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Say Shalom... and other lies of Hebrew school


Hey, there, long time no see!
You know, I could give you a whole bunch of excuses, about how things are busy busy busy and I'm working hard to both make a living and write creatively - and ideally get published someday soon.
But I won't.

I'll just share with you something I just realized almost NOBODY tells olim.
When you start learning Hebrew, they begin with hello and goodbye, which -- almost everybody will tell you -- is the exact same word: שלום / Shalom.
Handy, right?

Except that much of the time you probably won't use it for either.

Shalom is definitely a word, and you will certainly use it often.
But maybe not the way you think.

First of all, I don't know if I've ever heard any Israeli actually say Shalom as goodbye. I honestly think people would look at you weird if you tried. It IS used in formal contexts, like in an add reading, "Say Goodbye to Dandruff," you might use the word "Shalom." I've only ever seen this in a negative context - things you don't want, like cockroaches.


(for example, this ad, which begins with the words תגישי שלום לכתמים! / say goodbye to wrinkles!)

Mostly, when you leave a place in Israel, you say ביי / "Bye." It works on the phone as well… way better than Shalom. So there goes that thing everybody learns in Hebrew school.

“Shalom” is just extremely formal. Use it when you would feel comfortable walking into a place and announcing, "Good day, good sir," to the person behind the counter. Use it when being extra-polite to older people. But if you use it on your friends or colleagues... again, they'll possibly look at you funny.

So what should you say instead?

When you're arriving someplace, if you want to sound ultra-casual, I highly recommend אהלן / ahlan. It's Arabic, like so many of the fun, casual Hebrew words people use. It also works on the phone.

Of course, there's also היי / "Hi," but be sure to add a little extra "eee" on the end. If it's someone you’re particularly fond of, you can even add oosh at the end: היוש "Hi-oosh". Don't tell my daughter I told you this; she hates when I do it.

If it's morning, you can do the classic בוקר טוב / "boker tov" (good morning) like you learned in Hebrew school. If someone has beat you to it and ALREADY said "boker tov," don't despair! There's a fun one-up where you respond with בוקר אור / "boker or!"  (morning light!) Really. It's a legit thing.

As for when you're leaving a place, well, there's bye, as I said. A lot of people say יום טוב / "yom tov" (good day), but I don't love it because this is what I grew up calling Jewish holidays, so it just feels icky when it's NOT a special day. What I often say instead is יום נעים / "yom na-eem", which means “pleasant day.”

If you want to get back into the Arabic, there's also יאללה-ביי / "yallah-bye." That's a good one when you need to wrap something up quickly and take off. And it also works well on the phone.

Hoping to learn more about how Israelis ACTUALLY talk – as opposed to how they TOLD you Israelis talk, back in Hebrew school?

I found this cool video – check it out and all his other Hebrew learning aids. And no, I’m not getting kickbacks… we’re just all in this together.


Tzivia / צִיבְיָה



  1. My kids were given "avodat bayit" instead of "shiurei bayit" and we were all taught to say "gamarti" instead of "siyamti"

  2. Teachers don't even know proper grammar, but Americans are equally awful.
    Way back when, over a half a century ago, in ulpan we were told: "This is the correct way, but nobody says it."


I'd love to hear what you have to say.