. It's the I'm-staring-straight-ahead-I-don't-see-you look.

Another strange encounter is when you see someone and say hello but you both don't know whether to stop and chat or just keep walking. The worst is when the other person does a little stutter step but you keep walking, so you know that they wanted to talk but you didn't and you feel bad.

And then there is the walking-talking conversation. Very interesting. As you approach the oncoming person, you say hi. They say hi. You say how are you. They say fine. They say how are you? You say good. At this point, you've already passed each other but you continue to engage in stupid small talk over your shoulder. You both know that the other person is not worthy for you to stop and converse with, but you want to say more than just hi.

Sometimes we get confused with the greetings. Last week I saw a friend on campus and said something like, "How you doing?" and he replied, "Nothing much." So I said, "Wrong! That's not the right answer. You were supposed to say 'good,' or 'fine.' I didn't say 'what's up.' What the hell is wrong with you?" He replied, "Nothing much."

In addition, the use of names is important in these situations. If someone says, "Hi, Peter," and I say, "Hi ... you," the person knows that I don't know his or her name or at least that I'm not comfortable engaging in conversation on a first-name basis. Some people try to compensate by replying with a flurry of enthusiastic counter-greeting.

Person: Hi, Peter.

Peter: Ohheyhowareyouhaven'tseenyouinawhile!

Person: You don't know my name, do you?

Peter: Uh ... sure I do. Mulva, right?

Person: Wrong.

Well, this is my last installment. I'm going to miss writing about strange things like gay keychains. I hope some of you have derived pleasure from reading my stuff.

I'll be graduating next December so if you see me on campus, don't hesitate to give me the I'm-staring-straight-ahead-I-don't-see-you look. Otherwise, just say, "Sup."

I will now attempt to break the record for longest cutline. I would like to thank a number of people who have given me inspiration (or asked me to put their name in a column): all the fat people who hate me, all the people who drink pee and eat poo but don't tell anyone, that Vietnamese freshman kid who wanted to fight me after reading the Jackie Chan column because he thought I was a wussy, Joe Mama, my hyungs Yila and Yilo, JigglyPuff, my secret Squelch admirer Stephen Handley, Marie (superstar), Lily, my cousin Estella, Jeff Brennan for being my guinea pig, Daniel Hernandez for giving me moustache-combing tips and much support, Ty, Yilsuk, Nick, Linda, Emily, the Street Spirit Lady, Matt Groening, ddong or dtong, John McCain, the guy that stole my bike wheels, Dunkle, Jean-Claude Van Damme, that one girl that just said, 'Who are all these people I don't care about?,' all my gookz, chinkz, and chiggaz, the nice guy at 7-Eleven on Telegraph, Tangun, Theatre Rice, the dreadlocked white guy who called me an insect killer, the Benihana imposter, and finally, all the people who have ever read this irreverent column, whether you liked it or not. Y. Peter Kang is a senior majoring in Asian American studies. Send comments to [email protected]


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