Monday, March 8, 2010

What's up with that?

Three little words.

I don't know why they're so hard for me to say.

Three little words, one syllable each, and yet I can't spit them out.

How are you?

How hard is that?
Not very.

But I can't do it.

I'm not saying it isn't weird that I can't. It is. Someone calls and says, "Hey, it's Jane. How are you?"

And I should say, "I'm fine. How are you?"


Is that just about one of the weirdest quirks you've ever heard?

Granted, it's not socially crippling. I think generally it goes unnoticed, although I encounter those occasional awkward moments when someone is expecting me to reciprocate and I don't. But usually not.

It's not like I made a conscious decision. I didn't sit around as and as a matter of conscience declare: I will not say, "How are you?" But I've noticed lately that I don't do it and I've wondered why. 

Here's my best guess: I don't like small talk because I'm bad at it and when I ask that question, I really want to know the answer. I'm not just throwing it out there because it's the polite thing to do. So since I feel like I can't ask it back with sincerity when it's a perfunctory, habitual and almost rhetorical "How are you?" in response to someone else asking first, well . . . I just don't ask it.

But that's just a guess.

And let's make it weirder: I say "Bless you" when people sneeze. I say, "You, too" when the checkout ladies tell me to have a nice day. (Or I at least say, "Thank you.") 

But I don't say, "How are you?" when people call. Or bump into me out and about.

I'm going to file this under "Life's Great Mysteries" . . .


MommyJ said...

Okay, so maybe it's a little weird. But I totally get the pointlessness of asking such a question when you don't really want to know the answer...

I know I've been taken aback a few times when I've asked the question in a perfunctory, ritualistic manner and I've gotten a REAL answer in response. But why should I be? I asked, didn't I?

Susan said...

That is a little weird but I get it.

Kazzy said...

Maybe try the way I do it. I say, "Fine. You?" See how I shortened it???

DeNae said...

It's one of the niceties that make social encounters go more smoothlhy. As a culture we're running out of these, forgetting that 'small talk' helps pave the way for 'big talk', which otherwise feels jarring and sometimes intrusive.

As for Jenny's comment that she's received real answers, I think we've all experienced that. For the most part, a sympathetic nod and an, "I'm sorry to hear that," are usually sufficient. And it doesn't hurt to get a bead on the frame of mind of the person you're talking to.

Practice makes perfect. Ya need to start reciprocating, MJ!

Kristina P. said...

I love DeNae's comment and she said it perfectly.

Becca said...

I had a prof who hated, hated, hated when people would tell him to "have a nice day!" because he didn't want to be told what to do. That cracked me up, but I sort of internalized it. Now I say "I hope you enjoy your day" if there's a reason to say such a thing. (Which, sometimes, there is).

Carolyn V. said...

I remember as a YW having the debate about, "How are you," because what if you aren't fine? Do you still say, "I'm fine."

But I agree that it is the polite thing to do. And I have found that the more I ask it the more I pay attention to what the other person's feelings are. Kind of scary, but it can be done. =)

Kimberly said...

I ditched the reciprocal how are you ages ago, but I did it consciously. I now ask specific questions instead.

Amber said...

I hate talking on the phone. I usually ignore phone etiquette and jump into the point of my call. My reason includes trying to finish a call before one (or both) of my babies starts screaming.

Yet, when I'm in person I love chit chat. I find it pleasurable and a fine way to get to know someone a little more. I expect real answers to my question of "how are you" because I really want to know.

But, in my eyes, the phone is for business. Maybe this is why you avoid that question? You don't want to ask a question that you aren't patient enough to receive an answer for?

CaJoh said...

Perhaps that is why I typically like to ask pointed questions like "how is the " instead of the blanket question of how are you. It's like asking your child "How was school?". Half the time they will just chirp back "fine" and not bother to actually tell you about their day. But, if you can ask about something specific, then they might just open up.

*MARY* said...

Whenever someone asks how my son is, he always answers by saying, 4.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

Try it.

What I'm working on is the saying it AND meaning it because I think it would do our world a world of good if we really DID care how each other are doing. (I recognize there are many grammatical blips in this sentence but I don't care enough to edit it properly.)

Sarah M Eden said...

As I was reading, my first response was "You probably don't ask because you don't want to know. Sounds plausible to me."
Glad to know I am so very smart. And I wouldn't sweat it. It's a quirk you can live with.

L.T. Elliot said...

I say "bless you" also. Although sometimes I say "You're soooo good lookin." ;)

wendy said...

I guess I'd have to ditto Denae and double ditto Kristina ditto...that sounds a little complicated.

so how are you anyway??

Debbie said...

I tend to not ask that either. Seems so trite.

Charlotte said...

I find it hard not to really answer when people ask me. I say "great" or "okay" or "one of those days". I expect the same when I ask it, so I tend to only ask if I have time to listen.

I think.

I actually need to pay attention for the next few days to know for sure.

LisAway said...

I think how are you is the wrong phrase. In Poland when missionaries ask Poles that, translating it literally, people feel very uncomfortable. Here you ask "what's new?" That's a little better. Most of the time we aren't really wanting to know about someone's psychological or emotional state. We just want to know what's going on with them. Maybe what's up? instead of how are you?

Karen said...

I usually say "how are you" to people, but I HATE it when people ask me that. Mostly because I know they don't REALLY want to know.