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happymusic
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13 Mar 2010, 9:23 pm

When I pass someone in the hall at work or on the street in my neighborhood, they say hi. That I can handle and I say hi or wave. Sometimes, they say "hi, how are you?" but it's in a way where there's not enough time to answer or just enough for me to say "fine, thanks. How are you?" and then they don't say anything or turn away. They're not being rude - they're still smiling. I've seen other people include the "how are you" part in their greeting, seemingly expecting no answer.

So, I have some questions:

Why do they ask but don't want an answer?
How do you know when someone doesn't want an answer to this question?
What's the right way to respond?
Does anyone here have a good phrase they use in these kinds of situations?



Aspie1
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13 Mar 2010, 11:53 pm

Why do they ask but don't want an answer?
It's the NT way of politely acknowledging you without showing concern beyond that. Take it at face value, and don't read too much into it. Or they may be in such a rush to get to their office desk or classroom, that they don't have time to listen to a proper (from your point of view) answer.

How do you know when someone doesn't want an answer to this question?
If they don't stop to actually talk to you, it pretty much means they don't want an answer longer than the question they asked you.

What's the right way to respond?
A greeting the same length as the one they gave you. If they say "good morning" or "what's up", say the same thing back. If they ask "how are you?", say "good, you?". Keep in mind that it's just a greeting in their minds, and not an actual question.

Does anyone here have a good phrase they use in these kinds of situations?
With the right crowd, I use my own responses to "what's up?" "The ceiling" sounds too played out, so I usually say "my cholesterol; I had fried chicken last night" or "my stress level". Those usually get at least a few chuckles. But use them only at work, where people are more likely to understand intellectual humor; at school, using these may get you labeled as a dork.



happymusic
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14 Mar 2010, 8:27 am

Thank you! That was really helpful. It seems like such a simple thing, but it still really throws me off - so thanks, I'll try your suggestions next time. The cholesterol answer is very clever, btw! :)



generichomosapien
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14 Mar 2010, 12:21 pm

My problem is with passing and greeting in general. I never know if I should greet someone or not, wait for them to greet me, make eye contact, or what I should say. I think I generally just smile meekly and run away. It's much worse with people I don't know very well.

I do think it's silly that we ask each other questions that we don't expect a sincere response to. When someone asks "how are you" and you respond "oh I'm having a right lousy day and plan on crying myself to sleep as soon as I get home" I'm sure they would have preferred that you just say, "good, thanks." That's the appropriate answer, but I myself have such aversion to shallow and fake pleasantries that I generally answer what's on my mind. If I ask someone how they are doing, I want to know, and it's infuriating that everyone seems to always be super dandy all the time, not other complex emotions that humans are supposed to have. I probably read into this way too much...



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19 Mar 2010, 12:46 pm

I hate answering to howareyous, because all I can say is: fine, nothing new, thanks, and you? When I was a kid and answered "all fine" to my relative asking, they would say: "thats all? you don't have anything else to say?". They wanted to force me to "say something". Why?! Wasn't it the answer to their stupid question!? What did they expect from me? I was getting irritated and wanted to say: I woke up at 7:34, went to bathroom and peed, then... What is this etiquette for? I don't get it. I could understand if they saw me with a broken leg and asked what happened and how do I feel now but just talking for talking is terrible for me. Happymusic, I know what you mean... In such situations I say hi and pretend am too busy for exchanging courtesies.



Lene
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19 Mar 2010, 1:06 pm

happymusic wrote:
When I pass someone in the hall at work or on the street in my neighborhood, they say hi. That I can handle and I say hi or wave. Sometimes, they say "hi, how are you?" but it's in a way where there's not enough time to answer or just enough for me to say "fine, thanks. How are you?" and then they don't say anything or turn away. They're not being rude - they're still smiling. I've seen other people include the "how are you" part in their greeting, seemingly expecting no answer.

So, I have some questions:
Why do they ask but don't want an answer?
How do you know when someone doesn't want an answer to this question?
What's the right way to respond?
Does anyone here have a good phrase they use in these kinds of situations?


Been there, worried about it all before :) The conclusions I came to are;

1.Why do they ask but don't want an answer?
The way most people see it, 'how are you' is just a longer, friendlier version of 'hello'. It doesn't require an answer because it is not really a question, despite the words and tone used. Maybe once in the past it was a genuine question, but these days it isn't.

To answer your third question, "What's the right way to respond?", the correct way to respond is to smile and say "how are you?", or "fine, how are you?" back. The smile seems to be important here because 'how are you?' is friendlier than the more formal 'hello'.

2. How do you know when someone doesn't want an answer to this question? As a rule of thumb, people never want a genuine answer to this question. If they genuinely did want a proper answer, they would make the question more specific i.e. "I heard you lost your job, how are you feeling??". If they don't ask more specifically, then it's not your fault if you take the question as a greeting.

There's stuff to do with expression and tone of voice sometimes that can signal a genuine query, but you pick up on that from experience and even then, a lot of people (NTs included) get it wrong occasionally.

To summarise; your response is perfectly appropriate, and so is theirs. "How are you?" = *smile* "fine, how are you?" :)

edit; it's different if you have arranged to meet someone, or the person saying 'how are you?' is family or friends. They are more likely to want a bit more information, so just give them a brief summary of recent events (no more than a sentence or two) and then allow them to comment. Once they've commented (or if they don't), ask them "how's things with you?" or something similar and listen their reply.



jagatai
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19 Mar 2010, 5:31 pm

Greetings in passing drive me nuts.

I've learned to keep it to the brief "How are you?" "Fine, how are you?" kind of exchange, but I tend to speak softly and usually start to respond while the other person is talking so I often repeat what I just said, making me feel like even more of a dork than I usually do. But I'm learning to revel in my dorkiness.

There is a woman I frequently encounter in my apartment building who seems to have a need to get the last greeting in. Our exchanges have evolved into a predictable pattern of three or four exchanges of greeting. She is a nice person, but I always walk away cringing in embarrassment. I try to limit it but she usually phrases things in such a way as to keep the conversation going.

What I have learned I can do without feeling too odd is to just smile politely and leave it at that. If I don't have to open my mouth, I can usually keep out of trouble.

Lars



happymusic
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20 Mar 2010, 6:59 pm

Wow, everyone, thank you for your ideas and advice. It's really helpful for me. It seems like such a trivial thing to ask, but I'm glad I did, because your posts have already helped me.

Lene, thank you for your very thoughtful advice on each question. This: "How are you?" = *smile* "fine, how are you?" will be immediately added to my repertoire. I also like your explanation of a brief summary of events as being a sentence or two. It's so specific, but that's exactly what I need - specificity.

Lars, I like your technique of smiling politely with your neighbor and leaving it at that. Sometimes, I just wave and smile, figuring I am safer if I just leave my mouth out of the equation altogether.

Agnieszka, your post was very familiar. I'm glad I'm not the only one that feels that way. It makes me think of when some people ask me a question wanting to know something and I say, I don't know, because I really don't. Then, they just look at me and then basically ask me again, just rephrasing the question. I can only just barely keep my cool in that situation.

Generichhomosapien, I also have a strong aversion to pleasantries. When I was in college I'd go to pieces at parties because it was so clear that no one there really cared - I just didn't get it, and I'd get so upset I'd cry. The scene where Temple Grandin did that in the movie really hit home.

Thanks, everybody!!