I counted the number of “HOW ARE YOUs” I received today. Nine. This doesn’t count the other “how are yous” I heard from students at the Union, the pathways, hallways and other possible places where people meet accidentally or intentionally.I told a friend about this kooky feeling I am having against the greeting. “How are you” could easily qualify as the most overused word next to “hi” and “hello” in this part of the world.
Here is a personal rationale. When someone says “hi” or “hello”, the addressee is anticipated to either smile or wave or answer back with the same word. Example: Maria meets Peter. Maria says, “Hi, Peter.” Peter answers, “Hi, Maria.” Simple and quick communication. Conversation ends. Single words that when said demand a simple and snappy comeback.
However, when someone asks “how are you”, since it is an open-ended question, the addressee is expected to answer in a form of a phrase or a sentence. Example: Maria meets Peter. Maria says, “How are you, Peter?” Peter replies, “I feel great, Maria. Thanks.” This greeting also invites a cross-examination. Since the addressor seems concerned of the addressee, the latter might want to show a little interest and throw the concern back to know how the addressor feels at the moment, by asking something like “How about you?”. The addressee [who becomes the addressor this time], anticipates for an answer, sure. So the process is a bit longer when the “how are you” is used. Unless, of course, the addressee wouldn’t want to know how the addressor feels and would just quickly answer and run away. But that is being so ill-mannered.
There really isn’t bad about the greeting. In fact, I luxuriate in it very much when someone inquires about how I am. It feels good to know that someone cares. These days though, I digested that the greeting is already losing its real sense. That it has become so ordinary, like a cliché, that anyone could say it to anybody at any time minus the care or concern that the greeting supposedly carries and implies.
Imagine this experience: Someone said “how are you” to me, one fine day. If you have read what I wrote above, the conversation followed that process. Then again, after a couple of hours, I met the same person in a different place and, for the second time, he pried into the same words “how are you”. And “if you have read what I wrote above, the conversation followed the same process.” Ridiculous, if you have to think of it, it could become a cycle of “how are yous” and “I feel greats” ad infinitum.
It isn’t funny at all, is it? There is not just one person who would throw those words at you in a day, but countless of them. Think of how much volume of saliva you have wasted for the “how are yous” that are all kind of insincere.
I see culture as the root. The American culture of saying “how are yous” is the reason, as it is their rearing to say the greeting everyday. Just like, we, Asians, use the “hi” and “hello”, it is their way of life and I, awkwardly, just have to bear with it.
I still wish my friends would only say “how are you” once a day. Not two times a day. Not thrice. But one sincere “how are you” a day. That will be more than enough for me. If they really couldn’t control uttering the greeting, well, I might just think of other ways to acknowledge it…to somehow break the cycle.