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Do people care when they ask "How are you?"

January 3, 2018

 

Dear Someone Else’s Dad,

I’m from China, and since I arrived in New York people always ask, “How are you?” or “How’s it going?”  I never know the real purpose of their questions, so I just say, “I’m good!  How are you?”  But I don’t think they really care since typically they continue to talk.  If I had a bad day, am I supposed to tell them?  This is so different from China!

Thanks,

Confused Chinese Woman

 

Dear CCW,

Great question.  In regions like New York, “How are you?,” “How’s it going?,” and “Howya doing?” are greetings that don’t require more than a “Good! You?” or even just a “Howya doing?” back.  When you’re with people in business you should respond that way even if you’ve had a crummy day.  Similarly in the UK, people may greet you with “You alright?,” which if you haven’t heard it before, may make you think that you look like you stepped out of your grave.  Again, the appropriate response is “Yes, thanks, you?” (Later you can check your face in the bathroom mirror to make sure you are still among the living.)

 

When I go to a place like Texas and say “Howya doing?” to someone I just expect the standard “Howya doing?” back, so we can start our conversation.  But invariably the Texan will say, “I’m doing great, Peter!  How’re you doing?,” which throws me since a) I typically don’t get that response where I’m from and b) I really didn’t care that much how the person is doing.  But I smile and say “I’m going great too!”

 

Thanks for the tip about what to do in China.  I wonder what they locals would think of my Texas friends?

Best,
Someone Else’s Dad

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