Greetings & Salutations

“Hey!” “Wassup?” “What’s shakin’?” “Yo!”

Linguists study American greetings like these. Gender scholars analyze how people speak to women. As a former New Yorker, I had to learn to say “Sir” and “Ma’am” when we moved to the South.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised by “Domnul” and “Doamnă” here in Moldova. Domnul means sir in Romanian. Doamnă means ma’am.

But it’s not as simple as that.

Left to right: domnul, domnișoară, doamnă, doamnă, domnul

Here in Moldova, the tradition is to say “domnul” to any adult man regardless of his marital status. But one says “doamnă” only to a married woman, making “doamnă” a bit like “Mrs.” but not always followed by a name. “Domnișoară” means Miss. There’s no equivalent of Ms.

Miss Champa at school

When you approach a man, you say, “Domnul!” That’s often true even if you know the person well. For instance, I’m very friendly with our host father, Mihai, who is a few years younger than me.

When I first see him, I typically say “Bună ziua (hello) domnul.” Once that’s out of the way, I switch to Mihai or the more familiar Misha.

Likewise with his wife, Nina. When I first see her, usually in the evening, I say, “Bună seara (good evening), doamnă.” After that, I may call her Nina, although I sometimes keep saying doamnă.

Mihai and Nina have two adult children at home. I call them by their first names, Alisa and Andrei. (That’s Mihai, Alisa and Nina with us in the top photo.)

If I’m in a shop or the outdoor market, I use domnul and doamnă.

On top of all this, there are two forms of “second person” in Romanian — the formal usage for adults and a familiar form for children, family members and friends.

My student Alexandru and “Domnul David”

As for greetings in the opposite direction: My colleagues and students call me “Domnul David,” pronouncing David more or less like back home, although some say Dah-veed. Champa’s colleagues call her Doamnă Champa or just Champa. Most of her students call her Miss Champa.

As a whole, these salutations remind me a lot of what I found in North Carolina. I’m still looking, though, for the Moldovan equivalent of y’all.


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