Upon asking, “How are you?”



Having just launched this idea I realised that I already had something lying on the cutting room floor to get the ball rolling. It actually comes from a response to somebody (for the life of me I can’t remember who – sorry) expressing their objection to the essentially meaningless question above. So I am just repeating myself.


Upon asking the question, “how are you today?”

Don’t do it.

This simple and well-intentioned neighbourly query is an open invitation to misery.

For there’s always a risk that the asking of this silly question might entice an answer. An honest one.

Like, “Well …. I’m glad you asked. As a matter of fact I was diagnosed with terminal cancer this afternoon and I have six months to live.”

The only way to deal with this awkward and inconsiderate reply is, of course, to respond with, “Goodness me. That’s rotten luck. I suppose, then, that I shouldn’t take up any more of your time,” and move quickly to the other side of the street. Any delay could be critical. The slightest hint of interest shown in this person’s unfortunate medical condition will quickly escalate the situation into one within which you remain a captive audience to intimate details of blood tests, ultrasounds and unpredictable bowel movements. It is amazing how much precious time a condemned person is willing to waste boring someone else to death.

Worse still is the possibility that this irritating hurdle of self-pity may be looking for emotional support. As you step to the right to make your hasty escape your nemesis may step to the left to block your egress and say something to the effect of , “Please, I just need to talk. I’m so terribly lonely. My husband ran off with his secretary on Tuesday and I have no-one. I need a shoulder to cry on.”

This is when things can get really tricky. Obvious (and time-limited) carnal possibilities have been implied but I would warn you that, however tempting, reacting instinctively to them may lead to disaster. Your well meant gesture of comfort may, after the fact, be misinterpreted as having ‘taken advantage’.

Dying people cannot be relied upon to keep secrets.

No matter how attractive this person may have been and however mutually beneficial the brief encounter may have seemed you are bound to feel pangs of remorse as you casually scan the death notices whilst sipping on your morning coffee 6 months later. You may even feel an obligation to attend the funeral. If this is the case be warned that the very first person you will meet at this sombre event may be her husband. This unfaithful rogue will, by now, be displaying a good deal of remorse himself (simply for the sake of appearances) and may leap on the opportunity of leaving a final favourable impression with the deceased by breaking your nose in front of the gathering of mourners. You can expect, furthermore, that other emotional family members might succumb to the temptation of displaying their own grief by kicking the shit out of you as you lie there bleeding on the floor.

One innocent but ill-advised question has left you not only with a hefty hospital and dry-cleaning bill, but also as the universally despised focal point of an entire community.

“How are you, today?”
Don’t ask.

Upon answering the question, “How are you today?”

When bumping into a vague acquaintance strolling down the street it is only polite, in the first instance, to give the standard reply, “Very well, thank you,” and continue walking.

If, however, this idiot keeps consuming valuable oxygen on a regular basis with the same inane line of enquiry it is best to nip it in the bud without delay.

“Well,” you can say, “I seem to have developed a nasty fungal infection right here,” and point ostentatiously at your groin. This will normally do the trick but if the annoyance has not quickly moved on it is time to start enthusiastically disrobing as though to provide further detail. An inconvenience, to be sure, especially in the Main Street on a busy Thursday morning, but you can be confident that any further questions will be more carefully considered.



6 thoughts on “Upon asking, “How are you?”

  1. This is precisely why I never ask people how they are doing! Not though lack of caring, but a genuine desire not to be beaten half to death at the funeral of a one-time fling. So glad to find somebody who shares this rational thinking.


  2. I sometimes wonder when and why we started to use this question as a casual greeting.

    I didn’t pay attention to how empty our “how are you” were until I started getting interested (obsessed) with Denmark.

    Danes don’t have that silly habit. When a Dane asks, it means he/she really wants to know. And even if it is a little weird at first no to get asked, it made me realize how empty our way of greeting others is… Why ask, if we don’t really want to know, and why say “fine” when it is not really true? It seems to me like we just want to give a false sense of caring and on the other end, we (usually) don’t want to burden others with our problems….It all feels a little fake.

    Great first take on this new series!


    1. I have a son who (weirdly) is fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese. Apparently there is a casual greeting in Chinese that, when translated, means literally “have you eaten yet?” This makes a bit more sense, somehow, than “how are you?”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I heard about that greeting… Does make more sense, but I wonder if people would feed the hungry if they answered by the negative…


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