How you doing?

Do we lie more in a normal day than when answering the question, “How are you doing?”

Normally it is just an exchange of pleasantries.  Any answer other than “fine” or “good” is an request to tell a little anecdote.  If you don’t have a little story to tell then the generic response is expected.

“How are you doing?”
“I’m really looking forward to today!”
“Oh, what’s up?”
“I have that date with Scarlett Johansson tonight that I’ve been anticipating.”*

*The above dialogue is not real.  Just in case you were in doubt.

It is a social faux pas to answer negatively to the question unless that is a segue into more small talk – e.g. complaining about weather, traffic or work.  In fact, a common answer and rejoinder is “I’ve got no complaints.”  “Right, who’d listen to them anyway?”  It is as though they are really saying, “Thanks.  I took a risk with that question.  Thanks for not making me uncomfortable by talking about your difficulties withdrawing from glue sniffing.”

As I said, the greeting is meant as a pleasantry.  An opening to exchange small talk, but not really an invitation to engage in a real dialogue.  So in abiding by the social contract, if you do have something real to talk about you just instead lie and say, “Good.”

It is a funny world.

But sometimes people ask “How are you doing?” and really mean it.  Maybe they are a friend or family.  Or maybe they know about something you might want to talk about and are giving you an opportunity to talk.  (I got a lot of “How are you doing?” after Dad died.)

“Good” or “Fine” now just sounds like an evasion.  If you do want to talk about something, you now have the opportunity to do so.   But what if you are a guy, there is something, but you don’t want to talk about it?  (It could happen to a woman too, but it is stereotypical guy behaviour.)  You can respond, “Sucky, but I don’t want to talk about it.”  Except we are trained by the social convention that any answer other than “Good” means you do have something to talk about.  Even though you said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” you’ve also indicated that you do.  And you couldn’t just say, “Good” because it would have sounded evasive.

There is no right answer to the question.  Your best gambit is to once again lie.

“How are you doing?”
“Nifty.  Work is going well.  We’ve made a lot of progress in that last two weeks.”  (While you are thinking, “Sucky.  My bladder issues make me suspect prostate issues*.”)

*There are no prostate issues.

Except now you are lying to a friend or family member.  Likely an option just as unpleasant as having the conversation in the first place.

Fortunately because our example person is a guy.  So he can just punch the asker in the face.  Problem solved.

“How are you doing?”
“How dare you put me in this situation!”  *Thwock!*

I should get a Mr. Manners column.

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2 thoughts on “How you doing?

  1. Suellen says:

    I’m all for social niceties except when they out right fail. The case you outlined is where they fail. However, when they aren’t observed, it is genuine comedy.

    “How are you doing?”
    “My hemorrhoids are acting up again.”
    *crickets churping*

    “How are you doing?”
    “Ok but the menses this month are really taking a lot out of me.”

    Now both are actually gender neutral but you have to be very sure of yourself if you going to use number 2.

    So how was your date with Scarlett Johansson?

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