How are you?

Simple enough question. Innocuous. But do we ever really answer it honestly? If we did, would people actually listen / hear us or just dismiss the answer because a “fine” is expected, and anything else is lost in the ether.

Would you take the time to listen to how someone really is, the worries over children, money, education, health etc? Do we really want to know how someone is, or is the question just a simple societal nicety that we’ve all bought into?

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16 Comments

  1. I don’t ask if I don’t care. I’ve about stopped asking, though – at least when greeting coworkers – because people act surprised to realize you’re actually listening for an ANSWER. They just keep on walking…

    How are you, Hadassah? How is your neck, these days? Everyone trying not to be an added pain in it, I hope?

    • HSaboMilner says:

      My standard answer these days to “how are you” is “bleargh”. Anyone interested can take it further. Anyone not interested won’t care.

      And how are you, dear lady Holly?

      • Oh, healthy with a healthy aversion to doctors… ;) Gainfully employed and enjoying my work. Playing hard and exploring my artistic side while procrastinating on several writing projects that I’d really like to get done. Definitely in need of a trip to the gym (wherein I hope NOT to trip while climbing on top of a treadmill…)

        Now, do tell me about this “bleargh.” That does not sound great. Sounds like a low-level version of “blech! argh! ptooie!” which is kind of where I spent part of the past two years, with a few bright, shining moments of “wheeeeeeee!”

  2. I absolutely agree with you. I have also found the ‘how are you question’ curious because few who ask it really want to know the real answer to it.

  3. CantorEsq says:

    When I hear people say “Fien thanks” in response to “how are you” I generally comment along the lines of “You assume so very much when you say that you’re fine.”

  4. It is typically a cursory politeness to give the appearance of caring and being interested, but with the societal knowledge that the expectation is to just say “ok” or some other such thing.
    Though I have a good friend who used to yell at me when I would answer flippantly that she wouldn’t ask if she didn’t really care. We both learned to compromise, she started asking it more specifically (how are you feeling or what is new or other such things) and i started answering more fully.

  5. Elisheva says:

    If they’re a friend friend then I like to hear a real answer. If I don’t know them well then I assume they wouldn’t want to tell me a real answer anyways.

  6. Noah Roth says:

    The following conversation took place between myself and a rebbe at my Yeshiva:
    Rebbe: How are you?
    Me: Baruch Hashem.
    Rebbe: I asked how are you, not how frum are you. So how are you?
    Me: I’m fine.
    Rebbe: No Hakaras Tov?

    The only answer he’d accept was “Baruch Hashem I’, [answer to the question.]

    I once asked him if I could answer כשם שמברכים על הטוב כך מברכים על הרע.
    He said if I felt that way I should answer הודו לה’ כי טוב… :)

  7. lionsima says:

    We have many Argentinians in our community, and it took me a while to realise that when they say “How are you” they really mean “hello”.

    BTW the standard response here in Manitoba is not “Fine” but “Oh, not too bad” ;-).

  8. sheldan says:

    My wife has often said to me that people only say that as a societal courtesy, not as an invitation to elaborate on the subject. Sometimes I have to agree.

    I think I did read somewhere (maybe Rabbi Twerski) that with someone that is really close to you, if you are not really “fine,” you might inquire if you can unburden yourself to your friend if he or she is willing to listen. That is a true friend.

  9. Hannah says:

    I totally agree with you on this one. In France the fashionable greeting at present is even worse as people will ask ‘Vous allez bien?’ (You are fine, aren’t you?) and just want a confirmation that yes you are doing fine. This type of question leaves no room for any kind of honest response what soever.

  10. I don’t say anything. Asking someone “How are you?” when they suffer from chronic illness is ridiculous. I’m never “fine.” I just kinda do this weird thing with my head (shake sideways, nod) and I make a sound and ignore the question. It’s really rare that people really want to know how I am doing. And it’s easy to see when someone’s eyes glaze over when they feel like they should be interested but aren’t. I always say “Hi” or “Hello” or “Hola!” but never follow it up with “How are you doing?” I figure if they want me to know–and knowing me, I do–they’ll tell me.

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