Posted by travelust
As I stepped inside the elevator at 6:30 pm, a colleague leaving work at the same time asked me, “How are you?” with a smile that sparkled.
It sounded as odd and out of place as “good morning” to me at that time of the day.
Swallowing my tears, I pushed myself to utter the socially acceptable answer to the question.
“How are you?” Asked he again with his eyes sparkling this time. Apparently, my voice was too feeble to be heard or too damp to be believed. He probably expected me to return the question with a big, bright beam.
I’m good! Didn’t you hear me say so? Had there not been a dam blocking my throat, I would’ve protested. Yet I simply whimpered again, I’m good.
Were I allowed to tell how I really were? Were I allowed to give any alternative answers other than ones that exuded optimism and confirmed how good I was feeling?
“How are you?” is one question that I find even more imbecile than “how was your weekend?”. Not only does it not help to initiate a meaningful conversation, it imposes absolute social obligation on the respondent to comply.
Does the following dialogue sound familiar?
A: How was your weekend?
B: It was good…You asked me that 3 times today.
A: Hey how’s the coffee?
B: It’s good…Your friend just asked me the same thing.
What does “how are you?” help to accomplish? Perhaps the one question that outshines “how are you” in vacuity is “how’s the weather?”
Say that I responded with “oh I feel terrible today.” He’d probably feign with sympathy, “oh how come?”
Where would that lead anyway? Pouring out all my personal feelings to someone who is not your best friend is probably not the most judicious choice.
Another variation of “how are you” is “what’s up” or sometimes known as “wassup?”, which allows a lot more flexibility and creativity in your answer. However, the fact that it is an open question tends to throw some people off guard. Instead of multiple choices, “wassup” can be just as challenging as a question that appears on an essay exam. The typical answer “I’m good” no longer applies here, unless you don’t mind coming across as uncool.
A friend of mine echoed similar discomfort in responding to “wassup?”
“I just don’t know what to say when people ask me what’s up!”
You’re not alone. “How are you” might not lead anywhere, but at least it’s within the comfort zone of most people, whereas “what’s up” poses risks that delight only the unbridled spirits .
Anyhow, both are way too ambiguous. A greeting that I’d feel most comfortable with, other than statements like “hello”, must be specific to the needs of the respondent and take into consideration of the present context. It has to be tailored to the respondent’s interests in order to bring out any genuine response.
The majority, unfortunately, are not that considerate or percipient, to customize legitimate questions just for you. That’s why they often resort to the prepackaged generic ones: “how are you?”, “what’s up”, or variations of either one.
And that leaves the rest of us frustrated and me, frightened.
An equivalent of “how are you?” in Chinese is “have you eaten yet?”, which plagues me just as much, and makes me wonder if a so-and-so’s auntie expects me to have 10 meals in 3 hours?
Why not just say “hi”?