How to Say Hello

At five in the morning now, I’m starting to feel the darkness that signifies the slow creep in of autumn and not a moment too soon. As a parting gift to the summer folks (or as an Alafair Burke character memorably savages the crowd on Long Island, “the summer sewage”) who like so much to fit in, I present: How to Say Hello.

So, in no particular order of importance or familiarity and with no hierarchy of intimacy implied, they are these.

Eye-Flick Look-away 

The barest of acknowledgement, the greeter in this case is usually passing on the street. The connection of looks is generally not long enough to be considered eye contact and the usual direction of the look-away is somewhere into space, at a far angle from the person being greeted. In effect, not so much a greeting as an acknowledgement of an impediment on the sidewalk where you’re walking.

Nod without eye contact

This is probably the most common between strangers, a short quick raise and lower of the head, with the focus down on the shoes or anywhere else that doesn’t constitute an implied connection. The stakes are low here and the look, if not straight down at the pavement, generally flies quickly past the shoulder of the greeting’s recipient without contact, so as not to presume on a common humanity. Slightly more warm than the eye flick and especially common among teenagers, professional introverts, and lovers still suffering from a broken heart.

Nod with glancing eye contact

This is a slightly more humane version of the short nod described above, favored by folks with a slightly sunnier view of the universe. More common on bluebird days and rare on weekends, especially in coastal towns. Nod is likely to be more defined than above and the eye contact a touch more prolonged than in the eye flick lookaway case.

Nod with eye contact and smile

This comprises a robust and vigorous greeting, one step short of a two-handed salesman’s handshake and a slap on the back. Usually tried out on you by a tourist, someone who’s trying to sell you something, or that one relative you haven’t managed to convince not to come back to camp next year, though they’ve left their wet bathing suits all over the bathroom, sandied up your carpets, and imbibed an excess of Allen’s on more than one occasion, also to the detriment of your carpets.

Chin lift

This mode should in no way be confused with a nod, either nod with eye contact or without. This is an abrupt lift of the chin, always upward and very little down again. Getting closer to a native greeting here. Most often used by men, especially those on a mission to the hardware store or the chandlery, who are in a hurry and can’t spare the extra downward motion of a full nod. Quite common in interior parts of the state, as well as in coastal towns with a boatyard.

The lift a Finger

Now we’re talking the real thing. Probably the quintessential local’s greeting, especially when the appropriate finger (index only, please!) is employed and the lift is from the steering wheel of a rusted-out 70’s Ford pickup. Unusual, but not unheard of, to see two or three fingers lifted, but rarely a whole hand. Useful for thanking flag people at road construction sites. Extra points if a burning cigarette protrudes from between the fingers.

One common variation in the southern part of the state is the finger lift off the handlebars of a bicycle on the trail around Back Cove, but the greeting effect is null and void if the lifter is wearing any form of Spandex clothing or a pink or acid-yellow bicycle helmet.


And finally, a man of an age gets up from his table at the local restaurant, precedes his wife of a certain age to the cash register, where the proprietor says “A’ight?” To which the man replies: “A’ight.”

The first rendition is a question whether the man and his companion enjoyed their dinner, the server was polite, the silverware clean, and the bill within his means. The second, if rendered into human speech, might translate as something like: “Thank you very much for the delicious dinner. We had a lovely time and everyone was polite. The food was superbly cooked and the crust on the apple pie as light as Aunt Tildie’s. We’ll certainly return.”

I hope this clears things up, though being as it’s nearing the end of the season, I suppose we’ll have to rerun this again sometime next May.

A’ight? A’ight.

About Richard Cass

Dick is the author of the Elder Darrow Jazz Mystery series, the story of an alcoholic who walks into a dive bar in Boston . . . and buys it. Solo Act was a Finalist for the Maine Literary Award in Crime Fiction in 2017 and In Solo Time won the award in 2018. The third book in the series, Burton's Solo, came out in 2018 and Last Call at the Esposito in 2019. Sweetie Bogan's Sorrow was published in 2020, to thunderous pandemic acclaim. The sixth book in the series, Mickey's Mayhem, will come out in 2021. Dick lives and writes in Cape Elizabeth.
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8 Responses to How to Say Hello

  1. Amber Foxx says:

    Great post. I lived in Maine for a while and I recall that one-finger lift.

  2. Fabulous, Dick! Started my day off with a grin.

  3. L.C. Rooney says:

    There are not enough ways to express how much I love this post.😆😆😆

  4. I’ll add a couple verbal ones I use all the time.
    2-I’m doing good for a man of my age and meanness.

  5. Barbara Ross says:

    I love the Maine economy of words. When I’m in the south and strangers are “honey” and “darling” me all over the place, I feel assaulted. They, of course, feel they’re just being polite.

  6. Must not forget the wildly enthusiastic Hello! with smile, meant not for the person immediately present, but for the one on the other end of an unseen cell phone.


  7. Brilliant post…I always say hello to ppl, look them in the eye and smile, if they don’t smile back, I do it to the next person haha! Really enjoyed this 😊

  8. sandra neily says:

    Oh Dick…..have copied your “one finger” hello to share with folks who will love it. This whole post was GREAT!

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