Friday, January 30, 2009

Who Gives a Care?

One of the first things newcomers to America notice is how people greet them at various places. Russian immigrants (I don't know about other cultures) are especially surprised that complete strangers care to ask, "How are you doing? or "How is it going?"

These immigrants come from a country where the burdens of communism and capitalism free industries did not require a smile or a greeting in order to sell something. Often times, the salespeople and the government workers were the rudest people. They were bad at faking it. If you ever go to Russia, you will notice that strangers do not smile or greet each other. The only people they ask the question "How you are doing?" are the people they know well and are prepared to hear you out and respond.

Now that Russia became a capitalistic country and and people have privatized government-owned businesses, a competition has been created and store clerks started acknowledging their clients if only with a smile and "how may I help you". They do not ask"How do you do?" Why? Because they don't give a care nor do most people in America that use that phrase as their greeting. It bugs me that they still ask because the only thing they expect back is "Fine." They become nervous and change the topic if someone answers otherwise as they did not plan to spend the time listening to someone's woes.

Yesterday, right before my class began, the teacher for some reason felt like asking, "So, how are your children doing?" I forgot that she really does not give a care and instead of answering "Fine", I said that they've been sick. Without making eye contact, she responded with a short, "Oh.." and continued writing something. I murmured a few more sentences and got no response. She was busy. The class was about to begin. So why ask then?

Americans, please explain something to me. If you don't give a care, why use this sentence as your greeting? Why doesn't a simple, "hello" suffice? And be honest, when you do ask a stranger this question, do you really want to know the answer?


  1. If I ask I ALWAYS want to KNOW! Funny you have written this I have had the same conversation with my MIL who is from Romania. I think the Spiritual type Americans really want to know the answers the others really don't care it's like breathing or walking you just do it second nature.

  2. i understand the frustration of the "how are you doing?" thing, i was
    scolded by a customer once at famous coffee retailer because he asked
    me sincerely how it was going and i responded that i was having a
    particularly rotten day. he scolded me because i was supposed to
    have the courtesy to just give him a polite non answer, that after
    all, his question was a mere courtesy. i said "oh, i see" thinking,
    gee, and all my life i thought people actually wanted to know, and how
    did i miss that? so now when people ask, since i am really actually
    an unusually happy person, I say "its all good" because i know
    somewhere it is, and really, i am just gonna focus on that. period.
    no matter how pointless their little question is. and i usually dont
    ask people, or maybe i do, and i listen to what they say because if i
    didn't it would be rude. surface level interpersonal dynamics
    couldn't be more different in the united states compared to the rest
    of at least the places i have gone, and not really for the better.

  3. It seemed so weird to me when I first moved here... Now I just say "Fine" and get on with my day :)
    Oh,and I thought it was so creepy how strangers always smiled at you! No one in Russia would even look at you and if they did, it probably would just be an angry stare or something... :)

  4. When I lived in Berlin for awhile, I found i so strange that walking down the sidewalk in a crowd of people no one would make eye contact, smile or say hello. It made me very sad as I was accustomed to living in the west where everyone is friendly and happy. After spending time in the 'hordes'of a big city with all the weirdos, muggers and freaky types I realized why. If you are happy, friendly, etc. You get all the weirdos after you looking for money, sex, etc.You get taken advantage of. I learned to be quiet, and never smile.
    As for saying how are you. If I ask, I really would like to know. I don't think I ever ask that question to strangers. I would only say hello. I do have conversations with strangers on occasion and find it a nice experience. And maybe it's the city I live in, or that I don't get out much, having 4 small children, but I haven't noticed people doing that, asking strangers, "How's it going?'. I find it hard to believe one would tell you they didn't really want to know, after having asked. How rude! In fact, my mother will tell people (salesmen, doctors etc.) her whole life story and they will sit & politely listen & comment. My sister & I have to shut her up & drag her out. Maybe that NY attitude hasn't perpetrated our city yet. Thank Goodness!

  5. If I am not in a mood to answer I just say: "Not bad" or "OK". Almost always I get a follow up question: "What do you mean?" which I hate even more. I think my new strategy pretty soon will be "I am just pitchiking".