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Hi, how are you?
December 28, 2009 8:43 PM   Subscribe

Nothing gets on my nerves more than: "How are you? Good, how are you?" What witty/sarcastic/caustic/surprising/offhand/offbeat/jarring or otherwise out of the ordinary quip can I use to respond to the perpetual query, "How are you?"

This question gets on my nerves so much because neither the originating question nor the responses are genuine. I would rather just exchange a "good evening" with the lady behind the coffee counter than entertain an insincere question, which requires too much time and too much conversation to answer sincerely. I suppose I'm looking for a response that is equally as insincere as the question, doesn't pretend to be sincere, but still would keep me in good graces with the person behind the counter at the sandwich shop.
posted by yoyoceramic to Society & Culture (110 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
"How are you?"
"Oh, you know, needlessly over thinking things, irrationally questioning others' sincerity, reading far too much into ordinary, innocent rituals. And you?"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:47 PM on December 28, 2009 [162 favorites]


It's a stock greeting, just say "good, thanks". No one cares how witty you are.
posted by downing street memo at 8:48 PM on December 28, 2009 [76 favorites]


Sometimes I smile and say "How much time do you have?"
posted by desjardins at 8:48 PM on December 28, 2009


I suppose I'm looking for a response that is equally as insincere as the question

The question is not meant to be sincere, it's meant to be polite. Just like "good evening" is not meant to be sincere - you may not give a damn what kind of evening the other person has - it's simply a polite greeting. The correct answer to "How are you?" is "Fine, thanks, how are you?" You know what's more irritating than "How are you?" People being dicks about being asked it. Don't be that guy. Just look at it as a formality, devoid of its literal meaning.
posted by Dasein at 8:48 PM on December 28, 2009 [41 favorites]


I suppose I'm looking for a response that is equally as insincere as the question, doesn't pretend to be sincere, but still would keep me in good graces with the person behind the counter at the sandwich shop.

Doesn't "Good!" do the job just fine? Everyone knows its just a formality, the rote response to a question-as-greeting. It's not pretending to be sincere unless you think it is.

You may want to explain what you dislike about the current practice a bit more and how you expect a witty/sarcastic/etc response to meet your desires better than a basic "Good!" The way you state it, it seems like you want to be able to gently mock the asker just for asking a polite question without coming across as rude... And that's not really that easy.

Don't get me wrong, I hate the "how are you?" conventions, too. They don't make sense! But in situations like this, you have the choice to be polite, quick, and seamlessly part of a conversation or to be witty and sarcastic, but not both.
posted by Ms. Saint at 8:49 PM on December 28, 2009


Clarification: Do you mind looking like a jerk?

Because everyone understands what is actually being asked and your intent to respond 'cleverly' or as you say insincerely will make people think:

a) You do not understand this basic social convention
or
b) You want them to feel badly about using this common social convention
posted by pseudonick at 8:51 PM on December 28, 2009 [12 favorites]


I suppose I'm looking for a response that is equally as insincere as the question, doesn't pretend to be sincere, but still would keep me in good graces with the person behind the counter at the sandwich shop.

You want an insincere response that puts someone in their place for offering a conversational pleasantry...that will still work as a conversational pleasantry?

Well, you can go for humorous absurdity (how now brown cow) or gentle sarcasm (is the earth still turning?) or quote your favorite Beatles lyrics or something. I'll often reply to my co-workers' perpetual "how ARE you?" with a shrug and offhand "y'know, the usual."
posted by desuetude at 8:52 PM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just say "I'm fine, thanks."

save your outrage for things that really matter in life. Abiding by social conventions ought not be a reason for irritation or annoyance.
posted by dfriedman at 8:54 PM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd agree with the other posters -- it's not clear from your post what you're trying to achieve.

Is it your intent to break the person serving you coffee of their annoying habits?

Rather than focusing on your response, maybe we should focus on the greeting that's bugging you. How would you prefer to be greeted? Once we know that, we can figure out responses that may elicit such a greeting in the future.

Not being sarcastic here, I'd genuinely like to see where this goes, as I've had interactions with people who didn't seem to want the standard greetings.
posted by ®@ at 8:56 PM on December 28, 2009


I like to use it as an opportunity to reframe my day. How do I want to be? Sometimes I say "awesome!" Try it even if you're feeling annoyed. You'd be surprised.
posted by rouftop at 8:57 PM on December 28, 2009 [13 favorites]


Depending on your style, I'd recommend choice A or choice B.

(A) "Fine, I'd liked to order a..."

