Coming up with hackneyed responses to common greetings

Am all for politesse. But frankly, coming up with responses to common greetings is starting to tire me. As an Indian, am used to ignoring people, and in turn being ignored. It’s a beautiful system. After moving to the US, I felt completely traumatized by complete strangers not only asking me how I was doing (or as they say in Texas, “how y’all doin’?”), but actually expecting a response. What did these people want, I used to wonder. Should I take them seriously, and actually tell them just how crappy a day I was having? Or how much their seemingly innocent question had contributed to the overall crappiness of the aforementioned day? Or was Texas full of kind souls who actually wanted to hear about my insomnia, my headaches, and a wide assortment of other illnesses?

If there’s someone I dislike more than the persons asking such questions, it’s the ones who reply “Wonderful!”, “Fantastic!”, “Super!” (you can see the exclamation marks in the air.) What do these people find in life to be so bloody cheerful about? We once disowned a friend who started saying things like that. You see, the poor chap had joined a cult (er, Amway), and was never the same again. But that’s for another post.

After several months of jumping a couple of inches into the air every time I encountered yet another well-mannered person (oh where have all the rude people gone?), I got used to it. I am now able to rattle off bromides like, “Am good, thanks. And you?”, “Have a good one” and so on. I suspect I may have crossed a major milestone because infrequently, I can even pose the question myself. (It used to be never.)

But what still has me stumped is the question “What’s up?” It is, by far, the most irritating question anyone can ask. Because, I never ever have anything to say, other than ‘absolutely nothing.’ When am in one of my dark moods, I’ve tried to be, well, dark, and responded with “Not me” or “the sun, but am asking it to go down this minute” & other mutterings in similar vein. No effect. Because no one pays attention. (Although it is sometimes worse when they do pay attention, because they usually don’t get it, and I have to spend 10 minutes explaining what I meant.)

It’s apprently enough to ask an inane question like that, and wait for some response that involves the respondent producing a sound. Some folks (the nobler ones) are happy with mere mumbles. Others have their brains tuned to only accepting some decipherable response. My best and only response is, as I mentioned, ‘absolutely nothing’. On very rare occasions, I vary it a little (let it not be said that I’ve no imagination). If the fancy takes me, I may say “nothing”. Whether I say this with a cheerful smile or a scowl depends on the time of the day & whether I happen to be headed toward or emerging from my boss’s office.

My response always seems to leave the inquirer feeling vaguely dissatisfied. I really don’t know what these people want from me. I should spend some time & come up with a few expressions that I can kill with overuse & therefore no longer have to cringe when saying them out loud. What is the ideal response to “What’s up?” Let us see:

a) Gas prices? – may work for the foreseeable future. Keep.
b) Unemployment / interest rates / house prices? – too volatile. I need something I can use forever. Discard.
c) The Eiffel Tower? – not bad. Keep.
d) The sky? – lousy. Keep for emergency use only.

If you know what the perfect response is, please, for the love of God, let me in on the secret. Until I hear from you, am starting an email campaign to rude people, begging them to move to Dallas.


6 comments so far

  1. Falstaff on

    My answer:

    a. A rise or elevation in the ground

    b. A rise in life; a spell of prosperity; a success. Usu. pl.,

    c. A rise in price or value.

    d. A state of mental stimulation or excitement.

    e. In Winchester College Football, a forward.

    (see OED)

    My big picture suggestion: Move to New York. It’s like coming home.

  2. meditativerose on

    second the New York idea … if you can’t get the rude people to come to you …

    Also, I would be highly disappointed if I landed in NY and discovered all the rude people had moved to Dallas .. then all there’d be left would be times square and musicals … *shudder*

  3. DoZ on

    Falstaff – thank you for the suggestions. I’ll add them to my list.

    Falstaff, MR: Would give my eye-teeth to move to New York. But for the moment, home is where the pay-check is 😦 As a temporary measure, I intend to slyly nudge people into going back to time-of-the-day greetings. I miss goodmornings, goodafternoons, and goodevenings. I don’t know why we seem to’ve replaced the simple beauty of such greetings with Gestapo-syle inquiries.

  4. Manoj on

    I’ve heard an anecdote where a newly arrived Grad student spent time explaining “what’s happening?”. I hope the trauma of listening to a desi grad student’s woes was reason enough for the enquirer to stop asking.
    I employ another American trait as response. The shrug. And sometimes, I go all the way and do my best DeNiro impression and say “Ehhh”. And it usually works. Other times I add “You know…” and somehow they all seem “to know”. They nod, I nod, and we are on our way.
    For acquaintances (the ones I’m forced to have lunch with), I just flash the devil’s horns. But just for kicks, I keep my arm close to my chest. They grin and flash me the same. I don’t know why, but somehow that works.
    In the end, it’s all about timing. You have to act fast, and lead with the “what’s up?”. You miss out on that, and you’re forced to make a list like this! 🙂

  5. Zero on

    man! this one’s scarily similar to my POV!! I had to endure the crap during my brief stint in the U.S.
    Here, my response to these questions (from the folks I know) have always ranged from a real-blunt “nothing” to a little politer “nothing much” (much similar to Kieslowski’s “I am so-so”)!
    Somehow I end up myself asking these stupid questions back to those ppl to recover from those “uncomfortable silences”, as well!

  6. DoZ on

    Manoj – love the shrug! It may be the answer to my prayers. Except one can’t use it over the phone…that’s where the DeNiro act might come in handy. Thank you!!

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