Monday, 12 November 2012

The social graces...

''Hullo, how are you?''

''Hullo'' is an acceptable form of greeting, but I'm not so sure about ''how are you?'' This is why:

1. There are two answers to that question: ''I'm fine, how are you?'' This leads to another, ''yes, I'm fine thanks,'' or similar variations of that answer. But what if you're not feeling ''fine'' - whatever that means? Does fine mean adequate? So so? Neither good nor bad? Does it have any bearing on the day itself? Does the weather affect your disposition for the day? In which case, whatever ''fine'' means, if you're not ''fine,'' then the social graces apt to this interaction are riddled with small talk, a lot of yeses and lies. In which case, what is the point in asking the question? Or dignifying it with an answer?
2. So, what if you said how you really felt? Well, two things to say about that. One, are you really confident in the other person's actual interest in your well being? Do you feel comfortable in telling them, of all people, how you really feel? And two, is not telling that person how you really feel a complete waste of your (and for that matter, their) time? Is it socially acceptable to go into a long discourse about what you feel, how you feel about what you feel, and so on?

Such social graces as these are completely incomprehensible to me. What is the point in asking someone how they ''are'' if you have no actual interest in the truth and are not prepared to listen to them? Apropos, asking people about their health and well being is a complete waste of breath.


  1. Communication is about more than the exchange of information. Asking "how do you do" is a way to signal to the other person that one sees him or her as a person with feelings, rather than some impersonal entity. Even if ultimately, neither person cares about how the other is actually feeling, and each is concerned with what the other can do for him, nobody likes being treated as a thing to be used by another. Thus, we acknowledge the others' feelings, leading to a more harmonious society.

  2. I'm with Patricius on this one. If someone says "How are you?" they do expect some sort of answer. They'll be offended if you don't answer, and they'll usually be bored and, yes, offended, if you answer with a catalogue of ills - and, you see, I'll be offended with myself if I answer "Fine" when (as is often the case) it's not true. What do you do? I try to make a witticism, such as cheerily proclaiming, "I think I'll live." Some people are still offended at that. The only time I'll ask "How are you?" is when I know there's been a problem and I really am concerned. I wish others would do likewise.

    Han, I find this particular greeting to be a sign (at least often)that the person really does not care.

  3. Mr. Pacht--

    How has that been working out for you in your day to day interactions with other people? I think you are over-analyzing the whole thing because you and Patrick are under the misapprehension that the interrogative mood necessarily signals a request for information. Think of it as a vocative that just happens to look like an interrogative.