Just for fun, when the grocery clerk, or the bank teller, or the fast food server, asks my dad, “How are you today?” he often replies with “fair to poor” in a pretend whiney, worn out voice. Then he smiles at them. About half the time there’s no reaction. Sometimes, they respond with, “Oh, sorry to hear that.” Sometimes they don’t know what to say but he can tell they were paying attention, because they seem to be searching for the correct response.
Here in the US, and many other countries, asking, “How are you,” is more of a greeting than an actual concern for someone’s well being. It’s much like saying, “Good Morning,” or “Hello,” or “Nice Day.”
The socially acceptable answer to “How are you” is “I’m fine, how are you?” Perfunctory. Pleasantries exchanged. End of interaction.
It’s a tricky thing though. The question seems like a real question, and to someone who’s having a less than stellar day, who might need a person to express genuine concern about how they are doing, it’s a frustrating exercise.
Sometimes, someone really is inquiring after your health, or well-being, and they’re prepared and wanting a full and honest answer. Knowing who and when this is can be a tightrope walk. Too much information is, after all, a bit awkward.
This exchange happening always humors me when I’m in a doctor’s office or worse, an emergency room. Doctor walks in and says, “How are you today.” Patient answers, “Fine.” Which is the expected answer, even in this situation.
“Well, no not really, I’m here, seeing you, a doctor, obviously I am not fine,” is what I’m thinking, and sometimes what I say out loud after answering with “Fine.” I’m thinking maybe doctors need to come up with a better question to ask a patient on entering a room.
There’s this great movie, “The Italian Job,” that deals with this quirky inquiry in a fun way. I try to think of it most days when this question arises. Some days it applies more than others.
It’s an acronym for the word FINE. The idea is that when one of the characters says, “I’m fine,” what they really mean is I’m:
It’s what most of us are feeling about 50% of the time anyway, isn’t it? Or is it just me?
If we crossed paths sometime, and you said, “Oh, hello, how are you?” I could genuinely answer, regardless of the days’ ups and downs, “Oh, I’m FINE!” and really mean it. I could mean it in the conventional way, I could mean it in the really having a great day way, or I could mean it the “Italian Job” way.
I’d put money on the “Italian Job” most days if I were you.
In the meantime, “Have a nice day! ”