(B) "I'd liked to order a..."

It really doesn't matter which, so long as you order a tasty sandwich.
posted by ifandonlyif at 8:58 PM on December 28, 2009


Try "Why do you ask?"
posted by Acacia at 8:58 PM on December 28, 2009


I knew a guy who would respond with "The better for your asking. And you?" It struck me as an equally polite alternative to "Fine, thanks" or some such, but with the added bonus of pointing out that he actually took the time to hear what you said as a question. May or may not work with your conversational style, though.

Also, nthing the sentiment that, among the many problems with "society", this is probably not the one to become morally-indignant about. (Unless you want people to stop asking you altogether, I suppose.)
posted by hatta at 9:00 PM on December 28, 2009 [18 favorites]


"I'm all dead inside. I have no dream."

- Jim Carrey
posted by SNACKeR at 9:02 PM on December 28, 2009 [8 favorites]


People in the service industry have to deal with testy customers over the most trivial things everyday, annoyance at how they are politely greeting people shouldn't be one of them. Get over yourself. And you know what? Sometimes we DO care how people are doing, even the old crotchety bastards.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:03 PM on December 28, 2009 [22 favorites]


I used to have a friend who would say: "Partly cloudy and a quart low"
posted by BoscosMom at 9:05 PM on December 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


IM HIGH AS FUck
posted by Damn That Television at 9:07 PM on December 28, 2009 [22 favorites]


What about assuming the question is genuine and giving them, in turn, a genuine response?
posted by asuprenant at 9:09 PM on December 28, 2009


Think of it as the opening line to an actual conversation.
posted by gt2 at 9:10 PM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


A lot of times, especially if it's someone I don't know, I respond to "how are you?" with "hey" or "hi." It doesn't strictly make sense, but it works. I acknowledge their greeting without having to get into how good I may or may not be doing.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:10 PM on December 28, 2009


As someone who greets people with this quite often, the part that bothers me is sometimes I do actually care about how a customer is - if I know them, like them, see them often, etc.... There's no way for them to tell the difference, unless I ask other questions which I sometimes do.

I say it a zillion times a day at work, I mean it about 20 of those times. But I still expect some sort of recognition for the rest of the times too. "Good, you?" is standard, so just grin and bear it. And if you actually care, ask something else, or give a better answer. Chances are this will make the person actually care about you next time, especially if you're any kind of regular.

Note: If you ask how someone is, and they reply "Pretty good, you?" DO NOT reply "I'm WELL," and smirk condescendingly. A surprising amount of people do this. It's a dick move. I know how to speak English, and normally I do it pretty well, so just give me a break. I asked how you were, not for a grammar lesson. [/rant]
posted by papayaninja at 9:12 PM on December 28, 2009 [8 favorites]


"I'm feeling like an asshole today. And you?"

Or, try this: "I'm well."

It's grammatically correct but throws people off. If you're trying to call attention to yourself.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:14 PM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry this gets on your nerves. Generally speaking, though, it's not that it's an insincere question, it's simply not a question at all. It's a greeting, exactly comparable to "good evening". I agree that this is kind of a funny convention, but there ya go. If I say it to people, though, I'm fine if they give me a real-er answer: "eh, I'm pretty hungover" or "this has been the craziest day!" And sometimes when I answer, I pause to think before saying anything. I'm not sure if that weirds other people out though? Maybe it would make you feel better about the question aspect of it.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:14 PM on December 28, 2009


I used to have a friend who would say: "Partly cloudy and a quart low"

That's not bad, but it's a bit pessimistic, and the only hope (if there is indeed any in this venture) is to re-capture "fine" and the general sense of optimism so the world can move on (or not think you're a total asshole).

What about: "Mostly sunny today, but maybe a few cloudy periods by afternoon, and you?"
posted by kch at 9:15 PM on December 28, 2009


You could try just answering honestly instead of giving the expected "Good, how are you?" response. I do this sometimes.

"How are you?"

"Well, I just got dumped yesterday and I'm still thinking about it. Thanks for asking, though."
posted by number9dream at 9:19 PM on December 28, 2009


A friend of mine always answers "Truthfully, I couldn't be better!"

Not snarky, but why would you want to be snarky to someone who's just trying to make some polite conversation?
posted by leahwrenn at 9:20 PM on December 28, 2009


Use Data's response like I do: "I am functioning within established parameters" Polite, accurate, relatively original....
posted by Redhush at 9:24 PM on December 28, 2009 [14 favorites]


The question isn't insincere. In fact, it isn't even a question. It's a greeting.

