I Can Say ‘Hello’ in a Variety of Ways, But I Choose to Say Nothing


A person never feels good being called into the manager’s office.  When I was a much younger man, jaded and virginal, I interviewed for a promotion at the non-profit agency where I worked, and was subsequently summoned to speak to my boss, Holly.  It’s important to point out that, although this was an internal promotion, my boss had little to do with the selection process.  The people above her at the “downtown office” did the interview and would be in charge of making the selection.  If I had a business, I would absolutely make sure there was an office ‘downtown.’  It wouldn’t even matter what would actually transpire in the office; I’d only want the ability, given the right opportunity, to refer to the ‘downtown office’ in a voice that implied great importance.

“Will we be getting a raise this year?” my employees would ask.

“My friends, I’m going to have to ask the people at the downtown office about that,” I’d say, knowing full well that the downtown office was really an empty room.

But I digress.  Holly wanted to talk to me about an important matter.  She, it seemed, was not entirely comfortable with the idea that I would be given a promotion.  “Do you think you have the people skills needed to supervise other employees?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I like people.”

Something was bothering her.  “It’s just…I don’t know…when I pass you in the hallway, you never say ‘hello.’”

Her face intimated that she took this slight very seriously.  “Well, I do,” I said.  “I mean, technically I don’t say the word ‘hello’ itself, but I give a nod.  A hello nod.”

“A nod?”

“Yeah, a nod.”

“Hmm…I don’t pick up a nod.”

“There’s definitely a nod, like this,” I said, and then I flicked my chin at her in a minute upward motion.

“I’m going to be honest,” she said.  “It looks like you’re the front runner for the promotion.  If you get it, I’m going to want you to say ‘hello’ to people…instead of that…nod.”

“I can do that,” I said.  And then later I got the promotion and continued to do my little nod and only said ‘hello’ if Holy was in the vicinity.

Could start a new trend in breast bows.

I relate this story because, lately, I’ve been contemplating the importance of the ‘office hello.’  You know what I mean.  You walk into work.  Clearly, you don’t want to be there.  These are the first moments of your work day – your arrival time.  Guess who’s already there, in the building?  Coworkers (cause they get there early/on time).  How important, really, is the ‘hello’ they give you?  For my whole life, I never thought the ‘hello’ meant anything, and was actually a little annoyed by it.  Lately, however, my tune has changed.  Call it the remix.  The ‘office hello’ remix.  With guest appearances by Hello Kitty and Todd Rundgren.

Right back at cha, Cruise! Hey, when's Risky Business 2 coming out?

Last year I worked at a public school in Korea.  Every day I would walk into the office, where there were about twenty teachers, and nobody would raise their head from their work or even look in my direction.  There were no hellos, head nods, or waves.  Not in Korean or English or Tagalog or any language.  No ‘Wassup!?!’ or ‘How’s it hanging?’ or ‘What’s shakin, bacon?’  None of that.  Not a smile or a peace sign or a high five or that cool thing where you take both of your index fingers and point at the person.

Instead, I entered as if I was Kevin Bacon (‘What’s shakin, Kevin Bacon?!’) in the movie Hollow Man.  Invisible and evil.  I wondered if my invisibility would enable me to sneak excessive coffee or spy on Elisabeth Shue.  To any extent, when you walk into the room and not a single person acknowledges your presence, it’s a bit of a bummer.

“That’s a Korean thing,” every Korean I talked to would tell me.  “We don’t really need to say hello.”

“Gosh dang it,” I said, using slang as I often do, “I dig a good hello.  I didn’t realize it when it was there, but now that it’s absent, I miss it.  Sort of like Hot Pockets.”

I would kill for a Hot Pocket.  I mean, I wouldn’t kill myself.  That’s silly.  Or a friend, or an animal, or anybody else if it meant I had to go to jail.  So let me rephrase.  I would kill a human stranger for a Hot Pocket, as long as it meant no prison time.  That is how badly I miss Hot Pockets.

Again, I fear I’ve gotten off point.  I was terribly unhappy at that public school, where there were no hellos.  At the same time, I was pretty happy and content at the non-profit agency, where people typically said ‘hey’ to each other, by way of words or head nod.  Perhaps one could gauge the entire worth of a job by the quality of its hello.  That is my insight into today’s working world.  Hopefully, the people at the downtown office will agree.



35 thoughts on “I Can Say ‘Hello’ in a Variety of Ways, But I Choose to Say Nothing

  1. I’m probably a little too effusive in my office hellos. I know this, because if I’m having a quiet day or I’m deep in thought and I don’t give my usual stellar greetings, people get all out of sorts with me and think I’m depressed or mad or who knows what. I suppose I’ve brought this upon myself, by being such a damn chatterbox.
    Thank goodness I don’t work in the downtown office, that crap would never fly with the suits down there.

