After working in Kazakhstan for over five years, I’ve found that greeting someone the first time you see them in the day is important. People can get offended if you fail to acknowledge them when you first enter the room or when you first encounter them at work. This can get tricky in an office where people come in at different times of day–it’s easy to lose track of who you’ve greeted.
I recently came to work at 8:00am and taught for six hours straight. By the time I headed back up to my department, several other teachers had arrived. As soon as I stepped through the door, I was greeted with several hearty hellos, as if I had just arrived. To me, the greetings seemed a bit unnecessary because I had actually been at work quite a while already, but it was the first time we had seen each other in the day, so a hello was mandatory.
It seems that we Americans are constantly saying “Hi” to each other, even if we see each other multiple times a day. But here in Kazakhstan, that’s unnecessary. I’ve even seen people apologize for saying hello a second time after they realized that we had already greeted each other earlier. Every now and then I slip back into my American ways and say hi a second time during the day. People look at me strangely and some even say, “Don’t you remember that we already greeted each other? (мы уже здоровались)”
Thankfully, the Russian formal greeting is also plural (здравствуйте), so you can walk through the door, let out a booming “Hello everyone” and you are pretty much covered for the rest of the day.
So the rule is, say hello the first time and make it count.