On a recent visit with our son who lives in Michigan, we visited a place in a small village outside of Detroit known as the largest Christmas store in the world. If any item had anything to do with the holiday, season, gift giving, or decorating for Christmas, this story (which was like a mall in itself) had a section for what you were looking for. Or, at least, they made you feel that way. Despite all that, there was something else that caught my imagination more than anything on offer for sale. It was how they chose to say “welcome.”
In the entrance area of the store, above the main doors, there hung this sign saying “welcome” in over 50 languages. Here’s a shot of only part of the sign.
My son seems to have inherited (learned or otherwise) my fascination with languages, and long after Lydia and his significant other had gone in to start shopping, we stood in the entry area, pondering over the sign. While all of the words in the various languages were supposed to be understood as “welcome” between the two of us, we were seeing that how people in different languages choose to say “welcome” differed widely. And, yes, they did have Latin included in their list, so let’s start there.
Salvete! This Latin word really is a command, and it means: be healthy!
Shalom, the Hebrew word, means: Peace.
The Italian, Bien venuto, French, Bienvenue, and Portuguese, Bem Vindo are all made of the words for good/well and the word for coming or traveling to some place. The greeting literally congratulates the one arriving for their good, well, safe travel.
The Danish, Welkomen, the German, Willkommen, the Afrikaans, Welkom and the English, Welcome, all echo that sense of having traveled, or come to this place, well.
The Irish, Cead Mile Failte adds enthusiasm beyond measure as the three word phrase means “a hundred thousand welcomes.”
My son’s personal fascination was with the Arabic which he had studied in college. There are variations on the welcome greeting, and the one on the sign was not the one he was most familiar with. It seems that it is a much more traditional welcome, spelled in Latin letters as ahlan wa sahlan. It carries the sense of “you are among family and you are in safe territory.”
All of these human, culturally grounded, forms of welcome offer me something to consider. I want my welcome to those who arrive at our doors to feel like peace. I want them to feel good about the effort they made to arrive at our community’s sacred space. I want them to feel our enthusiasm for THEM. And most deeply, I want them to feel that when they are here, in our community, that they are among family, that they are in a very safe place. They are welcome. They are home.