I probably heard the expression saru’ mana about 5,000 times before I finally asked my friend Mihai what in the world it meant. My friend was a rather old school guy and he used this expression a lot when greeting people, especially at stores.
It comes from a contraction of sarut (lit: “kissed”) and mână (lit. “the hand”) meaning “the hand is kissed” or perhaps more conventionally “I kiss your hand”. Say what?
It is generally used today in Romania as a greeting (when saying hello, not goodbye) to anyone who is significantly older than you and is a way to show respect. I’d say about 90% of the time it is used to greet women and in that sense it is roughly equivalent to the English custom of saying “ma’am”.
Because of the underlying connotation of respect, you’re not going to win any friends if you say saru’ mana to a woman who isn’t ready to be a “ma’am” yet, say under age 35 or so. It’ll just make her feel old and she won’t like that one bit.
Since I had only heard it used to greet women I was mightily surprised one day when a young lad in my bloc said saru’ mana to ME one day. But after careful consultation with other Romanians, I realized that the kid had just been raised to be very polite and since I am (to him!) a “respectable elder”, the saru mana was a properly respectful greeting.
I didn’t include the pronunciation here because it isn’t exactly standard based on how it would be in normal Romanian – the two parts are said all blended in together and the “u” sound tends to get slurred into a more “a” sound so mostly what I’ve heard would be along the lines of SA-ra-muh-na.
AND NOW YOU KNOW!