Cosmic diplomacy is a complicated game. First Contact with any new alien species requires a delicate approach — first impressions are important, and when something goes wrong, it can be awkward at best. At worst, a poor First Contact leads to an intergalactic incident! But there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for proper behavior in the company of another species. Any good Starfleet officer will need to know when to muster up the patience for the Chandrans’ three-day ritual to say “hello,” or when to avoid Hirogen space — they’re more the type to shoot first, and make contact later, if at all. With that in mind, here’s a field guide on how to greet alien species, and what to expect when they greet you.
Vulcans are known for holding logic as a core value, placing it in greater esteem than emotion. That doesn’t mean they’re not gracious, however. In Star Trek: First Contact, the Vulcans that arrive in Bozeman, Montana greet their human hosts by holding up the Vulcan salute — holding one’s hand up with the middle and ring fingers separated. This gesture is often accompanied by the phrase, “Live long and prosper,” which, like the Hawaiian “Aloha,” doubles as a farewell.
Honor is king in the Klingon Empire — social niceties are not. Where a Romulan or Cardassian might employ cordiality as pretext for deception, a Klingon will always let you know where you stand, if not always gently. “Good morning” or “How do you do?” generally don’t apply on Qo’nos. A traditional Klingon greeting is “nuq’neH,” which translates to “What do you want?” though the mechanics of it are a little delicate — only ask when being approached, not when approaching.
The profit-seeking Ferengi have a hand gesture, not unlike the Vulcans, that they use when greeting other Ferengi. They hold their wrists together, and when in the presence of nobility like the Grand Nagus, also bow in submission. But should one invite you into their home, expect them to say, “My house is my house,” to which you would reply, “as are its contents.” It’s also helpful to have a universal translator on hand, however, so as not to make the mistake of the 20th century humans in Deep Space Nine’s “Little Green Men” who confused head-smacking as a method of communication.
In general, greeting a Bajoran is pretty straightforward. A simple “hello” or “good day” will suffice. But because of their spiritual nature, there are situations that call for more formality. For instance, during the Gratitude festival, as seen in Deep Space Nine’s “Fascination,” the traditional way to greet a Bajoran is “peldor joi.” Which would accompany the burning of Bateret leaves and renewal scrolls.
Inhabitants of the “pleasure planet” Risa, a popular vacation destination for members of the Federation, have an Epicurean philosophy that they’re more than happy to share with guests. That hedonistic lifestyle is precisely what makes it so appealing after a lengthy mission in the Alpha Quadrant, and upon arrival on Risa, the Risians will typically greet visitors by saying “All that is ours is yours.” They’re quite generous, and they expect you to enjoy yourself. And for some extra attention, display a horga’hn statue to signal that you’re open to jamaharon.
As their adversarial relationship with the Federation of Planets has shown, Romulans tend to have, at best, a skeptical view on outsiders. That being said, there are formal greetings in Romulan society, as heard in The Next Generation episode “Unification,” such as “Jolan tru,” which can be translated as “May your day be filled with peace.” Saying so wouldn’t necessarily smooth out any potential hostilities in the Neutral Zone, by any means, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.
The Children of Tama
Picard discovered in “Darmok,” on The Next Generation, that the Children of Tama would prove complicated, as their interpersonal communication relies on a series of metaphors based on their own mythology and history. For instance, “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” signifies cooperation. So be prepared for their fairly complicated hello: "Rai and Jiri at Lungha. Rai of Lowani. Lowani under two moons. Jiri of Ubaya. Ubaya of crossroads, at Lungha. Lungha, her sky gray.” This is essentially their way of introducing themselves to a new culture. Return the favor by saying “Temba, his arms wide” (offering a gift) or “Temba, at rest,” which is a sign of peace.
The Enterprise’s first encounter with the Tholians in “The Tholian Web” put them viewscreen-to-viewscreen with a foreign entity that resembled a psychedelic cube with eyes. They’re a crystalline species with six legs that look a bit like a praying mantis with a hard, mineral outer shell. Upon encountering them, expect to hear a high-pitched series of clicks and chirps, which can be a bit piercing to the ears, but is still modulated through universal translator. Just be honest and forthright in your response — as Loskene says to the Enterprise, “we do not tolerate deceit.”
Terrans are humans, technically, but being from the mirror universe, there are some notable differences. For one, they’re more sensitive to light than humans from our universe; another, they live in a cutthroat, dog-eat-dog society where hostilities run deep. As such, they have a different set of formalities than The Federation, namely that their greeting to one another is the Roman salute — one arm extended out forward, palm down — accompanied by a hearty cry of, “Long live the empire!” For the sake of not provoking those hostilities when in the mirror universe, it’s probably best to return the greeting.
One-on-one encounters with The Borg don’t really happen. Each member of the Borg Collective is interconnected, part of a hive mind working in unison, and communicating with one is communicating with all of them. However, they have a single-minded mission to assimilate people and technology that will allow them to advance and remain dominant as a society. There are variations of their standard greeting, though it generally goes something like this: “We are Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” Once they’ve greeted you, however, they intend to assimilate you — they’re upfront about that — so there’s no need for a response! Contact isn’t advised.
Jeff Terich (he/him) is a freelance writer from San Diego who writes about pop culture, art, and music. He can be found on Twitter at @1000TimesJeff