When someone sneezes, are you really blessing them? What? Are you the pope or something? Of course you're not.

Next time someone says "How are you?" just say "Hi". You'll have returned the greeting without being rude.
posted by 2oh1 at 9:25 PM on December 28, 2009


"Relatively Okay."
"I'm moderately neato!"
"I'm not unwell, thank you."

-George Carlin
posted by SquidLips at 9:29 PM on December 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hmmm...... I guess I'd say I'm increasingly annoyed by pointless social conventions, but how are you?
posted by willnot at 9:32 PM on December 28, 2009


I usually say something like, "Still alive last time I checked; and you?" or something of that manner. If someone asks me "How's it going?" I say "It goes."

I take it as an opportunity to make someone laugh instead of making silly meaningless conversation. When I hear it at work, we're usually running across the ICU in opposite directions to do something semi-important or time sensitive, so I usually don't take it as a conversation starter.

I've worked in the service industry. I used it then to gauge the temperament of the approaching customer to ensure I met them at the same level (emotionally, conversationally, etc). Nothing disturbs me more than an overly chipper clerk/barista/waitress who won't stop trying to engage me when I don't want engaged.
posted by nursegracer at 9:32 PM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I knew a guy who would respond with "The better for your asking. And you?"

+1

I'm in the habit of replying "Good, and yourself?" (as sincerely as possible) -- particularly when the question is obviously perfunctory. I get a kick out of how many people seem to brighten a little bit when someone bothers to ask back.
posted by nonliteral at 9:32 PM on December 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


"How am I what?"
posted by Night_owl at 9:33 PM on December 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Think about it from the other person's standpoint. They're following along the social guidelines, and trying to be polite. That's what it's about. It's polite to ask someone how they're doing. Maybe it's a formality at this point, but like a lot of people who ask the question, I'm actually interested in knowing how the person is. Now, if you decide to upend the social norm here, you're going to get a couple things: One, you're going to piss off/annoy/hurt the feelings of the person who asked you. Two, you'll get some smug self-satisfaction at the expense of others. Is that really what you want? Are you that sort of person? Three, you'll have created a divide between another person and yourself. The next time, that person most likely will remember you, and not ask you, because they'll think you're a jerk. Again, is self-satisfaction at being witty worth that to you?

Just smile, respond, and ask them in a way that show's you're willing to chat, just how are they? Listen attentively, ask questions, and you might find you're forming a bond with someone who can help you in the future, rather than putting a barrier between yourself and the people you meet.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:34 PM on December 28, 2009


My girlfriend says "Never better, thanks!" which usually results in the asking party being thrown off for a split second, and then smiling.
posted by paulus andronicus at 9:36 PM on December 28, 2009


Zig Ziglar used to recommend something along the lines of, "Better'n anybody!"

Going over-the-top good is almost guaranteed to make you feel better about your own day and whoever asked feel better about theirs.

Not that you should use this if, like, your dog just died, but while people may not intend much sentiment with the question, they really do respond to a certain degree to very positive answers.

Granted, I have always been too shy myself to put this into common practice, but the few times I've tried it I've liked the results. (It just does attract attention, but so does any nonstandard response.)

His other recommendation, if you're having a very down day, is to say something like, "Not so great right now, but around 3pm today I'll be wonderfully well." To which they'll ask, why 3pm? And you'd say, "Oh, nothing, I just told myself I'd give myself the morning to be not so great, but this afternoon I really will be feeling terrific." And they'll say something like, "Why not feel terrific right now?" And you'll laugh and feel a little better than you started feeling. Presumably. This one, I've never actually tried.
posted by larkspur at 9:45 PM on December 28, 2009


If I'm looking for an excuse to start a conversation, sometimes I smile and start telling the story of how I had this misanthropic philosophy professor who always used to answer that question by snarling "FIFTY-FIFTY!!" There are lots of directions you can go from there, and it definitely breaks the ice...
posted by aquafortis at 10:08 PM on December 28, 2009


Good grief, the person at the sandwich counter is just being polite and doing their job. There is nothing nastier than giving sarcastic answer to someone in the service industry who is doing their best to help you. It's like you're making fun of them for trying to do their job well. Do you WANT service people to be rude?
posted by Violet Hour at 10:14 PM on December 28, 2009 [9 favorites]


I do two things:
1. Treat it like a sincere question
2. Keep a positive outlook - if I stop to think about how my life is, actually, I'm not doing so poorly. So my default response is always "getting by" or "pretty good, thanks!" Even if things are pretty nasty I'm still getting by, and it's not like I WANT to tell a stranger or acquaintance all about whatever drama there is anyway, any more than I'd respond to "dreary weather, isn't it?" with a depressing comment about SADD or suicide rates.

