I see from posts on various message boards that visitors to the US sometimes don't know exactly how to respond to greetings like: \"How are you?\", \"What\'s up?\", \"How\'re you doing?\"
On the one hand, it seems rude to simply ignore a direct question, on the other, it seems odd that a perfect stranger should be so interested in your affairs. The Grant County Gazette will now take it upon itself to supply the solution to this riddle. The proper response to all of the above is: \"Hi\'\". \"Hello\" also works.
And that's it. You're done. These phrases are greetings not questions and nobody really expects an answer. On the other hand, they can be an opening for conversation if you wish to use them that way. You could reply \"Fine, and you?\" if you wanted. Now that the ice is broken, you and your interlocutor can extend the conversation as far and in any direction you wish. This is all completely voluntary. You can treat it as an casual greeting and respond with \"Fine, thanks.\" or just \"Hi\" and go about your business. Or you could treat it as a question and reply \"Good, and how are you doing?\" and initiate a conversation. This illustrates one of the uses of small talk in American life. What seems to be aimless chatter and a waste of time can, in the right circumstances, have a real social function. I think our customs differ from those of some other nations in this respect because this country began as a nation of nomads and it affects our behavior even today. Pioneers from colonial times on tended to keep moving on, always looking for something better a little further west. I've read a lot about the emigrants on the Oregon trail and a typical family history goes like this: Ancestors arrived on the east coast mid eighteenth century and built a farm. A decade later moved fifty miles west start a new farm. By eighteen twenty their descendants were clearing land in Ohio or western Kentucky. By eighteen fify their descendants are living in Illinois or Indiana. From there, there was no more good land to the west until they reached the pacific coast so they loaded up the wagons and hit the Oregon trail. Most of the pioneers who settled the western US were not only wanderers, but they had a heritage of regular migration going back at least two and in some cases, five or more generations. We don't migrate as often as we once did but we still tend to move frequently. When people ask me where I'm from, I usually answer \"from around\" because it's easier than trying to list the places I've lived. This means that I have frequently been in a new town where I knew no one. By the time I could form acquaintances in the normal course of life, it would be time to move on again. Small talk is an efficient way of making acquaintances quickly. It confines itself to innocuous subjects because a person's appearance can mislead and it tells nothing about their spouse and children. A person's accent or dress does not necessarily reveal much about their politics or religion. One can guess and be right most of the time but there is always the possibility that a casual remark could be highly offensive. A few minutes of aimless chat gives both parties a chance to check the other out without risk or much effort. If the signs are good, the conversation can be extended and expanded. If not, we can just move on to another prospect.
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It's not really a question
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Photo credit:C. Weatherford