BOLO Stories


Having the extremely rewarding and enriching opportunity to live and work in the Samoan Islands a few years ago, I could not agree more with the concept that just knowing how to say "hello" ("Talofa") in a native language is sure to bring a smile. Many times a "Talofa" and a smile by me (a Caucasian) to a Samoa would be immediately returned with a broad smile and almost "instant kinship", or at least a certain level of respect for knowing the language and using it. "Ahhh you know Samoan, excellent..." would be followed by many sentences I didn't understand. After a few minutes of relating what I do and do not know in Samoan and attempting to learn a new phrase or two, the two of us would be talking like good friends! To this day, when I meet a Samoan in the states and open with "Talofa!" after a moment of surprise a smile forms and the friendship begins.

Michael Kirschman - Charlotte NC

Shalom... de nada

I have spent the last 10 years working for a company headquartered in Israel. Although most folks I encounter when traveling there all know English very well, it always brings a smile to their face to hear "Shalom!" when I am greeting them.

My other BOLO story shifts over to the Spanish language. There is a family of native Mexicans in our neighborhood that work at a nearby restaurant. My wife and I have made it a habit of giving them a ride whenever we pass one walking to work. I always greet them with "Hola" which is welcomed, but most Americans know to say "Hello" in Spanish. Thank you Dora! the best reaction I've receieved was after being thanked in English for the ride, I simply acknowledged "da nada" or "you're welcome, it was nothing." My passanger beamed and excitedly replied back "Muchas gracias mi amigo!" as he jumped out of the car.

Jason Williams - USA - Fishers, IN

More than a greeting

Saying hello to another person in their native language is much more than a simple greeting. It is an acceptance of their presence and of their differences that goes way beyond mere "tolerance". It is an indication that you might not be so quick to judge the other person for speaking the "wrong" language or for having a world view that is different than your own.

In short, it is a simple but powerful affirmation of their humanity - the same one you might appreciate some day, if you travel.

Kyle K - Chicago, IL

A Tale of Turkey, Thank You and Tea

Greetings, I am  Dale  Neuburger, and I travel internationally for my job as a sports management consultant and for volunteer assignments at swimming meets worldwide.

One of the great joys of travel is buying something that not only gives you pleasure when you bring it home but also reminds you of a pleasant moment on one of your trips.

And, to make the best purchases, especially at the markets and souks (a Middle Eastern bazaar), it is best if you can say a few words in the native language of the sellers.

Here's a selfie, made in Istanbul, with a friendly shopkeeper, who loved to hear me say hello in Turkish - Merhaba - and thank you - Sagol - after a good purchase!  The shopkeeper greeted me warmly and made me feel very welcome, including some offering some wonderful Turkish tea.

I cannot always guarantee that you will get a lower price if you learn a few words, but it's always gotten me a friendly smile whether in Istanbul or anywhere else in the world.

Dale Neuburger - Indianapolis, USA

ABCD: A Bilingual Californian (in) Dharamsala

I'm bilingual and bicultural. I've lived in the US most of my life and lived in Mexico for two-years. I've always understood the importance of a friendly greeting - especially in rural Mexico where salutations are expected by matured generations. However, it wasn't until I traveled across the globe to an unfamiliar world that I fully understood the value of a genuine greeting.rnrnI spent the month of July 2014 in Dharamsala, India and learned a few essential Hindi words such as, namaste (a respectful greeting) and dhanyawad (thank you). Greeting my new community in their language was a respectful gesture that demonstrated acknowledgement of their presence and in return they always welcomed me with their warm smiles. It's amazing how a simple hello, with a smile, can make people feel recognized and significant. It has an immediate effect of comfort and should never be taken for granted.

Alexis Maciel - San José, USA

The Hello (Ola) that Won Over My Wife and Her Family

Tacos, burritos, tortas, taquitos, beans, rice, salsa, and menudo are all traditional foods made in Mexico. I lived in southern California my entire life and these types of foods were in abundance through the region. While in school, I had friends teach me how to roll my tongue, so I wouldn't embarrass them when I order chicken tacos with extra see-lan-trow.

At the time, I didn't think that see subtle hints and clues would prepare me for the future - I was so wrong.

I met my girlfriend (wife now) while sharing stories with her about my trips to Mexico and my experiences in the country. Her family is from Mexico, but she was born in America. While she spoke both English and Spanish, her parents mainly spoke Spanish.

We dated for about a year and she asked me the most serious relationship question a person could ask - Do you want to meet my family? - My first thought was this just got real and my second thought was hurry say something because there is a long awkward pause. I accepted happily!

What she didn't say was it was their annual family reunion (23rd annual at the time) and her family was coming from all over Mexico and USA. I was nervous since in general people feel most comfortable with people who are from the same country, origin, or speak the same language as them. Not to mention that I was the only African-American there.

