Friday, May 06, 2005

How are you?

It’s an innocent greeting. You hear it every day. For the next day or so, pay attention when you greet someone, answer the telephone, or make a call.

There are variations. Sometimes it’s, “How ya doin’?” Or, “Ya doin’ OK?” “Everything all right?” But the basic greeting is always a question.

This is probably an extension of the (now somewhat archaic) formal greeting, “How do you do?” Which meant the same thing as, “How are you?”

(Unless you believe Louis Armstrong’s lyrics in his classic, “It’s a Wonderful World:”

I see friends shakin' hands, sayin', “How do you do?”
They're really saying, “I love you.”)

So what’s the difference? And why do I care?

Aw, it’s just another of my pet peeves surfacing. I know, I know—in the greater scheme of things this irritation ranks WAY down the list.

But unlike the former “How do you do?” this recent “How are you?” seems to require an answer.

It used to be proper for each party greeting the other to recite, “How do you do?” And that was that. Nobody answered the question. It wasn’t expected.

Not now! Today people assume you’ve asked the question even when you don’t. Think about it—how many times have you responded to “How are you?” with, “Fine, what’s going on?” or, “Fine. What’s up?” When you do, what do they answer? It’s always, “Fine, thanks.” Right?

Point is: nobody really cares what you ask. And nobody really cares about the answer. It’s just a formula for greeting people.

Being the curmudgeon that I sometimes am, I delight in NOT answering their question, nor posing it back to them. When someone asks, “How are you?” I’ll just say, “Hi.” What happens? They get rattled.

It’s funny to watch. They are so sure you’re going to follow the formula and say, “Fine, and you?” that when you don’t, they don’t know what to do.

I especially enjoy using my technique on telemarketers or other sales people (who sometimes call me at work). Just this morning I had the following telephone conversation:

Me: “John Earle.”

Voice: “Hello, is this Mr. Earle?”

Me: “Yes.” (Duh. I just told you my name. Obviously we don’t know each other.)

Voice: “Mr. Earle, I’m Leslie Smith of XYZ Benefits Providers. How are you today?”

Me (I’m not interested in whatever you are offering): “Hi, Leslie. What do you need this morning?”

Voice: “Fine, thanks. OH! I mean, uh… Well, I’d like to talk to you about… Um… Let me ask you a few questions about—”

Me: “Leslie, I really don’t have time right now. But thanks for calling.”

Rude? You bet. Effective? I don’t know, but I don’t feel obligated to answer some stranger’s questions when I’m busy with stuff that HAS to get done.

Oh, I suppose you're thinking I should lighten up, right? Just go along and get along, right? I should ignore the fact that I KNOW they don’t really care about how I feel and they aren’t really listening to my response, and make them feel comfortable with an automatic, “Fine, and you?”

Yeah, everything would go smoother that way.

But sometimes it’s fun to get people off balance. And be a curmudgeon.

Curmudgeon. Hey, Karyn, that’d be another fun word to analyze, like “paraphernalia.”

Anyway, I bet Leslie rolled her eyes when I said that to her and hung up.
There’s my pet peeve again!


Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, I have noticed the same thing. I also enjoy just saying hello and laughing to myself when the other party answers "Fine, thanks." Then they usually get a slightly confused look and try to come up with something clever to say real quick. Like father, like daughter, I guess!

Karyn Lyndon said...

I think it should be against the law to telemarket (is that a verb? also, I order my groceries online from Albertsons...does that mean I'm a cybermarketer?)

Has ANYONE ever bought anything from a telemarketer? If I were in charge I would make anything that causes pain (ie: dental work) free and jail all the telemarketers. The world would be a much better place.

Does that make me a curmudgeon? I certainly hope not...

Karyn Lyndon said...

Oh, btw, Prince...formerly known as Duke, you've been turd tagged. Check out for how to play. And you too, Chenoah, for starting this whole thing!

Brenda said...

Oh, I LIKE Duke! Karyn, why didn't you tell me about this guy sooner?!?