    • They should give you a raise based on your positive attitude. I’m sure it does more for the good of the workplace environment than, I dunno, like a casual Friday or something.

      • casual friday!!…that’s worthy of an entire post in and of itself!…my chatty positivity at work is really just an elaborate ruse to keep anyone from knowing how I really feel about them.

  2. From my experience, with men I give a smile with a nod. However, with women, I have to smile and say hello and really mean it. I don’t say hello just to say hello. I say hello to people I really want to acknowledge and show them I am happy to see them.

    If you are used to having co workers who are warm and say hello everytime, then going to a place where they rarely say hello would be like going to far far away land. Of course, you missed being annoyed by the endless hellos of everybody but there’s nothing more uplifting than being smiled at and being acknowledged. Another thing, maybe it won’t bother you that much if that is customary in that place, you know, not saying hello or anything. But I think it would bother you a lot if they say hello to each other, and they don’t say anything to you. 😉

    • Hey girl! Yeah, you’re adding more depth to how tricky this hello thing is. If I like a person, and it’s a friend, of course I would say hello. So then, is that unprofessional? Should I be treating everyone like my buddy and shouting hello from the rooftop? I don’t know. I don’t want to make anyone feel unloved…even if I really don’t love the person.

      And very true. If you feel you’re the only person NOT getting the hello, that makes it even worse. I already feel underpaid and dissatisfied…I don’t need to feel disliked as well!

  3. Please tell me that the entire “nod” conversation you had with Holly was actually in fact an SNL skit you are just claiming to be real life… Who gets bent out of shape because of that? You know who does? Anti Hot Pocket enthusiasts, that’s who.

    • Holly friggin’ hated me. You ever meet someone who just doesn’t get you? Like, you say jokes and the person doesn’t even understand that they’re jokes and thinks you’re making serious statements? That’s what it was like with her. Not a bad person and a fair boss…but personality wise we were pretty much polar opposites.

      First Totino Pizza Roles…and now you’re going to frown upon Hot Pockets. Have you no decency?

      • Ooooooohhhh yes, I know what you are talking about! This a-hole I worked with at a restaurant. I remember him clearly. He hated me for NO reason. He clearly was beaten up by a girl that looked like me in grade school because he had it out for me since day one. I hate that guy.

        I really wasn’t hating on the Hot Pocket love, I simply meant the only type of people who would be so petty are Anti-Hot Pocket lovers (ie Holly). Sounds like someone is getting defensive over their cardboard cheese microwavable sandwich…tisk tisk. Have some mustard and calm down, will ya?! 🙂 xo

      • Who would hate you? Insanity. If I was beaten up by a girl that looked like you, I might like it. No, never mind, I don’t like getting beat up. I retract – it would suck.

        I love mustard! MMMM! I think possibly you have a better palate than I do in terms of food…

      • Now all I can picture is me putting your in a headlock and giving you a wedgie. haha!!! Let’s be real though. There is no strength in my noodles for arms that you could easily get out of position. Man, I make a horrible bully. I will stick to baking 🙂

  4. I work with quite a number of miserable people so when I say hello, I’m lucky if a get a grunt. I know this, yet I continue to greet these people each day I see them in the hallway. I would find it disconcerting working in an environment where no one speaks when you walk into the room. Makes you wonder, “Do they know something I don’t know?” “Have they been talking about me?” “Oh, God, is there a booger in my nose?”

    • Haha – exactly! I should’ve just started running into the room and giving everyone high fives. The people at your work sound wonderful. I like grunters. Sounds like you’re working with a bunch of Slingblades. (Is that movie still a decent reference? Or has Slingblade passed into ‘huh?’ territory?)

      And I would like to assure you, Navi, there is not a booger in your nose. You’re in the clear.

  5. gaila15

    There needs to be hello etiquette. I’d have one person say hello to me ten times a day. ANNOYING! Finally I said you only get one hello out of me a day. Then there’s the person that will yell hello when you’re 24′ away. I had to tell that person to stop yelling at me. Then of course there’s the person that complains they always have to say hello first. WTH???? Do you really need to say hello to me at all? Rant over. Your post made me laugh.

    • Hello Gail! And I’m screaming that from miles and miles away.

      Yes, hello inconsistencies can be a problem. Although, really, the person who walks straight past you, eyes focused ahead, never acknowledging your presence, is probably the worst. And possibly a by-product or end result of all those people you mentioned.

  6. letters from val

    Now, I really want a Hot Pocket, a Twinkie, and a Taco Bell soft taco… everything bad, and un-gettable. 🙂

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