“Who’s Your Mama?” & Other Greetings

“Ivory does not come out of a dog’s mouth.” -Chinese proverb

wooly mammoth

Wooly mammoth statue. Parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona, Spain.

Salutations! How do you greet someone? In the Taiwanese culture, you can say Li tsiah-pa bue?, which means, “Have you eaten yet?”

Are you cognizant of your first words to a stranger? Typical starters in conversations are “Where are you from?” or “What do you do?” I was listening to an NPR show the other day and learned some interesting facts about opening gambits. For example, there are underlying meanings that you might not be aware of regarding:

Where are you from?

  • For Native Americans, it can refer to your tribe.
  • In South Central Los Angeles, it’s associated with your gang.
  • Alaskans use this question because most people are visitors from out of the area.
  • Florida has a slight variation with, “Where are you from up north?” (assuming that people travel farther south down the state to chase good weather)

What do you do?

  • Because of the recent economic downturn, this can be dangerous ground.
  • There are unpaid but important caregivers (for kids, aging parents, etc.) who may be uncertain how to answer this.
  • This can be a subtle and unwelcome maneuver to ascertain income/status.

In different regions of the country, other questions arise, like:

  • What part of New York are you from? (New York)
  • What church do you go to? (South Carolina, rural Idaho, Virginia)
  • What high school did you go to? (St. Louis, Missouri; and across the country, esp. in small and rural communities)
  • What exit are you from? (New Jersey)
  • Who’s your mama? (New Orleans; to provide family background)

In Los Angeles, where I live, maybe we could ask:

  • Trojan or Bruin? (Big USC vs UCLA rivalry here.)
  • What kind of car do you drive? (It’s a fact that many residents have cars in this sprawling area.)
  • Fave celebrity? (We are near Hollywood after all.)

What greetings have you heard or want to hear?

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