3.4 Seconds

Here’s a conversation I had with Ms. Suzie Q in the school office:

“Hi, how are you?” asks Ms. Q

“Good, hanging in there. How about you?” I ask

“Fine,” replies Suzie Q

That sums it up. Our conversation lasted about 3.4 seconds, and then, bam! It was over.

I always feel puzzled after these unintentional run-ins.

The mechanical, “hello, how are you” is unavoidable. It can be heard reverberating dozens of times throughout the day. And yet, the more I hear it the less authentic it becomes.

Whether I am talking to Ms. Suzie Q or standing in line at the checkout counter, this greeting has become so obligatory that it risks losing credibility. It is a colloquial way of life, but not so common are people who actually mean what they say.

I wonder what would’ve happened if Ms. Suzie Q really wanted to now how I was doing? Would she have been prepared for my answer? I’m not sure.

Saying “how are you” to someone in passing is different from sincerely asking someone how they are doing. There is a clear distinction. While both appear to be interrogatives, the former can be considered more of a knee-jerk reaction rather than a genuine inquisition. I suppose it depends on the person asking. If it is someone near and dear, I certainly hope the intent is to find out how you are doing. I hope they dig.

As for me, my personal experience with this involuntary exchange, is that it is little more than a reflex. I would love to have every “how are you” count for something meaningful but that’s just not the case.  Instead it’s one scripted response after another. I guess we’re accustomed to going through the motions. Perhaps we are all guilty of this knee-jerk reflex to a certain extent.

Just another day. Just another “hello, how are you?”

Leave a comment


  1. Be prepared. Before it happens again make up some incredibly awesome or terrible and shocking story. Then answer with that. Watch their jaws drop, wide eyed. And close the conversation as you turn away with “just kidding :-)

    • An unexpected response would definitely be a shocker. Might have to try it some day.

  2. The other day a person at my daughter’s school who had not seen me in awhile said: “Hi, how are you?” I said, “Fine, thanks.” Then he said: “No, really, how are you? I haven’t seen you in awhile and I was wondering how you and your family are doing.” What a difference!

    • How refreshing! Nice to know there are people who really care about how you are doing. Thanks for sharing.

  3. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard there is this same sentiment but instead of the same thoughtless address the character asks ‘How did your mother die?” I may have the wording wrong but the idea was to ask a question of meat and matter instead of the usual nothingness.
    Although I may not be so bold I agree completely!

    • How true! These unexpected run-ins do seem little more than “usual nothingness.” But I am with you, I don’t know if I could be as bold as the character in Bluebeard.

  4. I have to admit, I’m really bad with introductions. I introduce myself and when the person tells me their name I NEVER pay attention long enough to remember it! You’ve inspired me to try harder.

    • I feel awkward with introductions too. Let’s not even mention the remembering part. After two pregnancies, my memory is not the same. Thank you for sharing. Until next time.

  5. Deborah the Closet Monster

     /  September 28, 2012

    My ex used to call this and like exchanges “scripts.” He challenged me to engage in more real and less scripted conversation. Now I get twitchy when I realize scripts are in play. I want to know real things about real people, not say or hear words anyone could have spoken.

    • It would be nice to live in a community where there are less scripted conversations and more authentic ones. Seems so robotic. Great word picture by the way, “getting twitchy.”

  6. Hi Anka this is a very good post . I had attended the same church for 7 or so years, and this dialogue went on in earnest every Sunday, I have Chronic Fibermyalgia, and it became severe at about that time. It stunned me that the blind and shallow road is the only one the people wanted! And they never wanted to stop hear, and care at all. I few days ago I wrote a post called ‘my call’ I would like to share it with you here’s my link to it thanks again for this post. Y/T Hubert

    • I am sorry to hear that you received very little support while struggling with your chronic condition. It is a truly disappointing commentary on community. I believe God gave us 2 ears and 1 one mouth for a reason. We need to listen more. Thank you for sharing and I will definitely read your post.

      • I agree about two ears, and he also gave us new hearts in Jesus right? it what he says anyways.

  7. Whenever someone used to say to my grandfather, ‘How are you?’ He would say, ‘Rotten, thanks,’ just to see if they were listening. He was very charming so he could get away with it without seeming like a complete grumpy pants. He would also say, ‘wasn’t planning on it,’ when someone would tell him to have a nice day. I think of him every time I’m met with these greetings…which is nice, because I’m met with them pretty much every day.

    • Your grandfather was a very funny man. Also, very smart. Seems to me that he discovered how to navigate through these often times meaningless exchanges.Thank you for sharing.

  8. I’ve thought about the same thing so many times. It took me by surprise when I first moved to Australia. People don’t say that in Norway. A simple “Hi” by the checkout is all you get, if even that. I thought people in Melbourne were being terribly nice until I realised they didn’t really want an answer, it was really just another form of a nod to acknowledge my existence. I’d rather people not ask questions they don’t care to know the answer to. If they don’t, a hi will do just fine.

    • I’m with you. I’d rather people not say anything at all than say something and not mean it. Tricky stuff, these scripted exchanges.



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