They do this in Japan.

Most styles of greeting depend on the other person in the exchange. For instance, I see this one guy nearly every day, and each time we see each other for the first time he says, “What’s good?” To which I guess I’m supposed to say, “What’s good?” in return, but I always say, “Nothing new,” every single time. Another man greets me with, “How’s it hanging?” and I have absolutely no idea how to answer that one, so I just nod my head and say nothing. But there’s a woman I see every once in a while who tells me, “Nice smile,” by way of greeting, and I reply, “Nicer smile.”

These greetings aren’t like holiday greetings when we all get overly verbose (or the greeting cards do for us) because they happen often, but over time we’ve cultivated them until we know what we’re going to say depending on the person we come in contact with. The only troubles come when someone new enters our world, and we’re usually content to let them lead and we’ll follow, so if they’re doing the tango we’re doing the tango. At least until we feel comfortable enough with them over a period of time. Of course for some people it’s always awkward every time we greet them, but that’s life.

There are five distinct styles of greeting that I’ve noticed most people use when first spotting someone else…

  1. The Head Nod. Again, it depends, but generally anyone greeting me with a head nod is male. And usually if it’s anther black guy the nod will go up, while white guys tend to nod downward. I’m not sure what the difference really is in going up or down, but I usually let the other guy lead. If he juts his chin up, I do the same, like apes in the wild, and if he nods down I do the same, but I do feel like that way might as well have us bowing at each other, you know, like they do in Japan.
  2. The “‘Sup?” When I was coming of age the phrase was “What’s up?” but I guess these days we’re shortening everything else, so why not two words that were relatively short to begin with? And while this is technically a question it really isn’t, not when it is here in the form of a greeting. It means “Hi,” because, you know, “Hi” is a bit blase these days. I find that when I do answer the question all I get in return is confusion because they assumed I knew what the “‘Sup?” meant, and I’ve just disabused them of that notion. They don’t know how to handle it. The only correct response to a “‘Sup?” is a “‘Sup?” in return.
  3. The Bear Hug. The previous two greetings are generally for when I see someone often, but this one is usually reserved for people I haven’t seen in a month of Sundays. Oh yes, and this is usually a guy thing too. Not sure if it’s about the bone-crushing propensity of the bear hug or what, but it’s always been that way. The day a woman gives me a bear hug greeting is probably the day the world ends, but maybe that too will change. A bear hug signifies that maybe we weren’t friends when we knew each other back in the day, but the time in-between has made it so, at least for this one moment when we smush our bodies together in what passes for a greeting because we usually don’t know what to say to each other. Grunting should accompany the bear hug.
  4. The Choreographed Hug. While the bear hug is reserved for men, the choreographed hug is a female thing. I can see it coming a mile away. It starts somewhere in the eyes. Honestly. Then it spreads to the mouth — a brilliant smile that means something this way comes. Then the arms part and I know it’s unavoidable, whether I want to avoid it or not. Most times, though, the choreographed hug is a welcome one, either because my day has been going poorly or because the person offering the hug is a dear friend who understands that my day has been going poorly. Semantics, I know, but it’s good all the same.
  5. The “How are You?” Some people use this as interchangeable for “‘Sup?” where there is no response necessary, or even wanted. They don’t really want to know how I am, but they still can’t bring themselves to say “Hello.” It’s anathema these days, and I miss it. Sometimes I answer a “How are You?” with a “Hello,” and watch their faces squinch up, trying to make sense of it. But the “How are You?” is probably the most common greeting I get anymore, and it bores me to tears. I guess I like creativity in greetings, but as long as I’m the second person in the exchange I can’t say much about it.

So maybe I should lead the exchange sometime.



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