Among the many bizarre books I’ve been reading for research purposes, few are stranger than Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Fire, the former Black Panther bigwig’s account of becoming a born again Christian in the late 1970s. Cleaver spends much of the book repudiating the Communist allies who once supported him, including the North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung. To make clear his break from the past, Cleaver goes to great lengths to lampoon North Korean culture; this comical detail from Pyongyang is perhaps my favorite:
You could not say “Good Morning” or “Hello” to [the North Koreans] without their responding: “Yes, it is a beautiful day, thanks to the inspired teaching of our beloved revolutionary leader, Comrade Kim Il Sung, who has filed our lives with the truths of Marxist-Leninist analysis and daily supports our burdens and obligations.” That was good morning, and after six months it began to lose its novelty, but not the power to bore.
That passage reminded me of the Communist realm’s strange obsession with overhauling basic greetings. I first encountered this in the Czech Republic some years back, when it was explained to me that some old-timers still couldn’t stop saying “Honor work!” in lieu of “Goodbye.” (More on that phrase’s slow demise here.) As noted on Microkhan before, one must always be deeply suspicious of political movements that seek to revamp the minutiae of daily life. Even in the most dire of societies, the means of saying “hello” and “farewell” probably aren’t rotten to the core.