A smile and a cheery response with a sincere return of the question tends to make other people brighten up a bit and that's always nice. For the same reason, I like the idea of the "absolutely awesome!" response with a disarming grin. I imagine it would help turn it into a personal connection rather than a rote.
posted by Lady Li at 10:18 PM on December 28, 2009


I always used to use the "not dead yet" line from Monty Python's Holy Grail, but so many people didn't catch the reference, I just went back to doing the socially acceptable polite response that people expected.

Now I just say, "Hello to you too". No one has ever come back and said, "No, I really want to know how you are doing?"

When I say "gesundheit", I don't really believe there is any spiritual or medical need, it's simply a polite way of expressing recognition that another person exists.
posted by nomisxid at 10:20 PM on December 28, 2009


"How are you?"

"I'm wonderful!" said with my trademark big grin.

And if I know the service person I add "so are you".
posted by Kerasia at 10:23 PM on December 28, 2009


There was an episode of NYPD Blue where one of the detectives, upon meeting a crime victim (a rather stuffy or prissy type, if memory serves), greets him by saying "How's it going?". The crime victim flips out and says something like "How's it going? I've just been attacked/robbed/whatever?! How could you ask me that at a time like this?". As the episode progresses, the crime victim observes how the police detectives use "How's it going?" as a perfunctory greeting among themselves, answered with either "Hey", a nod, or even another "How's it going?" -- but never with an answer of how it's actually going. By the end of the episode, the crime victim greets the detectives with his own, albeit stilted, "How is it going?".

Anyways, if you insist on pursuing the sarcastic route, you could answer with just: "I am." In a service industry context (e.g.: coffee counter), you could typically ignore the greeting and just get right to ordering.
posted by mhum at 10:31 PM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


"In the words of Erving Goffman, 'The gestures which we sometimes call empty are perhaps in fact the fullest things of all.'"

Phatic communication
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:32 PM on December 28, 2009 [9 favorites]


At a sandwich counter or something like that, I like a noncommittal "MMmm." Then order. To a friend, I might say, "So far, so good. How 'bout yourself?"
posted by ctmf at 10:33 PM on December 28, 2009


I always used to use the "not dead yet" line from Monty Python's Holy Grail, but so many people didn't catch the reference, I just went back to doing the socially acceptable polite response that people expected.
My brother! I still use it from time to time. I'm also fond of "I've been worse" which almost always reboots people, so I have to say it with a smile. I might steal "functioning within established parameters"
posted by Lame_username at 10:36 PM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you're going to go the route of unexpectedly treating it like a genuine question, it's probably better to make your answer kind of silly, rather than depressingly truthful. Something like "well, I think these pants make my ass look fat. What do you think?" for a guy in blue jeans.
posted by ctmf at 10:38 PM on December 28, 2009


A guy I used to work with would always answer, "upper fantastic, I'm at the top of my game."
posted by cali59 at 10:39 PM on December 28, 2009


My dad's traditional response is "Able to stand up and take nourishment." It usually gets a laugh.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:45 PM on December 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Mr. Shoes always says "Insane, how 'bout you?" just to see who's actually paying attention.
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:54 PM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


From a NYC blogger I read years ago, he'd often respond with:

"Can't complain, you?"
posted by liquoredonlife at 10:59 PM on December 28, 2009


What witty/sarcastic/caustic/surprising/offhand/offbeat/jarring or otherwise out of the ordinary quip...would keep me in good graces with the person behind the counter at the sandwich shop?

If you must be a smart aleck, be self-deprecating. Making a joke at your own expense is the safe way to bring a smile to a stranger's face.
posted by randomstriker at 11:02 PM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not to derail, but - as someone who is as annoyed as the OP by "how are you?" asked by people who could not care less, I'm a little surprised here. "How are you?" is no longer considered a question, but a greeting? Requiring no answer other than acknowledgement? So a cordial, socially acceptable exchange could actually go as follows:

Person Who Could Not Care Less: How are you?
Chez Shoes: Hey.


End of conversation?

I can do that.

Wow. Lightbulb moment.

(What can I say, it took me nearly two years of working with people twenty years younger than I am to realize that "What's up?" is not a question requiring an answer. I take it "How are you?" has evolved similarly.)
posted by chez shoes at 11:07 PM on December 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


My age old responses:
Nothing to complain about, yet. or
Can't complain, nobody listens anyway.
posted by raildr at 11:09 PM on December 28, 2009


Short version: Have you ever worked a food service job?

