Say Hello - Creole

How to say Hello in Creole

Posted on Posted in communication, culture, Travel, update

I am on my way to my 5th visit to Haiti and I am totally embarrassed to say that I don’t know how to say ‘hello’ in Creole.

Seriously. How lame is that?


I know how to say ‘bonjour’ of course, and knowing a bit of French can get me by. But in Haiti, the majority of people speak Haitian. A patois, partially French, partially local and all Haitian.

I have good reason as to why I don’t know how to say hello in Haitian. I travel to many different countries in my work. Much of my work is seminar style. I am in and out quickly. I don’t stay long in one place. Over the last couple of years alone it would have helped if I could speak French, Spanish, Filipino, Japanese and Swahili. I can’t learn them all!

Sounds convincing right?

The problem is that I can always find a good excuse not to learn some of the language. In doing so, I join myself to a special group of international workers. A group I am not proud to belong to.

Around the world I have met long term workers who have lived in their countries for years, occasionally decades, and they still don’t know the language. This, they assure me, is not a problem. There are plenty of local people who want to learn English. Translators are cheap. They have systems in place and look at what they are accomplishing. Ultimately, they tell me, they are too busy with their successful projects to stop and learn the language.

Still sound convincing?

I wonder, isn’t there more to life than accomplishing tasks and getting projects done. What about your evenings and weekends? Who do you hang out with then? Other expats only? The few who speak your language? Isย this simply all about accomplishing tasks and getting projects done?

Knowing another language is more than understanding the code for your own language. It is a way to understand the soul of a community. Something different happens when you chat after the meeting. When you can walk through the community and discover your neighbours concern for their son. The grandfather who is ill. When you can come back on the weekend and hear what happened that week.

When Supriya and I travelled to Newfoundland soon after our marriage I found myself in the role of an interpreter. As the kitchen party went on later into the evening, my uncles grabbed guitars and sang the old songs, the stories of our history were trotted out again “Pops cup” gets told and retold, growing every time.

The dialect grew broader as the speech clipped along faster and faster. Stories evoked gales of laughter that I needed to interpret to Supriya as she was forced to smile and nod.

It was a lot more than than translating a few words. The language was the culture. The culture is the language. I need to be able to say hello, I know better.

By the way, “bonjou” is how you say hello in Creole.

Do you think learning the language matters that much?

Mark Crocker


(Visited 961 time, 1 visit today)

18 thoughts on “How to say Hello in Creole

  1. Hi Mark,
    Haitian isn’t a “patois,” it’s a fully developed creole language (it’s actually called Kreyol). That’s an important distinction, which I discuss in the blog post you linked to ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. YES!! I’ve always put a lot
    Of effort into learning language on my missions trips – in fact for me it is the most excitinf part! I full agree that the language is the soul of the community! Being a French major in university I’ve always had a passion for language. I think it shows locals respect for their culture and separates just your average tourist from someone who is there for purpose. Have a great time in Haiti. Au revoir ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thanks French major! I love your comment about respect for the culture there is a key difference between saying we respect and putting our money where our mouth is and showing it in our actions.

  3. Hey Mark, try this: “Ki jan ou ye?” Creole for “How are you doing?”, parallel to French “Comment ca va”… And always smile, can’t be mistranslated:)

    1. Definitely discovered: googling ‘how to say hello in creole’ tells me to say ‘bonjou’. Being in the communities and listening reveals ‘ki jan ou ye’ as the more familiar and common way that friends greet one another.

  4. Hi Mark:
    Very inspiring thoughts on language and culture. I remember the gatherings in Rocky Harbour and you and Supriya introduction to the local culture. Hope we can do it again sometime soon. As I am writing this, I just incidentally glanced at my cluttered book shelf and saw the book “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” A fitting thought to your endeavours…Just keep flying with Jonathan.

    Uncle Bruce

  5. Good stuff…I’ve made excuses. I’m to old, I’m a perfectionist, etc. Truth be told I think I am just lazy. Just being real ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hey fellow lazy traveller. The first step is admitting you have a problem, thanks for joining my admission, now I don’t feel so alone ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Mark…yes and yes! I like the idea of language learning to discover the ‘soul’ of a culture. Now I am in Germany..and I am trying hard to use the few words I know. I am far from being good at it! But there is a smile that happens when I try! So, once you know you are lame… as you describe yourself ๐Ÿ˜‰ .. will there be a difference on how you relate to different cultures from here on? Whats your plan?

  7. Peter, that is the essence of the issue. What now?

    For me it has been a few things:

    I have taken some language classes (Spanish) over the last couple of years at different community groups

    I have a few language game/apps I use to get my brain thinking

    But mostly, I feel I must remember how I approached my first few forays into a new place. At the beginning I was more intentional about learning a few words of the language. I was not able to learn much, but anything at all is helpful. I need to remind myself of doing that a little bit more now-a-days.

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