By Maria Zangari
Entebbe, Uganda– There is something disingenuous about the phrase “You’re welcome” that I didn’t realize until visiting Uganda. It is as if you are saying, “I’m glad to have you here, but not glad enough to speak the whole phrase instead of a contraction.” Maybe that’s cynical. But the first time our group was welcomed into a school with many empathetic “You are welcome” greetings it struck me how welcomed I truly felt. Although now, at the end of the trip, I have heard this phrase hundreds of times it still feels heartfelt and it is this genuineness that I will bring back to the United States.
Every time I walked into Ugandan classrooms, the teachers offered me their hands and with a smile on their face proclaimed, “You are most welcome!” The students then often greeted me with the same fervor. I felt welcomed into these classes. I felt that my presence was noticed and appreciated and that, for the most part, both teachers and students were happy to have me visit their classrooms. It is the common phrase that drew me in. It made me feel less like an intruder and more like a friend in the classes than the quick “You’re welcome” would have. As a lover of words it strikes me how miniscule modifications to a phrase change its connotations.
Our group visited craft markets in Jinja and Kampala and both times we were lured into shops with “You are welcome” immediately followed by a gesture encouraging us to enter. I find it interesting that somehow, even as a business ploy, this phrase spoken without contraction feels true. I know that the shop owners want me, a white American, in their shops. I know that I am often their target customer. But beyond the monetary appeal, I feel a sense of true happiness and often pride from women when I enter their shops. Owners sometimes point you towards items they think might interest you most. I am most excited when these end up being the exact items I was looking for. Again I feel welcomed and enjoy the bartering process as the attendants stress the importance of the purchase.
“Hi, my name is Maria.”
“I’m Thomas. You’re welcome here.”
“Hi, my name is Maria.”
“I’m Thomas. You are most welcome here.”
convey two very different feelings. It is amazing how shortened speech can cheapen the quality of the words. And it is hopeful to realize how quickly genuine meaning can be restored. I will bring this genuineness home with me, along with the non-contracted phrase, and I hope I will be able to better express warm welcomes to my guests the way Ugandans have welcomed us into their lives.