I worked briefly in a service position (I was the person at the sandwich shop counter for a summer) and I always, always appreciated when people treated my "Hi, how are you?" as a genuine question. Assuming you weren't holding up the line and making my job more difficult, chatting with customers made the job more interesting. I appreciated the difference between customers who saw that kind of exchange as unimportant, perfunctory and not worth their time and those rare people who actually recognized that I was more than an extension of the register.

Responding to "How are you?" with "Hi, I'd like..." is far from rude, but wouldn't you rather be the kind of person who spends twenty seconds to develop a rapport with the person at the sandwich counter? Since leaving that job, I always try to make eye contact with people behind counters and try to respond genuinely to any forays of friendliness they make. It doesn't always work but when it does, it's usually worth it.
posted by MadamM at 11:50 PM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


A security guard in a Dallas museum told me she was "Blessed, full of praise, and truly loved by God."

I didn't ask anyone else in Dallas how they were.
posted by Jairus at 12:13 AM on December 29, 2009 [21 favorites]


"How are you?" is no longer considered a question, but a greeting?

Traditionally, people were greeted with "how do you do?" The correct response to this was also "how do you do?"
posted by grouse at 12:59 AM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


When I say to my grandma, "Ça va?" She usually replies "Ça doit aller." Translation: "How's it going?" "It has to go." It always cracks me up.

Also, I couldn't have said it better than MadamM.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:01 AM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am scheduled at the register frequently during the course of my work week, and yes, I often ask people how it's going or how they're doing. Sometimes, they go first and ask me how I'm doing. I usually always say "Well enough, so far." I don't have to commit to a mood that I might not be feeling all day, I don't have downplay myself or feel like I'm faking some happiness (although I am generally content enough), and most importantly, it indicates that it is in everyone's best interest to keep our mutual days flowing smoothly, because there is always the chance that someone could wreck my day, and you wouldn't want to be that person, would you?

Anecdotally, I remember having heard about the Virginia Tech shootings right before one of my register shifts. One of my first customers just happened to be a higher-up in the company and the daughter of the business owner himself. It speaks a lot to the open nature of our store that when she asked me how it was going I didn't think twice before replying that I wasn't too well, and I felt a little shaken up by the news I heard on the radio. Not all employees may have that kind of candid freedom, and I'd like to think that it indicates a bit more sincerity in the daily back-and-forth between customer and sales person.

We're all people. I'm not asking to hear about your uncle's appendectomy, but I truly do have a bit of affection for the casual interaction at the register.
posted by redsparkler at 2:01 AM on December 29, 2009


We're all people. I'm not asking to hear about your uncle's appendectomy, but I truly do have a bit of affection for the casual interaction at the register.

Quite so. You are being given a stroke as part of a ritual. Understand this, and you will understand (i) why the question is sincere in its own way and (ii) why you should respond with equal sincerity and in equal measure.
posted by genesta at 3:55 AM on December 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


I like "better than nothin'."
posted by borkingchikapa at 4:16 AM on December 29, 2009


"Fine as frog hair, split three ways!"
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:19 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, "I am good" and "I am well" are equally grammatically correct. "I'm doing good" is another story.

Trusty Grammar Girl


Whenever I respond "I am good, and you?" and the other person says, "I'm well," I have the urge to justify my response. I don't, of course, because who wants to have a conversation with that person?

Also, as someone who works with the public almost daily, please don't respond with some joke about the person's job. Ex. "There's no pricetag, so I guess it's free, right?" Whatever joke/quip about our jobs you're making, we've already heard it 3000 times, it drives us crazy, but we still have to give a half-laugh and pretend it's actually original and funny. Giving a sincere, if slightly offbeat, answer seems the best bet here.
posted by Tall Telephone Pea at 4:36 AM on December 29, 2009


My uncle used to answer with, "I feel like a million bucks!"

When he'd see people, he'd say, "You look like a million bucks today!"

Both made people smile.
posted by xingcat at 4:45 AM on December 29, 2009


There's a produce guy at the grocery store where I shop who totally threw me for a loop once by saying, "Great, now that you're here!" It was delivered enthusiastically, and without a hint of snark.

I know he was just being polite, but it totally made my day.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 4:54 AM on December 29, 2009 [13 favorites]


A dude at work and I always respond with the day or the weather.

