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.Â
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.Â
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!Â
“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.Â
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?Â