How Do You Do?

This cartoon, please click on it for a larger resolution, reminds me of the very first time that someone asked me “how do you do?” when introduced. I was quite puzzled and responded with “do what?” I was of course taught subsequently that it was one of the many idiosyncrasies of every day spoken English and that one responded to that question with “fine thank you, and you?” and the first one was expected to respond with “I am fine thank you!” too.

I also learnt to respond with “The normal way, why, do you do differently?” with people with whom I could get away with such quips.

I also learnt that instead of “how do you do?” “how are you?” may also be used and the same ritual should be enacted.

As I stayed bemused with those introduction rituals, I also learned to say and respond to “pleased to meet you” and “likewise!”

Now, the greeting even from old friends is, “how are you doing?” I usually respond with “I stopped doing a long time ago!”

No, I too don’t use “Fine” any more. I also ask a counter question often, “how much time do you have?”. When puzzled people counter question “for what?” I would respond with “to hear all my health issues!”

My first choice for greeting among all my Indian contacts is either Namaste or Namashkar.

Greetings And Farewells.

how_are_you
I got a phone call yesterday from a friend who had been out of touch with me for a long time. He asked me “How are you” and I answered “You don’t really want to know.” He however insisted that I tell him and we spent some time fooling each other around as old friends do when they get back in touch with each other after a long time.

How would you answer that question? The most logical one is of course to tell the asker the truth. Something like “Apart from a bit of discomfort in my lower back and flatulence, I am well. Thank you for asking.”

And after that bit of sharing of information, surely manners demands that you too ask after the “Thank you for asking.” “And how are you, if I may ask?”

Later in the evening, I got an email from him giving me a link to an article in the New York Times which has inspired this post.

Like the Russians, if you were to ask an Indian in an Indian language the same question, he too would spend a few minutes expressing his angst about the state of his health and anything else that may be bothering him at that moment. But he will be too clever by half to ever ask the question back to you. So, Indians generally simply greet each other with a Namaste, or Namaskar.

I have a lot of fun with people who ask me the question and the other variant “How do you do?” You already read my response to the first but for the latter, my answer is usually, “I haven’t done for a long time”, or “the missionary position, how do you do?”. I simply cannot bring myself to answer “I am fine thank you and you?” like I was taught by a couple who taught me how to be a gentleman a long time ago. At this late stage of my life, it does not matter if I am perceived to be an ungentleman.

Concluding a conversation is another area of some irritation for me. I would prefer a simple “good bye” or even just a “bye” or better yet, the safest “Namaste”. What I am increasingly getting is the “good bye” or “good night” followed by a “Take Care”. Coming from Indians, I find it strange to say the least. It is said so mechanically and automatically that I usually find it offensive. Am I not capable of taking care of myself otherwise? What is that bit of meaningless phrase for?

How do you react to these greetings and farewells?