I get a sixpack of a better than average ale from the local Kwikee Mart. The dark-skinned, dark-eyed cashier behind the counter smiles and rings up my purchase. Overpriced? Sure. But I'm appreciative of the convenience, and know that the selection is probably a chore to keep stocked. Today it's McEwan's Scotch Ale, but in the past it has been the full range of German dopplebocks, Irish stouts, American pale ales, etc. Strong fair for those who like to taste their malts-- not just catch a buzz. The fellow is Nepalese, and I really don't know how they feel, as a rule, about strong drink. In this case, however, it's clearly not an issue-- this guy's family makes many transactions involving large 40 oz. bottles full of malt liquor, and 24-pack cases full of cheap, tasteless beer. It's just business. But you wonder. In that part of the world, lots of people are Hindi, but lots too are Muslim. But isn't that area right about where Taoism kicks in, too? Hell, there's a fair number of Buddhists up there, too. Come to think of it, there's more than a few Christians running around... Shoot-- it's best not to cubby-hole people. But you wonder.
As he sacks up my sixpack and I hand him back his copy of the credit card carbon, I say "Namaste," and start to walk away.
"Excuse me? What did you say?" he asks.
"Namaste. I'm sorry. Did I mispronounce it? Isn't that the 'goodbye' and 'hello' term in Nepalese? 'Peace be with you,' or some such?" I'm feeling foolish, now, bag in hand, half turned to make my escape.
"No-- you said it right. But it means 'I bow to you.' How did you know that I'm Nepalese?" he inquires with a half grin.
"I'm not really sure." I reply, and bolt.
Now, "I bow to you" is a mighty nice thing to say, but it's just a little too formal for me to consider saying to a stranger at the market. "May peace be with you," however, is a pleasant greeting that we might all wish upon newly well-met strangers. I felt like I'd made a silly error.
But why? In my wide and thinly spread studies, I've picked up that "Namaste" is a very common salutation among folks on the SubContinent. Clearly many of them have no such compunctions. Seems to me that there's a gesture that goes along with the greeting, too. Hands together in front of the chest. All very formal.
But it doesn't translate here in north Texas, at the edge of a working class community in an urban area. I feel kind of dumb.
For the most part, when people ask me "How you doin'?" I answer them with "Better and better." It's true, of course. If my day's gone crappy, then at least I'm halfway though it, now. If I've stepped two steps into a four-step mud puddle-- I'm halfway out. Not a bad way to look on things, I don't guess. It's my own stab at optimism. Oh, I know that I'm expected to just answer "Fine," and move on, but at least I'm not punishing them with an actual account of how I'm doing. "Better and better" will suffice, and perhaps perk up their day.
"Peace be with you" is an old phase that any number of pastors that I've seen have cast upon the waters during their benedictions. I rather like it. Even when the sermon may well have reeked of fire and brimstone (not likely in any sermon I'll have sat through), the final message is one of admonishment to find peace. It's pleasant, and has also been kind of an unofficial motto. It's why I had kind of liked the meaning that I had ascribed to "namaste." Now I find that I was a little off. I don't know where I picked it up-- I've known but very few red-dot Indians, and none closely.
I don't know that I've got a lot of peace; my mind is pretty regularly stirring. But it's a nice thing to wish for, and I wish it to those I meet. That said, perhaps rendering a little more common courtesy to the person on the street is in order as well. So, in closing, I say to you, gentle reader: NAMASTE.
And you can take that however you want. :)