I’m talking to you foreigner.
Yesterday I was the recipient of the impromptu “hello” three times. First while walking to the park, one in a group of school age boys across the street yelled “hello.” Then inside the park, an old man, a park worker, gave me a “hello” as I passed by. Then again on a backroad, as I was biking to the factory where I work, a young man belted out “hello.” Yes, the urge seems to strike all ages, except that it’s exclusively the male gender who displays the extroverted verbal gesture. Depending on the distance, I either wave, smile, nod, or return them with a hi or howdy, or sometimes a combo.
The yen here to shout out hello is usually done by someone who’s english vocabulary does not extend beyond that word. Perhaps the compulsive expression just feels good — connecting with a foreigner in their tongue. The locals here do not use that greeting among themselves.
I can’t help but wonder if I lived in a small town and an oddball Chinese person walked by if I’d impulsively yell out ni hao even if I knew no more of their language. Or if I passed a Mexican would I blurt out hola, or marhabaan to an Arabic looking dude. Anyway, the Chinese have got to presume I’m english speaking. I could be French. They are not saluting me with a “salut.” Then again, we all look alike and english is the universal language.
Truthfully, I’m glad for the daily salutation from an always unknown and varied source. It’s certainly better than many alternatives, like a version of catcalling. I take the extemporaneous acknowledgment as a form of welcoming a foreigner into alien turf. I’m chalking it as a net positive for humanity.
Conclusion: If you’ve read this far, consider giving the next foreigner you see in your town a big hello in their language. Hello! There’s really no downside.