“How ya doin’?”
“Fine, how’re you?”
This vacuous exchange is routine, expected even, yet it’s simply a rhetorical politeness. Nobody, except maybe your dog or your mom, really wants to know how you are.
In fact, if you respond with anything other than the standard “Fine,” the greeter will begin the “let-me-outta-here shuffle” and edge away from you.
Halfway through your first sentence about your recent botched heart transplant, your pernicious toe fungus, or the death of your beloved 23-year-old cat, Pookums, your greeter’s eyes will register panic at encountering a truthful reply.
I know I’m expected to give friends and acquaintances the orthodox “fine.” A cheery “Fantastic!” or “Spiffy” might be acceptable variations, but they really don’t want to know that I tragically ran my hamster through the dishwasher, that I have a boil on my left buttock, or that I’m having a bad jeans day.
They want me to say “fine” and be done with it. If my reply is more than three words, they’ll start glancing at their watch or cell phone, or make a hurried excuse about needing to floss or sort their Tupperware, anything other than having to listen to my recitation of how I really am.
Remember this if you don’t want people fleeing from you. You could be hobbling on bandaged stumps after having sliced off your feet with the lawnmower, but you should still say you’re “fine.” Don’t draw attention to the blood oozing from your shoes.
We simply don’t have time in our busy society to find out how the hundreds of people we encounter daily are feeling. I imagine it was different back in the days when you would take the wagon to town once a month. You had time to stop at the Olsen farm along the way and ask, “How ya folks doin’?” And you’d have time to listen to how the boll weevils got their turnip crop, how Etta Sue was trampled by the milk cow, or how poor Frannie’s husband’s taken to drinkin’ again.
But we don’t have time for this chatter today. Not unless it’s on Facebook or YouTube. Today’s technology holds people off as much as it keeps us in contact. Who wants desperate friends when you can watch “Desperate Housewives.”
So instead of our hollow “Howzit goin’?” we should have a more honest greeting. The younger generation may have it right. I see them just nod with a “Hey” in passing. This greeting doesn’t feign interest in the other’s well-being. It says nothing more than “I see you and acknowledge your existence.”
From now on, I will just smile and say “Hey” when I greet you. Unless I really do want to know why you’re missing an arm today. Otherwise, I’ll assume you’re “fine,” like you’re supposed to be.