Hebrew Hear-Say: Wishing you well

One of the hardest things for new immigrants is learning to forget what they knew. Lessons in modern Hebrew do not tell the Gospel truth. For example, everyone knows how Israelis say hello: "Shalom." But that automatic response is only the partial truth for those who live here. Just as English-speakers greet their friends with "Hi" or some other familiar form of welcome, younger Israelis are more likely to treat their buddies to the Arabic word "Ahlan" than use the traditional Hebrew. When it comes to phones - as can be heard on buses, in the streets, in cafes and even cinemas and theaters - those ever-irritating ringtones are almost inevitably followed by the word "Hallo." The inflection varies according to the age, socio-economic group and situation of the person who is speaking (not to mention the identity of the caller) and ranges from a snatched "'allo," to a sing-song version. You can tell a lot by the sound of that initial "hallo." (Unfortunately, "hell-o-o," as in "duh!" has also made its way via TV, but this is not of course a greeting, just hellishly grating.) The main thing is that the person who accepts the call says something. (Sociolinguistic studies have shown that the best way to get rid of prank callers - or indeed any callers - is to remain silent and not establish the initial flow of communication with a greeting. Apparently, the caller finds it difficult to say what he wants without aural confirmation that there is someone at the other end of the line literally receiving him.) In general, Israelis have an elaborate greeting ritual not taught in Jewish day schools in the Diaspora. The back-slapping and hugs among mates is almost inevitably accompanied by a volley of questions including "Ma nishma?" "Ma hamatzav?" "Ma hadash?" and "Ma ha'inyanim?" Among friends, forget the "Ma shlomcha?" (How are you?) you might have learned from an ulpan teacher. Save that for fresh introductions and formal occasions: There's a difference between what's proper and what's right. The above exchange, literally "What's been heard?" "What's the situation?" "What's new?" and "What's the word?" rapidly fired off one after the other, does make every chance meeting with friends sound like the changing of the guard on a desolate army outpost, but in a country like Israel where the news tends to change drastically every hour, it fits in with the lifestyle better than a simple "What's up?" In Israel, we go from the hi's to the lows (and back again) very quickly. For some, greetings are more sunny natured: A simple Boker tov (Good morning) eliciting a Boker or (Morning of light). This is not to be confused with the sarcastic Boker tov or Boker tov, Eliahu which are the equivalent of "What took you so long?" Partings are such sweet sorrow, but there's no need to be stuck with the classic "Shalom ulhitra'ot" formula. It's fine for the boss but about the equivalent of wishing a friend "Fare thee well" instead of "Bye." Greetings and farewells are definitely personal and, like Hallmark cards, there are plenty for every occasion. Among the more common, the hasty "Yalla, bye," the slightly affected and dated, "lehit'," "Tehiyeh bekesher" (Keep in touch) and "Besorot tovot," a typical wish for good news. "Tihye bari" (be healthy) is another nice parting wish, not to be confused with the sarcasm-filled "Tihye li bari" (I wish you well/good luck). It is becoming more common (thanks to Yanks) to wish people "Yom tov" - the equivalent of "Have a nice day" which makes a certain British-born woman I know feel compelled to bark back "Don't tell me what kind of day I should have," especially to a bureaucrat or clerk who has just ruined any chance of the the day being a good one. However you want to greet the New Year, here's wishing readers the traditional Shana tova and hatima tova. (Unless you don't want me to tell you what kind of year you should have...) liat@jpost.com