Person #1: "How are you?"
Person #2: "It's Tuesday." or "It's raining."
posted by sperose at 5:07 AM on December 29, 2009


"Still a million bucks short of being a millionaire! HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAA!!!!!"
posted by The Deej at 5:20 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


My partner's standard response, which I've adopted, is "Alive and proud." Covers all of the bases.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:39 AM on December 29, 2009


I second the idea that this is a greeting. Don't take too seriously the simple gesture people sometimes extend to acknowledge another person's presence. The opposite instance would be far colder. Authenticity is great, but maybe something to expect from one's real friends and family - not the person who was nice enough to say, Hi, how are you?

Besides, it's rare (at least in Chicago..).
posted by marimeko at 5:45 AM on December 29, 2009


My favourite response is: "vertical, functioning, caffeinated. How are you?"
posted by LN at 5:57 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Fine, thanks for asking, how're you?" always works for me.

"Happier than a dog with two peters" goes over well in informal company, or with friends.
posted by magstheaxe at 6:19 AM on December 29, 2009


You have previously indicated you are capable of producing a weird, annoying, high pitched noise with your mouth closed. I can basically guarantee that you would jar the crap out of me by squealing in response to my 'hi, how are you?'
posted by mr. remy at 6:21 AM on December 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


I agree with other posters that you probably don't really want a sarcastic comment. I recommend going with the flow and just following convention.

In the context of a sandwich shop or restaurant though, if you want to end the greeting and get down to business without being rude, this might work:

Cashier: How are you?
You: Hungry! What's good today?

Want one a bit more in the spirit of your original question? I have occasionally answered "corporeal" to "how are you", but only to my siblings, whom I am always teasing.
posted by Vorteks at 6:41 AM on December 29, 2009


When I am not on autopilot I say, "Better than I deserve."
posted by cross_impact at 6:44 AM on December 29, 2009


which requires too much time and too much conversation to answer sincerely

Even if you found the perfect rejoinder that expressed your dislike for this social convention without making the counter guy want to spit in your latte, took less time to say "okay, you?," and simultaneously got across some sort of stop-and-think message while inviting no further conversation or "wtf?" processing time, you are going to have to say it every single time someone greets you with "hi, how are you?" because you're not going to singlehandedly change a social convention that most of the world is okay with. You might get a barista or two whom you regularly see to stop using it, if you're lucky. And your annoyance will be at the forefront of your mind every time you pull out your witty stock remark.

Sometimes, just for the sake of convenience, it's better to will yourself to get over a harmless annoyance than to try and take arms against it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:04 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


i enjoy "upright" or "no actual problems". i'm not quite sure why being asked this bugs you so much.
posted by beefetish at 8:04 AM on December 29, 2009


Slightly amazed no-one has posted this yet.
posted by greytape at 8:17 AM on December 29, 2009


This question gets on my nerves so much because neither the originating question nor the responses are genuine.

This may be a cultural thing. Where I live -- small town USA -- this is a real question and actually an opportunity to start a conversation if you want to. At least this has been my impression and the responses I've gotten have indicated that this is so. Additionally, I feel that treating it like a real question can actually turn it into a real question if maybe it was only sort of genuinely intended that way.

Since I tend to view interactions with other people as a heavily rule-constrained set of behaviors, I'm sort of touchy about making sure I don't do something to inadvertently increase the amount of GRAR in the world [that is, if I can possibly help it, which sometimes I can't] and, if possible, minimize it. That said, no one's perfect and I think there are ways to acknowldge the superficiality of the question without denigrating the question asker.

- "If you're really asking, I've been better. How about yourself?"
- "Jumpy. You?"
- "How are you?" [as grouse says above]
- "Still kicking!"
- "Hey."
posted by jessamyn at 8:25 AM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Fair to middlin'"

Throws a nice loop in telemarketer's scripts.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 8:30 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


What great and thoughtful responses! If I would have anticipated such feedback, I would have been more careful in my wording. I am not looking to be sarcastic or caustic. I am just trying to break the monotony of this unfortunately accepted social norm which I loathe so much! I was merely wondering what other clever responses some of you have used. I appreciate the anecdotes from those of you who have had counter jobs, and do not wish to make life difficult for the coffee barista lady. I did have a similar counter job in high school where a hundred or so customers would frequent every morning. I think I just said, "What can I do for you today, sir/ma'am?". I always appreciated the customer who tried to hold legitimate conversation.
posted by yoyoceramic at 8:52 AM on December 29, 2009


I prefer a nice "fine thanks" over people who simply ignore the question. It just feels like someone's being rude if you say "how are you" and they just don't answer.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:53 AM on December 29, 2009


I use "I'm alive" as a response to those types of questions.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 8:55 AM on December 29, 2009


Alright.

