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Early Middle English for today

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Day 1

Wes thu_ ha_l

In which Audrey starts her new job with a web development company, and is greeted in a most unexpected manner.

There's nothing quite like the first day in a new job. There's a mixture of excitement and fear, which was even more acute for me today, because it wasn't just a new job. It was my first job as a web developer. And I've been out of the work force for five years.

The office seemed sleek and stylish, and an air of creative endeavour swirled about as I switched on the computer at my allotted desk and looked around. I knew there would be awkward moments in an environment that was so new and strange to me. But I wasn't prepared for the introductions. Some companies wait for the next staff meeting. That wasn't the case at Summit Media. Here, within minutes of my arrival, I was ushered from desk to desk, meeting everyone from the Chief Technical Officer to a temporary Customer Service Assistant. With each new acquaintance, I smiled, then nodded earnestly while my guide cobbled together a job description. I added a slight head tilt with pursed lips and a murmur of approval to indicate that I'd made the connection between our respective roles, which belied the utter cluelessness I felt. It didn't help that most of these job descriptions were somewhat garbled and were regularly corrected by the new acquaintance. I stifled the winces and nervous shuffles, though not the blushes, and avoided glazing over, but it took its toll as I was moved relentlessly onward. During one long and pregnant pause I thought to myself "this is death by a thousand greetings". And at the end of it all, when I was back at my desk, staring at an empty inbox, I realised that I hadn't recalled a single name and that my understanding of the company organisation hadn't advanced one iota.

I looked at the guy sitting at the next desk, just to my left. Was he a programmer or a designer? Would we be working together? Was he the one who enjoyed skydiving, Russian cinema and walks in the rain? Probably not. Maybe he was the coffee-machine repairman, taking a breather. There was only one thing I could be certain of - I didn't know anything about him.

While it may be true that I didn't remember any names, there was one greeting that stood out. Somewhere in the midst of the many assurances of "Nice to meet you", "Welcome" and "I'm sure I'll be calling on you for help very soon", came something I didn't understand at all. And that was because it was in a foreign language. We were out on the huge expanse of balcony which jutted out from the third floor, ostensibly admiring the view toward the CBD, when my guide Sophie caught sight of a guy lounging in one of the kitchen chairs that had been dragged over to the edge. Evidently this was an early mid-morning break for him. He had a coffee and some sort of toasted sandwich, which he put on the balustrade while he shook my hand. Sophie told me his name, which of course I have forgotten and said that his job was something or other which I've also forgotten but was technical and had some relevance to what we did. And he smiled and said something that sounded like "wess thoo harl".

"What was that he said?" I asked Sophie as we walked back inside, through the kitchen. "I think it's a greeting. Not sure what language. He says it to all the new people." Back at my desk, I waited vainly for the promised briefing on my first project. And while I waited, as I flicked between several web design sites, I found myself mulling those words over.

All of a sudden there was 'ding' and Google hangout window popped up on my screen. "It's Wes thu_ ha_l", it said. Then a fresh message popped up: "It's a greeting, like 'How are you?' or 'Good to see you.' Literally it means 'Be well'. I'll give you a moment to take that in. Your head is probably still spinning from the introductions :)"

I was smiling. It was my first day and already I'd made a friend.

Wes thu_ ha_l, he asked. Well that deserved a reply. So I fired off "Just fine thanks."