“Say Hi to Everyone”: Why Do We Have These Banal Greetings When We Know No One Follows Them?


“Say Hi to Everyone”: Why Do We Have These Banal Greetings When We Know No One Follows Them?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Admit it. You never did what you were asked to do.

At the end of that email from your pal in London, you were very clearly instructed “…and do give my regards to your parents”.

Did you? Oh no, you didn’t. You just hoarded up another set of regards, all to yourself — and never gave it to your parents at all.

And how about that message from your colleague, now on maternity leave, who asked you to “Say hi to everyone at the office”? Shouldn’t you have immediately set off from desk to desk, or at least announced with a megaphone in your hand, “Aparna said ‘Hi’ to all of you!” Guilty again, I bet. Sometimes the request is to “Say a ‘Big Hi’ to everyone” and you don’t even say a small one.

Every day, a lot of valuable effort is expended by loving, caring people, often through WhatsApp, giving us all definite instructions to run our lives better, but we don’t care to follow it. For instance, I was clearly told on New Year’s Day, through non-stop beeps on my cell-phone from about 28 well-wishers, to “Have a happy and prosperous New Year”. Well my New Year was quite happy, but now I feel like I should have bought Amazon shares that day to make it prosperous too.

Feeling guilty that I never do the things I am asked to by all these well-meaning people, I decided to do so henceforth at once, before I forget each time.

You just hoarded up another set of regards, all to yourself — and never gave it to your parents at all.

“Give yourself a big hug from me,” I read on my cell phone — a message from a school pal on my birthday. I was on an escalator at Palladium Mall right then. So I immediately placed all my shopping bags on the steps, closed my eyes, and as instructed, gave myself a huge hug of affection. Unfortunately, we’d just reached the end of the escalator ride — and I was pitched forward, shopping bags and all, flat onto the floor. Some shoppers stared at me. Kinda rude.

Well, the very next day, another email from yet another ex-colleague said, “Give Ranji a hug from me.” I set off to do so at once to his cabin. But the possibilities of a sexual harassment suit stopped me short.

Of course it’s not always about giving. Sometimes it’s about taking.

“Take care,” your loved ones keep telling you. And did you? Oh no, my friend, you didn’t take care, you took calories — 550 of them in the form of a Black Forest Cake slice, and put it firmly into your bloodstream. “Have a good day!” suffers the same fate. We just go right ahead and have a bad one, even though a smiling air hostess told us to — as clearly as she told us to fasten our seatbelts, which we all did.

Then there are also those polite but useful opening lines invented to get us going when we meet acquaintances, but people get annoyed when I try to answer these questions faithfully. For instance, I met a former client after ages, who rushed forward to meet me at the supermarket one day. “Hi! How are you?” So I said, “Hi! How am I? Well I found out yesterday that my good cholesterol is bad, and my bad cholesterol is worse, so I am looking everywhere for ketogenic foods and hydrogenated soybean oil; and also am worried that my knee pain has returned, probably because I’ve been so irregular with my yoga lately. So tell me, how are you?” Instead of answering with his own recent medical report, he wheeled his trolley off quite abruptly.

Why is everyone writing “Cheers!” at the end of every office memo?

And then there are those insincere people who say at the end of such encounters, “Listen, it’s been ages, we really must catch up soon, OK?” and then they rush off very very fast, making you wonder if they’re catching up with a marathon they are participating in.

And what about those instructions before opening a package? Especially wedding gifts with some clear hand-written words to follow. Unimaginative, yes, but well-meaning aunts and uncles always buy us brass objects as a wedding present, neatly wrap it up, and write on a card: “Have a long and happy married life”. Divorce lawyers end up making a lot of money as many couples tear open the package, keep the brass object in their drawing room, but don’t follow the instructions on the packaging, resulting in marriages that are neither long nor happy.

I have a feeling that we all have trouble ending conversations, letters, any form of correspondence, and even entire relationships, and that’s why some handy phrases were invented for us to indicate, “This is the end of my message. Now go on with your life.” Which is OK, I guess, but I am still puzzled: Why is everyone turning into an alcoholic in offices everywhere? Why is everyone writing “Cheers!” at the end of every office memo? I thought we used to say that only in bars.

Meanwhile I have no idea how to end this, so see you later, alligator. I have no idea what that means. But you know what I mean.