Tuesday, April 8, 2014


The phrase, "Hi, how are you?" gets on my nerves. To clarify, it actually more like "Hihowareyou" rattled off in one breath. It is the most frustrating question, since few rarely stick around to hear the answer. 

Take my brother Owen, who called up one day while I shivered with fever. 

"Hi, Lea, howareyou." 

"Sick,"  I croak.

"That's nice, is Ma there?" 

It's already happened more than once. 

The sanitation workers on the street and I have a waving sort of acquaintance. 

"Hey, howareyou?" 

Am I supposed to answer? Do either of us really care what the answer is? 

Take telemarketers. One can always tell when someone is a telemarketer, because they insist on knowing how you are. 

"Hello, ma'am, how are you today?" 

"Yes?" (Just give me your pitch so I can hang up.)

"Uh . . . that's good to hear . . ." he replies with an annoyed tone of reproach. A salesman, yet.

But so many rely on that "howareyou" as proof of their consideration, since it is usually the preface to a request. 

"Hello, howareyou?" 


"I said, 'HOW ARE YOU?' "

You want me to take a package to your kid in Israel. You don't get to make demands.
Via Deviantart, by broomipus

Then there is the whole awkward business that since, when I am at work, I cannot answer "howareyou" with "Baruch Hashem," leaving "good" as the simplest response. But when I get home, and deal with fellow frummies, I don't always manage to switch back that mindless response.



"You are supposed to say Baruch Hashem, you godless heathen!"

Automatically asking how someone is can open Pandora's box.  

"Hi, howareyou?" 

"Well, I just finished my Master's, got engaged, but can't find a place, so I'm, like, totally freaking out, plus my gown could look better, and my sister is giving me the hardest time about dress color . . ." 

OK, I'll admit it: I don't really care how you are. That's why I don't ask. I stick with "Hi!" or "Hello!" or "Nice to see you!" I also assume passing acquaintances also don't care how I am, so why do they ask? 

You know who's on my side? Russians. I have read more than one article by Russian-Americans who are absolutely terrorized by "Howareyou?" The linkable complaint is by Alina Simone, explaining that to Russians, if asked "How are you?" they are quite confused. 
The question in question is, “How are you?”

The answer Americans give, of course is, “Fine.” But when Russians hear this they think one of two things: (1) you’ve been granted a heavenly reprieve from the wearisome grind that all but defines the human condition and as a result are experiencing a rare and sublime moment of fineness or (2) you are lying.
Exactly. Why do we pretend? 
The thing most Russians don’t realize is that, in English, “How are you?” isn’t a question at all, but a form of “hi,” like the Russian “privyet!” The Americans weren’t responsible for its transformation; that honor goes to the British. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the phrase’s precursor, “How do you do?” as a common phrase “often used as a mere greeting or salutation.” The anodyne exchange dates at least as far back as 1604, to Shakespeare’s Othello, where Desdemona asks her husband, “How is’t with you, my lord?” and Othello replies “Well, my good lady.” Even though he is half-mad with jealousy and only five scenes away from murdering her.
Whereas it’s easy to read a particularly American optimism into the easy embrace of the auto-fine, Russians seem almost congenitally unable to fake fineness.
I can never win with my responses. If I say "fine," I feel as though I am being looked at oddly for replying, and "fine" is such a flat, ungrateful way of expressing the comfort of good health and central air. Aren't I rather "ecstatic"? 

If I don't answer "fine," but respond with "Hey," I feel as though I am being looked at oddly for replying "Hey." 

Maybe I'm just too paranoid. 


sporadicintelligence said...

eh, I hear the whole thing. It makes sense if you take the phrase literally - but English is the most figurative language. No one means what they say, everything is open to interpretation.

I say "Hi, how are you", unapologeticly. And when I say it I can mean 50 bajillion different things, all of which are conveyed not in the words but in the delivery, ranging from an acknowledgment of your existence, to Big Hello, I like you, but have no time, to comfortable ice-breaker, to what the words mean literally....

Works for me :)

Princess Lea said...

Except that every time I choose not to answer the "howareyou," I get a look of reproach. Every time I do answer "howareyou," I get that look that says, "Sister, I don't care." I just feel as though I can't win.

Single on the Scene said...

PL-this is YOUR moment to be creative. Each time someone asks, I quickly think of something I KNOW no one would answer, and use that line. It's great-after a while you feel so funky you can just say ANYTHING and get away with it. e.g. random woman asks 'howareyou?' (with that 'is she dating or not look). You answer: "I just started showing (whilst rubbing your belly) and you?"
aaaa, pure bliss to watch them react :D

Princess Lea said...

Ha! My Hungarian ancestors would haunt me for the rest of my days!