In the years gone by, we just greeted our neighbours and others we met on the road with a ‘Good morning’ or a ‘Good evening’ as may be appropriate for the time of day. Everyone said this and moved on.
Over a period, this greeting often transformed to ‘How are you doing?’ One is expected to say ‘Fine’ and move on. And this is so even if things are not fine with you or the other, whom you have greeted.
However, some people of the older generation have not got into the spirit of the greeting and follow the old rules. Often, they mistake the greeting as an enquiry. And that is where the problem starts.
It happened to me one morning, when I was rushing down central avenue in the Mumbai suburb of Chembur, where I stay – to the suburban railway station to take the 8.15am train into town.
On the way, I met Mr Lobo, 85 years old, and an old friend of my parents. I greeted him “Hello, Mr Lobo, how are you?”
He took this as an enquiry. “Don’t you know, Walter? I fell in the bathroom three months ago, and had fractures. I was in the hospital for three weeks and in bed at home till last week. Began walking out, just a few days ago. And what was worse was that Mrs Lobo had a spell of high BP as well as high blood sugar. And she is still bedridden….”
I hurriedly excused myself and rushed to the station. I had missed four trains and was late for my meetings, because my greeting was mistaken for an enquiry!
In places where the weather changes often at short intervals (as in the UK), there will be greetings like ‘lovely morning’ or 'nice morning’. One is expected to agree—and move on. It is certainly not an invitation to discuss the weather.
Because I had read the weather forecast that morning, which had said that there would be frequent showers, sometimes heavy, right through the day, if I had said this, it would have been another repetition of the Lobo episode!
There are other areas in life where what is said is not what is meant.
Forty years ago, children were taught to call elders Uncle or Aunty, as a mark of respect. We did this in our own childhood—and there was never a problem.
But one day my eight-year-old son called out to my friend Dilip at the Club loudly—“Uncle, uncle, come to this side of the pool.” Dilip told him sternly, “I am not your uncle. Please call me Dilip in future, Samir.”
Since then, my children have stopped calling anyone Aunty or Uncle. They address them as Mr or Mrs – or by their first names, if they are old family friends.
There is also the new way of saying 'Goodbye'.
Many in the new world say 'See you'.
Ramesh noticed this when he came to US to join the World Bank. It was his first month completed- and by chance he happened to be in the elevator with the chief of the World Bank, who asked him whether he was a new entrant, when had he joined, in which department, where he came from.
It was a short ‘getting to know’ conversation. When the boss’s turn came to get off, he went out saying—“Itwas nice to meet you. See you.”
Ramesh noted this. He thought it was very kind of the boss.
Before he could forget that he had invited him, he phoned the CEO’s secretary for an appointment. Why do you want to see him, she asked?
Because he said he wanted to see me, he replied. She told the CEO but he could not remember it. But call him anyways, he said, adding he would see him for 10 minutes.
When Ramesh entered the office, the boss remembered him. After being seated, he asked Ramesh what he wanted to see him about.
Ramesh reminded him that, he had said 'see you' to him two days ago when they met in the elevator, and, therefore, he had thought he wanted to see Ramesh again.
Since then, the CEO of the World Bank stopped saying SEE YOU.
After this experience, it was always a firm and definite GOOD BYE.
There is also the new expression 'Take care' when parting.
Take care of what? the traffic? the luggage? the thieves at the railway station? the cab drivers? What is the concern?
Actually, none of these or anything else. It’s just a modern way of saying BYE- just like SEE YOU!
In India, we have seen a change in our own greetings from Namaskar with folded hands, and a quick bow to touch the feet of the senior to the more modern concept of a slight bow and a seeming attempt to touch the feet (going just halfway), with the senior holding the junior’s shoulders as if to say - no, no, please!
The important thing is to know that greetings are not serious enquiries, and goodbyes are not some call to further action. They are just that. However they may have changed with the times, they still remain the same in their meaning.
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are "5 Gs of family Business" with Dr Mita Dixit and "Marketing in a Digital/ Data World" with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)