I tried to branch out just like at a part introducing myself to family: Tias, Tios, Primos, and Primas. Some were open, talked to me about our relationship and future plans, and others, simply said - No habla English (I don't speak English) - I smiled. My reply? Hola, me llamo Marquese! (Hello, my name is Marquese). My little knowledge of the language was enough to spark a conversation and I began introducing myself, speaking what little Spanish I did know. The talks were short but they opened the door to long-lasting relationships.

Fast forward, ten years. My wife and I are married with a young son who we are teaching both Spanish and English. Our extended family remembers me by face, name, and our interactions. All this was made by simply saying Hello. What I learned in high school was more than ordering some food at a local eatery, it was building relationships I never knew that could exist.

Marquese Howard - Los Angeles, USA

That First Point of Contact Can Make All the Difference

I work with colleagues from around the world, I provide consulting services to international clients and I live as an ex-pat in a city (Lausanne, Switzerland) where the local language is different from my mother-tongue. These three aspects of my life have certainly highlighted the strength of a familiar greeting and the power of a warm smile.

When I moved abroad from Canada to start my international career, there was a lot of pressure to learn about cultural differences and how to conduct business meetings in different parts of the world. Experience has taught me, however, that the effort to understand another's culture was always appreciated, but all that was really needed to create lasting and trusting relationships, both professionally and personally, was a friendly greeting. That first point of contact can make all the difference.

No one can be expected to know another culture inside-out, and the harder one tries to conform, the more likely he/she is to make mistakes. What is important, anywhere in the world, is an open-mindedness and a small gesture to show that you understand you are from a different culture and that you speak another language, but that you are willing to make an effort. I've learnt that by being myself, making an effort to greet and thank people in their own language and by offering a warm smile, I am able to create trusting personal and professional relationships that span across borders and languages.

Caroline Anderson - Lausanne, Switzerland

The Hello that Won me Twenty' New Friends

I moved to Indonesia one year ago, I had been involved with teaching under privileged kids in India and when a similar opportunity came up in Jakarta; I was happy to volunteer.
A bunch of us volunteers were tasked with teaching children English.
During my first class despite best efforts, I couldn't get the kids to open-up. They were shy and I was not fitting in. I was a foreign authority figure, a teacher keeping them away from play time. There was no common ground.
As I sat back that evening preparing notes for the class on the following day, I realized I had something common with the children; I didn't speak their language and they didn't speak mine. It was there I decided to stop being a teacher and become a student.
I went into class the next day and announced 'today I am not going to teach you, you are going to teach me; how do say Hello in Bahasa? They taught me and watched me struggle with the pronunciation. They laughed, I empathized and suddenly we were friends.

Sumegha Rao - Jakarta, Indonesia

Not just a local or global phenomenon, but a HUMAN one!

Being brought up in India, one definitely knows the importance of languages. I'm a Gujarati (Language 1) in Mumbai, a city that speaks Marathi (language 2) in a country that mostly speaks Hindi (Language 3) and I have received my education in English (language 4).

Juggling between languages to get the best out of anyone or to make a new friend on the local train is something I'm very familiar with.

It was interesting to see though, that even when I was in Paris, for a student exchange program, greeting someone in French would almost always bring a smile to the other person's face. Often my failed attempts to talk in French and mispronunciations of words was the conversation starter and helped break the ice.

That is when I realized- this phenomenon is not local or for that matter even global " its just HUMAN!

Tanvi Kanakia - Paris, France

A Bucket (List) full of Hello, Please and Thank You

I am someone whose bucket-list includes a visit to every country in the world at least once in my lifetime! The desire comes from wanting stories to share, experience different cultures and develop a diversified palate for different foods. 

Many people say it takes guts to do what I've done-  like drive in Poland, take a photo with a tiger in Thailand  or eat duck nachos in Puerto Rico. I say these things are easy, especially if you embrace the culture by learning and using simple words like ' witam'  ' kruna' & ' gracias'

These magic words when supplemented with actions can work wonders! I used 'witam' (or hello in polish) with a warm smile while approaching a pedestrian in Kraków to ask directions in order to avoid getting lost. That was easier than deciphering directions from a polish map!

In Koh Samui, as excited as I was to take a photograph with the tiger, I didn't hesitate to beg the zoo master with 'kruna' (or please in Thai) to sedate the tiger so he didn't chew me alive! That's what helped me with that fake smile you see in the photo even-though I was terrified!

I've found that using the simplest and most common word 'gracias or thank you' to the server for insisting I try a delicacy of Puerto Rico was just a wonderful experience to challenge my taste buds!

Knowing these 3 words - hello, please and thank you can be extremely powerful testaments of how humans bond & help each other. Even though I've been to 40+ countries and learning just 3 phrases per country is actually the best part of sharing experiences! For every experience I share, I teach another person a few new words- just like the memory game it passes on across cities, countries, continents & all boundaries making the world a smaller and more united place!

Prianka Advani - San Antonio, USA

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