I have been thinking about this topic for quite awhile. The idea started a number of years ago when I ran into an acquaintance and used the typical greeting that most of us use, “How are you?” The person I was addressing launched into an admonition that I wasn’t expecting. She explained that she hated when people asked her that. She had recently lost a child and that she wasn’t well and wouldn’t be so for a long time and why do people ask how you are doing? I apologized for using the greeting but felt off balance about the whole encounter. I understood where she was coming from but I didn’t have an answer. How are you? Do we really want an answer to the question? At the time I felt that it was really just a figure of speech, something we say in a greeting, expecting people to reply with, “Fine, how are you?”
My circumstances have changed recently, however, and I find myself on the other end of that question. I don’t know what to say when people ask me, “How are you?” I’m not fine and I don’t want to say I’m fine. In my head I know that it’s really just a greeting but when you aren’t fine it’s a conundrum. What do I say? I’ve taken to saying, “I’m coping.” Honest, short and no explanations needed.
Where did this form of greeting come from? I googled it, my answer to anything I don’t have an answer to. I found an entry that said that it comes from the phrase, “How do you do?” This was originally used by English upper classes. Everyone else would just say hello. They also didn’t expect a response other than a How do you do back. No one really answered the question. Somewhere along the line we started answering.
So when you see me and ask me, “How are you?” I’m going to answer with, “How are you?” No answer required.