Local talk-radio personality used to say to callers who broke the rules and asked how he was doing before commenting on the topic instead of just jumping in and commenting (against the rules because who wants to listen as the show grinds to a halt under the weight of three hours of "Hey Mr K, how are you?"): "Better than most, not as good as some."

That could work in a non-radio context, too, where the rules are different and polite greetings are the necessary grease that keeps things rolling along nicely despite the weight of so much other bullshit pressing down.
posted by notyou at 9:04 AM on December 29, 2009


If it's a friend or someone I don't mind fucking with, I usually just say the whole bit myself, "hey, how's it going? Pretty good? all right." Kind of like kthxbye.
posted by mattbucher at 9:14 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Use your best robot voice and reply " I AM HOMEOSTATIC. THANK YOU FOR YOUR INQUIRY".
posted by Oireachtac at 9:33 AM on December 29, 2009


People are looking to make brief connections with those around them, this is a socially accepted way to do so. Sometimes it leads to more conversation, sometimes it is just an easy way to avoid embarrassing silence. Usually when I'm asking it I'll try and stress certain words, or alter the rhythm slightly so it comes across as being sincere (because it is). "Hi... how are you. today?" gah, it is hard to illustrate by writing I guess.

Incidentally, it does sound like your formatting choice for the question was way off if you state:

What witty/sarcastic/caustic/surprising/offhand/offbeat/jarring or otherwise out of the ordinary quip can I use...


but then clarify:

I am not looking to be sarcastic or caustic
posted by edgeways at 9:53 AM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just say "fine thank you" and continue with the conversation from there. I also liked the responder who said "The better for your asking. And you?". Both of these are appropriate responses.
posted by verapamil at 9:57 AM on December 29, 2009


There's a certain subset of people you could really flip out by responding with "As-salaamu 'alaykum". Like the Dallas security guard mentioned above...

(The Hebrew equivalent, "Shalom alechad", or just "Shalom", may also get you some mileage.)
posted by Citrus at 9:58 AM on December 29, 2009


Sometime I say, "Okay so far." Which either goes over unnoticed or jars people, interestingly, into rephrasing the question, but sincerely wanting to know what the deal is. I just say, "i don't know what will happen."

Or, as in someone's epiphany above, I'll just say, "hi," or, "what's up," back at them. No one ever notices.
posted by cmoj at 10:26 AM on December 29, 2009


It is always polite to answer "How are you?" with "How are you?" if you really think that saying "Fine" would somehow be an incursion of your human rights.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:39 AM on December 29, 2009


I share the poster's bewilderment at the inanity of many of these exchanges. But there's no point in annoying counter staff for the hell of it. I find simply answering truthfully confuses people enough:

"Shithouse, thanks for asking!" (best delivered with an enthusiastic grin)
"Thirsty, can you help me fix that?" (to a bartender)
posted by m1ndsurfer at 10:56 AM on December 29, 2009


Just say "fine thank you" and continue with the conversation from there.

Exactly. It's a non-optional social convention.
posted by iviken at 10:58 AM on December 29, 2009


I like to say, "If I was any better, I'd be twins!"
posted by vito90 at 11:08 AM on December 29, 2009


At the grocery store, I sometimes respond to "How are you?" with "I'm living the dream."
posted by carterk at 11:22 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


"a Hail Mary shy of redemption". From a favorite song. Or even the full "a buck twenty-five from being broke / and a Hail Mary shy of redemption".

Personally, I just ignore it as a question and proceed to the actual conversation. As a person in a service industry, I avoid using it myself like the plague, preferring to go straight to "How can I help you?" Annoyingly, people will actually respond to that with "Hi, how are you?", making my straight-to-the-meat approach pointless. Sigh.
posted by timepiece at 12:08 PM on December 29, 2009


Most times my answer to "How are you?" is "Swell". Since most people asking have no idea what this means, the rest of the conversation can proceed (or not) from there. Someone else I know always answers "How are you?" with "Compared to what?", but this seems uneccessarily provocative.
posted by motown missile at 12:09 PM on December 29, 2009


tl; dr but I liked Groucho's response when I was 16 (I think it's from "Horse Feathers")
Fine thanks. Who are you?

When someone sneezes, are you really blessing them? What? Are you the pope or something?

