18 October 2009

Flickr's Fractured Greetings: Korean

Is anyone else as annoyed as I am by Flickr's cutesy attempts to improve international understanding (or whatever) by telling you how to say some equivalent of Hello in a randomly chosen language whenever you refresh your Flickr homepage? The one that set me off most recently is Korean Bangawoyo 'Pleased (to meet you)', which corresponds in usage to Japanese Hajimemashite, French Enchanté, or Romanian Îmi pare bine (or Frenchified Încântat), and so on. None of those equivalents are on Flickr's list of greetings. For Korean, I would have expected something like Annyeong (안녕), which is a good match for Arabic Salaam or Hebrew Shalom.

Do Flickr's intrepid researchers just ask random speakers of random languages for greetings and then accept whatever they're told? Have they never heard of Omniglot? Can someone tell me what Mingalaba really means in Burmese? 'Come eat!' perhaps?

One could occasionally hear schoolboys in rural Japan (when I was a kid in the 1950s) greet the rare European-looking foreigner with the first English phrase they had had to memorize in school, "This is a pen!" A former Peace Corps volunteer in Korea told me that the equivalent greeting there was "You are a monkey!" Both would be refreshing additions to Flickr's randomly generated greetings.

UPDATE: Of course, "Haro! Haro!" was by far the most common greeting directed at Westerners when I was a kid, but was somewhat less common when the Outliers visited in 1985, and much, much rarer during our sabbaticals there in 2005-2006, even when we were pretty far off the usual foreigner circuits. Being greeted as if I were a talking parrot used to irritate me a lot as a kid, as did constantly being stared at, or having my skin or hair stroked or cheeks pinched by little old ladies when I was a child. When a bunch of junior high school boys tried out their "Haro!" on me in the gardens of Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion) in 1985, I responded in Japanese with "Haroharo tte ningen no kotoba desu ka?" ('Is "haroharo" a human word?'). That seemed to silence them for a few moments.


Michel S. said...

It was once fairly common in rural Japan (when I was a kid in the 1950s) for school boys to greet the rare European-looking foreigner with the first English phrase they had had to memorize in school, "This is a pen!"

If the French were to do that, it would be "My tailor is rich" -- according to Stephen Clarke :)

J. W. Brewer said...

But did you respond to the Japanese kids with a friendly "Kore wa empitsu desu" (which I recall as one of the two canonical first-sentence options coming from the other direction)? I only recall "haro" (repeated many many many times) from my own boyhood stint in Japan (in the '70's), but oddly enough it was there that I first encountered well-meaning yet shallow linguistic multiculturalism in the form of a teacher (maybe 4th grade?) who decided for some reason to introduce us to Swahili with a lesson consisting entirely of "Jambo means hello."

Maria said...

Yes, but if I remember properly, it's 'hujambo' if it's directed at two or more people. Oh well. I guess that would have called for another whole lesson.

Little kids where I live tend to point at me and scream either 'Farang!' or 'Orang puteh!' I point back and cry 'Kon Thai!' or 'Orang Melayu!' They either think it's hilarious or run away in terror. 'Hello you!' is more common from teens and adults.

As for Flickr, it does include the LOLcat 'o hai!' That must count for something.

Love this blog, BTW. :)