Tuesday 17 January 2012

"How Are You?" "Fine Thank You." "Liar."

I didn't really say this, nor did anyone else.  I do wonder though, when asked how I am, whether I should tell the truth.  Often the truth is that I don't know.  How am I?  I don't really know.  I need to think about it.

How are you then?  Really, how are you?  Can you reply easily and say the usual Fine; do you hint that you aren't feeling so good by saying Well.... Could be better; do you laugh and say How long have you got, or do you say That question can be answered on so many levels, and I need time to think.  Give me your number and I will get back to you.  Depending on the person who asked you how you were, any one of the above may be appropriate.  Do you ask the person who asked you back? And how, you say, are you?  Or do you think, That was a greeting, not intended to be answered, and so having been greeted, I will now tootle along.  What a relief that I didn't have to tell them how I really am, and what a relief for them that they didn't have to listen. And thank goodness that I didn't have to ask them how they were. Phew! Or perhaps you do ask them back - How are you - you say but fidget and shuffle a bit while asking to send the message Don't tell me, say Fine!  Just say Fine...

Well.  This business of asking each other how we are, at least here in the UK, is about protocol, not expecting nor encouraging an answer beyond Fine!  And how are You?  It is quite a shock when you meet someone who wants more, who wants to know, really, are you fine?  How fine?  Define fine. Tell me.  If you don't know the person well, or at all, then it feels like taking your clothes off to say Oh to hell with it all.  I hate my dog and my husband snores.  I feel fat and wrinkly and I want to eat frosties and custard all day.  So you fight the urge to tell your kind enquirer the truth, and take a bit more time to check them out.  It is only after much subtle assessment over a period of time, that we trust our enquirer enough to tell them, at their insistence, how we really are. 

There are those who will never divulge how they feel.  They come towards you with a cloud hanging over their head, their feet dragging and you can hear them sigh from half a street away.  How are you?  you say with sympathy.  Oh, fine! never better! comes the reply, wiping away a tear with the edge of a frayed sleeve.  This is a person who can react in two ways when you tilt your head a little to the side and say with raised eyebrows and a concerned look in your eye, Oh??  Reaction one is a gathering of stature, a throwing back of the shoulders and a furious stare.  I am, says the stare, in control and happy as Larry.  I dare you to think otherwise.  Ha! they say loudly, Bit nippy for the time of year for the daffodils, and amble off leaving you to wonder if that was a cryptic message that would make everything clear for you if only you could work it out.  Reaction two is a heaving sob and an Oh! The sky is falling in and I lost my job and now my cat has ingrowing toenails Ooooh! and you are in doubt as to how they really are.  Sometimes you know that someone has had a spot of bad luck and when you ask them how they are and they say Fine!  Ha ha ha, that is when I want to say Liar. 

Of course, if you are truly interested in how people are, you have to have time to spare.  If they tell you, because you asked and expect a proper reply, then you have to stand there and listen.  It could take hours, but since you made it clear that you need to know the truth, you have to see it through.  And if, exhausted, at the end of it all, they ask And how are you?  it may be your turn to tell them exactly how you are and keep them listening for a further few hours.  It would be insensitive to leave them panting and empty after having told you absolutely exactly how they are, warts and all, to say to their enquiry Mustn't grumble, lovely time of year for ducks, and go home.  Unless of course, they habitually tell everyone that asks and have a reputation as a bit of a drone, in which case it is probably the safest thing to do. 

I am someone who generally likes to know the truth.  How are you?  when I am in good form means No nonsense from you, I expect a proper answer.  Stand up straight, look me in the eye, and leave nothing out.  And when I am not in good form, and am tired and weighed down by the world and all its doings, How are you? asked in a weak little voice means Keep it short and ask me how I am quick.  And then tell me I am wonderful.  When asked, I will always tell you how I am.  I may tailor it a bit if I think you are unable to take it (How are you?  Generally fine but got a bit of a funny tummy)  but if you are able to take it (How are you?  Got dysentry and need the loooooo).  But I do understand that most of us do not need this level of analysis when we are generally greeting each other in the street.  Most of us don't really have the time and energy (or interest) in what is really going on with those who we meet and chat to during the day.  Except me.  I want to know.  I am not to be fobbed off with Fine, when I ask you, I will want to say And?  if we meet and I ask you how you are and you say Fine.  I will probably take you warmly by the lapels if you do that, and say with passion You Lie!  There has to be more!

1 comment:

  1. This had me laughing out loud! I've often thought these things - yes, you're not alone here - and the ongoing difficulties of having to gauge how much the other really wants to hear (or not) and how much I really want to hear about them (or not) can oft-times tie me in knots. If your artistic career ever hits the rocks (and of course I pray it doesn't), you could do worse than to take up writing :-)