A whole nother question which has been discussed here previously but I'm too lazy to dig up the links.

posted by Rash at 12:17 PM on December 29, 2009


You should say:
Camouflage chameleon
Ninjas scalin' your buildin'
Too late to grab your gun
They already got your wife and children
A hit was sent from the president
To rage your residence
Because you have secret evidence
And documents
On how they raped the continents
It's prominent, dominant, Islamic
Asiatic, black, Hebrew
The year 2002
The battle is filled with the Wu
I think you'll both feel better after the exchange.
posted by ignignokt at 2:02 PM on December 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Whatever your response, and regardless of the sex of the person to whom you are responding, you should call them "Brother" at the end of the response if you want to throw them off.

How are you?

I'm well, Brother.

Livin' the dream, Brother.

Forging ahead, Brother.

I think you know, Brother.
posted by The World Famous at 2:32 PM on December 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Happy as a pig in Palestine" usually gets a double-take.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 3:19 PM on December 29, 2009


I suppose I'm looking for a response that is equally as insincere as the question

Well, ironically, since you're saying the question irritates you, saying "fine thanks" is insincere, isn't it?
posted by spinn at 6:23 PM on December 29, 2009


Lately, I have used: "I'm so [awesome|radical|dudical] it hurts. Thanks for asking!"

Its silly, and combined with a toothy smile, shows that your name is Rod, and you like to party.
posted by Draccy at 7:51 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


A bit surprised that noone has chimed in with this response: "Never better."
posted by oldtimey at 9:00 PM on December 29, 2009


Am I the only one who occasionally answers sincerely?

"How are you?"
"Eh, a little tired."
"Getting over a cold, but otherwise fine."
"I've had a crazy day."
And so on. Honest, but not overly burdensome. The key point is, you can even offer a sincere answer but they're not actually inquiring deeply into your state of being and it's rude to offload onto them or expect them to actually care.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:44 AM on December 30, 2009


Late to the party, but I sometimes say "Fat 'n Sassy!" or "Warm and buttery, you?".
posted by TomMelee at 6:58 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or my local take-off on St. Alia's comment:
"Finer-'na frog hair inna Spring Shower!"
posted by TomMelee at 6:59 AM on December 30, 2009


I think of a Heinlein quote around such things:

Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear. Honorifics and formal politeness provide lubrication where people rub together. Often the very young, the untravelled, the naive, the unsophisticated, deplore these formalities as 'empty,' 'meaningless,' or 'dishonest,' and scorn to use them. No matter how pure their motives, they thereby throw sand into the machinery that does not work too well at best
posted by filmgeek at 7:08 AM on December 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


In small towns, and in the South, people answer the question as it was asked. "How are you?" is a conversation starter, as compared to a hollow utterance.

When you work with people everyday, and you ask "How are you?" it means, "How is the tendon that you tore mowing your lawn?" or "How is the bitter child custody battle proceeding?"

Between strangers, or in a service situation, the question as a greeting is inappropriate. If you went to a 5 star hotel or restaurant, the service person should start out with a greeting, "good morning/evening" and then "how can I help you today?"

Still, there is no reason to seethe with rage. release the feelings, life is too short to resent well-intentioned but clumsy greetings.

make the world a friendlier place.
posted by ohshenandoah at 1:10 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


To piggyback on oshenandoah, I do kinda hate it at work when someone calls to place an order and the first thing they ask is "How are you" -(unless they are a vendor or something like that.) If it's a customer I simply say quickly, fine, thanks, how can I help you today??? Because I usually have a lot of things I need to do and need to cut to the chase (now if we aren't busy, I'm happy to yack a little. Likewise if they are calling from Iraq or Afghanistan. The rest of you, it's fine for you to get to the point and save the pleasantries for the last part of the conversation....)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:05 PM on December 31, 2009


It's not so much a quip, but one time I was seriously ill with the flu and my parents brought me to the doctor. Sweating copiously, my nose like a snot faucet, shivering uncontrollably, he asked "How are you?" and I said "Good, thanks." Everyone thought that was real funny. Bastards. So, try that out.
posted by stavrogin at 2:10 PM on January 2, 2010


I will say that my limits of huh? have been tested by the new vogue of customer service agents for utilities, banks, etc. asking me how I am today as part of their script. Particularly maddening after having been subjected to a particularly circuitous menu system or terrible hold music. Best case, it kind of disrupts the flow of the transaction. Worst case, it's setting them up for the last straw leading to impatient ranting.
posted by desuetude at 7:54 PM on January 2, 2010


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