Oh please. Not that question.
No, I am not fine, I twisted my ankle leaving the bus, I have two dentist appointments this week, the ATM swallowed my card and I have a headache. I am not fine at all but I have to put on a brave smile and say that I totally am.
Or: Yes, I feel great today, I got brand new teeth, a promotion, and I won 10 euros in the lottery. Again, I have to clench those brand new teeth and rave that I am fine and parrot the question back. It reminds me of the ritual dance of the red-crowned cranes.
You may say that people are asking because they are polite and they care. Not at all! I mean, yes, they are polite but they obviously want to hear only “I am fine”, so no, they don’t care.
Actually, they don’t want to hear any details, good or bad. Well, I don’t expect them to care, everyone has problems of their own. But then why ask and spend time on this dance?
You may also say that to argue with the language itself is silly. “How are you” is used as a friendly greeting. But still, I cannot understand why usual greetings like “hello” or “good morning” are not good enough. If we want to add something else, why not make it more personal or more specific, for example: “Today is very hot, are you feeling well?” Just to show that we care about each other.
I don’t know why it bothers me now more than before. Probably, because of the pandemic. People revalued a lot of things, including communication. All those formulas, rituals, and clichés bubbled to the surface and became more visible.
In my opinion, asking a question without any interest in the answer is hypocrisy, plain and simple. Tell me, why it is such an essential criterion for good manners? I help people in need, collect and separate my recycling, and donate to charities. Am I good enough? Or without the proper “I am fine, thank you, and you?” I am not part of this great civilization and should be sent to a remote village where I belong?
I see it as a game. Or a kind of password that helps polite people to recognize each other in a crowd, like spies. For me, the world is already weird enough, sorry.
Mondays are even worse, like it being Monday is not enough. On Mondays, another question is added to “How are you?” – “How was your weekend?”Come on, do you really want to hear about my weekend, or you are trying to distract and soften me before asking me to do something for you?
After this ritual of exchange of pleasantries, it is not so easy to say no, is it? Without realizing it, you feel obliged, even before the real conversation starts. Very clever. Now it is not only insincere- but also- manipulation.
This is why I developed my personal answer to “How are you?”
“I am fine so far, but it will depend on what you say next“.
You will not believe how fast the boundary is set.
Well, I need some kind of shield in this brutal world.
Maria Tolosa lives in Luxembourg and sometimes thinks she can write something better than a grocery list. English is not her mother tongue, so she is still fascinated with it, poor thing.