An Irishman's Diary


The good news is that this is World Hello Day, a small but worthy initiative designed to advance the cause of peace. You may not have heard of it before. But in fact this is its 40th anniversary. And you can mark the milestone, as people have marked the previous 39 instalments, by saying hello today to 10 different people.

The bad news is that the initiative was begun in 1973 – by two Irish-American brothers – as a response to the Yom Kippur war. So four decades on, World Hello Day doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression yet on the Middle East. The integrity of the Arab-Israeli conflict remains unblemished. If its participants don’t organise a World Goodbye Day, eventually, we’ll be lucky.

Maybe the event’s ambitions need to be downgraded slightly. In which vein, I think it would be worthwhile even if it persuaded a few grumpy Dublin shop assistants, who currently consider it beneath them, to greet customers. Or, among those who do greet, it could be a useful restraint on the global march of “Have a Nice Day”, which is still spreading faster than Starbucks.

Mind you, viewed in certain lights, “Hello” can be an equally controversial choice as peace envoy. In one of its more recent mutations, it isn’t a greeting at all, but a one-word, sarcasm-laced question. Which, depending on the extent of its rising intonation, can mean anything from “Is anybody listening?” to “Are you out of your tiny little mind?” Even before that development, the word sometimes had unwelcome connotations. The stereotypical English policeman was famous for using it – in triplicate, like an official document – as an opening gambit in any investigation. And its duplicate form has been satirised too. Among non-anglophone peoples, the word’s reputation as something that otherwise gibberish-speaking foreigners say was immortalised in the title of a BBC sit-com, ’Allo ’Allo.

It is also one of the least precise words in English, having been spelt “Hallo”, “Hullo”, and even “Hollo” at different periods, before settling – most of the time – on the vowel E. It may have been the telephone that sealed its popularity in this form. Certainly the phone remains its biggest ally. Even in Ireland, where “Howya” and “Is it yerself?” might rival it as face-to-face greetings, “hello” remains, almost always, the first word you say into the receiver.

But in any case, as befits a global initiative, the event inaugurated by Michael and Brian McCormack in 1973 did not confine itself to the anglophone “Hello”. After all, getting people to say “Shalom” and “As-salamu alaykum” to each other was arguably more important.

And when they wrote to the world’s political and cultural leaders seeking endorsement, the brothers did indeed speak other people’s languages; although I note from the website that, in his reply, Seamus Heaney had to correct them on the spelling of “Dia Duit”.

The website proudly proclaims this year’s event to be the 40th World Hello Day. But the archive of good wishes has a somewhat dated look these days, suggesting the letter-writing campaign, at least, peaked during the 1990s. Queen Elizabeth II is one of the few current heads of state listed, and her reply is from 1987.

Still, it continues to seem like a good cause. So as a contribution to World Hello Day 2012, and even though we don’t normally do this sort of thing, I’m going to mention a touching email we received yesterday, seeking this newspaper’s help in a matter of the heart.

It came from India, and a man named Abhishek. Who earlier this month, on November 15th, met two female Irish tourists at a place called Anjuna, in Goa. He spent several hours chatting to them: “mostly on topics to do with Ireland and India”. As a result of which, he became severely smitten by one of the pair.

In case of embarrassment, I shall withhold the first name of the woman who did the smiting – innocent as it clearly was – except to say that it sounds like an Irish county and was once the subject of a hit record for Gilbert O’Sullivan.

Anyway, either because he was “extremely stupid” or “too shy” (his words), Abhishek didn’t ask for her contact details. He doesn’t even know what part of Ireland she’s from. All he knows is that she works as a broadcasting technician, maybe in sport. So if that sounds like you, and you want to mark World Hello Day by reintroducing yourself, we have his address.

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