Politeness Rules (O.K.)

Within two and a half minutes of starting to read today’s South China Morning Post, south-east Asia’s biggest outdoor sitting bronze English language newspaper, I’ve already had to shake my head at the following news: Father throws his 14 month old son out the window after argument with wife. Gunman kills eight in nursing home because pissed off with estranged wife. Pakistani militants kill 11 and wound 90 at police academy because … ? who knows. Something to do with wife or lack thereof, to be sure.

This is just a few moments of letting my eyes glide lightly over the pages, mind you. I’m sure I will find more when I start reading properly . So in view of these and worse things going on everywhere, every day, how can someone call me rude because I don’t engage in incessant, time wasting small talk?

I called a friend and got straight to the point; it was something that was of benefit to her. In mid-news she interrupted me, saying: How are you. Not “How are you?” as a question, but as a resigned, long-suffering statement. How are you. Sigh. 

I’ve known this woman for 15 years so why do we have to go through this rigmarole – we know who the other one is and generally what is happening. If something was wrong or fantastic, that’s what the phone call would be about! But no. We are British, so we must say it. How are you. 

As a Norwegian living in Hong Kong, I don’t know why I have to follow British social rules. Surely it can’t be that they think they still own the English language and everything in it?

Yes yes, it’s “nice” and blah blah, and I’m sure it is among strangers, but why do we have to start from square one, as it were, when we’ve known each other for ages? And here is the funny thing: The people who most insist on saying and having other people say How are you. Sigh. are the ones who would be absolutely appalled if you actually told them! 

“How are you. Sigh.”

“Actually I’ve been feeling really down since my mother died.”

“That’s nice. Oh, is that the time. Got to go – byeeeeee”

They want to know how you are, but not how you are! Only “fine” is allowed as an answer. So if they already know that, why ask? And if you’re not fine but can’t say it, why do you have to go through this enforced lying? I think being forced to lie is demoralising at best. You start by always saying “fine” when you’re not and before you know it you’re shooting up in dark alleyways, pimping out your grandmother.

Actually, I tried it once a couple of years ago. You know, asking someone how he was. It was an Australian I’d been introduced to a week before so I vaguely remembered his face. I’d just been told off for being rude so thought I’d give it a go.

“Hi D, how are you!” I struggled out.

“Oh mate, I have this boil on the side of my neck! Look, I’ve just come back from the doctor. Yeah, I had to have it lanced eh! It’s really bloody painful ” etc etc. 

He can’t have read The Rules about How are you-ing. So after that I’ve never said it and always evaded the question unless I really am fine, so I won’t have to lie. We have so little time, so many things to do … why waste time on vacuous questions that you can’t even answer honestly? 

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11 Responses to Politeness Rules (O.K.)

  1. PollyAnna says:

    It could be worse. Like this, for example.

    Take care,


    (I don’t think we can blame this one on the Brits. Pity)

  2. cecilie says:

    Oh God! “Take care” – I’ve never said it. Take care of what? Take care so you don’t fall into a large hole? I agree, take care is bad.

  3. Fuji says:

    Is “Hi, how are you?” all that different than “Wei! Dim ah?”?

  4. cecilie says:

    Yes because in Chinese you can then say how things are.

  5. Fuji says:

    Ah, lol, that’s so true! The “Hello, how are you?” is just a veneer of interest and politeness!

  6. gweipo says:

    We could be friends. I”m also notorious for launching straight into what I want to say without the niceties … particularly on the phone since I’m a very nervous phone person, I take ages to pluck up the courage to phone someone and then just start babbling!

  7. cecilie says:

    As I get older, I get less and less interested in wasting time. And more and more unable to lie.
    We can still be concerned about others and take an interest in their lives, right? Remember that their mothers have just died, that kind of thing. Can still be a good friend without spending hours every week on how are you. Sigh. Very well, how are you. Sigh. Fine how are you. Sigh. You’ve already said that. That’s true.

  8. Jim see says:

    Well there is a general opinion that for some people, the older they get the more intolerant and bad tempered they get. So, I guess you could consider it a natural procees of getting old and perhaps grouchy too in your case?

  9. cecilie says:

    I think the fact that I publish every utterance from you is proof of the opposite?

  10. Karina says:

    Don’t snap back at him!

  11. cecilie says:

    Why not! He’s ageist! And calls! His own prejudice! “general opinion”! And I can! Do whatever I want! On my own blog!

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