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Good to see you!

An American idiom speaks to the thrill of seeing and being seen in the age of social distancing.

Even if said in a casual way, "Good to see you!" invites a deeper bond.Yaroslav Astakhov/Yakobchuk Olena - stock.adobe.co

I have a new favorite American expression. After the loosening of social restrictions this past summer and fall, I started hearing it everywhere I went. My instructor at the gym says it. The barista at my local coffee shop likes to use it. And my close friends exclaim it when we meet up.

Saying Good to see you! has felt like a way to acknowledge a collective relief. It was great to be out and about, and vocalizing that made the reprieve feel all the more tangible. (For now, I’m limiting contacts again — but I hope that we’ll all see each other soon.)

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In true American fashion, Good to see you! can express both something sincere and something casual. Americans use it in conversation with close friends just as often as with people they’re seeing for only the second or third time.

In my early years in the States, I found this type of social ambiguity frustrating. It meant I never quite knew where I stood with people: Did they really care or were they just being polite? In my native Finnish, words of affirmation are reserved for true friends, or ystävät, not acquaintances, or tuttavat. Finns don’t throw around emotionally loaded words in small talk — ever. Yet in America, the line is blurred. The cashier will call me “darling,” and the barber will say I’m his brother.

As a more introverted person, I have, over the years, come to appreciate these everyday American expressions as something like a tacit social pact. Greetings like How’s it going? or How are you? work as invitations either to engage in conversation or to say nothing at all. Although they may feel hollow and fake as greetings, they also create opportunities to engage with strangers and to engage more deeply with friends. Whereas in Finland I hardly ever speak to strangers, in America I often notice myself having had a great conversation with a new person out of nowhere.

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Good to see you! is both a Hello! and a Goodbye! — which means it can work as both a conversation starter and ender. And most important, it leaves the door open for something more, either right away or sometime later. Even if said in a casual way, Good to see you! invites a deeper bond to develop with the other person; it signals pleasure in the other’s company — if not outright affection — and a shared history, one that can be built upon.

Unlike its sibling See ya!, Good to see you! is grounded in the present. It communicates an appreciation of the now. In these uncertain times, I like that. Good to see you! reminds us that we should be grateful for the people around us and thankful that we’ve all made it this far.

I say this as someone who hasn’t seen his family for two years, first because of a travel ban, then because of the impossibly long green card processing backlog, and now because of the Omicron variant. It would be nice to say to my mom, my dad, my brother, my grandma, and my grandpa: Good to see you!

Kalle Oskari Mattila is a writer from Finland living in New York. Follow him on Twitter @kalleomattila.