Saturday, March 27, 2010

How are you?

What a question.

Why do we ask it? Is it because we really want to know how someone is? Or is it just small talk - an easy way to start a conversation? It's become such an automated question/response that it really seems pointless sometimes.

Not that I'm a paragon of conversational perfection. Quite the opposite: I'm afraid that I'm a fairly terrible conversationalist. I'm not quick enough for witty replies, I can never remember jokes, I often think of something I really want to say while someone else speaking and then butt in (before I forget it), the things I think to say almost always sound better in my head, I think of the perfect thing to say much later than I needed to think of it (but still butt in), I tune out (sometimes)...etc. I'd much rather write it all down, edit it, then present it to someone.

Having said that, and in my defence, I'm a very good listener when I need to be!

But 'how are you?'. Has there ever been a more hollow enquiry? I know I've been guilty of asking 'how are you' when I don't particularly care to hear the answer. But I've also known people who have given me their life story when asked.

Sometimes I wonder why people ask me how I am. I lost my son three months ago, how the f*** do you think I am??
And yes, sometimes I do get the impression that they don't want to hear how I actually am. They just want to hear "OK" or "Good, and you?".
I have a standard response now, terrible that it is to do so. I say "up and down". It pretty much describes my life lately, and it covers both 'how are you?' scenarios.

Because sometimes I think that if I say 'good, and you?', they'll be thinking; 'she seems to have gotten over it, phew!', or perhaps 'she's so cold, she's got no right to be "good", she's just lost her son'.
But if I tell then how I really am (sometimes I actually am 'good' by the way), i.e. sad, grief-stricken, missing Sam; then they'll think 'oh god, she's going to go on and on about it' or 'gee, this sadness is making me uncomfortable'.

So dear reader, what do you think?
Do you ask 'how are you' because you care, or because conversational etiquette demands it? Do you care?

When's the right time to break in and change the subject?
Or should we just be blunt and say 'I don't really want to know how you are'.

(Don't get me wrong, I do like it when people ask, I'm just curious about its place...)


  1. When I ask 'How are you' it is nice to actually get the truth instead of he bulls**t answers that people normally give. Life has it's ups and downs and Mel even if you did tell you how ayou are I couldn't imagine what its like to lose a child. I have 6 children and you are in my thoughts everyday. If I don't respond it doesn't mean I don't care.

  2. this is interesting, because I knew at the funeral, it was a redundant and stupid question, but yet how else do you greet someone? I remember answering for your dad when I asked him... "shit?" i was unsure... and i would imagine most are because it is the standard automatic greeting, yet in your circumstance, I think most of us know the answer but ask it anyway...

    but yes, when I ask, I think it is mostly automatic but i am interested in the answer! :))

  3. In my job I ask people how they are all the time and obviously their answer is important to me. However when they ask me, it's not like I am going to say 'well actually I am feeling pretty shit today', they don't need to hear that, I found that really hard when I went back to work after Samuel died, I put on a cheerful face but it was bloody hard (obviously this would have been so much harder for you, I can't even fathom that) In a social setting if it is someone I am close to, I am also intersted in their reply, good bad or otherwise.

    When it comes to strangers like supermarket checkout operators or retail assistants, it is their job to ask, but it is merely a greeting, they are not really interested in how I am, which is fair enough. Sometimes I wish they would just say 'hi, is there anything you need help with' and drop the 'how are you', like I said they are not interested in how you are and I don't want to answer that from a total stranger.

    Anyway that's all from me, Laura xoxo

  4. Laura, I totally agree with you! I read this post earlier today and it really got me thinking. When I ask a friend/someone I care about "how are you?" I am adking becasue I care and am interested in how they are. This was particularly clear when I rang my best friend (whose marriage has just ended) and asked 'How are you?' I am worried abut her and care about how she is feeling. Later I went to the shop and the shop assistant said, 'Hi, how are you?' First thing I thought of was your post Mel! I smiled - not really at the shop assistant, but at the thought of what he meant when he asked me that question!He really didn't care how I was, nor did I want to share with him how I was!

    For the record Mel, when I ask you 'how are you?' it's becasue I care and really want to know how you are. Obviously most of the time it is not great at the present time, but it is great to read your posts and 'hear' that there are some good times for you and the boys and that the memories you have are so wonderful.

    Take care, Jenelle xoxo

  5. Laura, well said! I wish I had put it so neatly (maybe you should be writing this blog! ;p)

    Thanks everyone for your responses, I am very happy to know that you are interested to know how I am!

    You've all made such good points. Perhaps we should invent new greeting for shopkeepers/small talk etc.

  6. Trouble is my darling girl, you don't walk up to someone you know and tell them they look like shit! We also don't say to friends, "where have you been and why haven't I seen you"
    The other thing I have found too, is that some people really don't listen to your answers. They only hear what they thought you said or what they wanted to hear.
    The supermarket greeting really pisses me off, because you know they don't mean it, especially when it's night-time and they say "have a good day" The other week, someone actually said to me, "enjoy the rest of you afternoon", and to me that meant they had actually thought about what they were saying.
    Like I said in one of my other comments, you are dealing generally with very well-meaning people who do REALLY care about you and yours, but they just sometimes can't handle the situation, because they don't know how they themselves would be, if they were in your shoes.
    It's almost like it is a relief that it didn't happen to them.
    Much love, Dad


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