Lately, whenever people meet – no matter if they’ve never seen one another before, the question: “How are you?” is always asked. Why? No one really listens to the reply.
What gets me is when a complete stranger, such as a car guard, or a snake-oil salesman, comes up and inquires into my welfare and happiness – as if it mattered to them. Almost as if they should rewarded for asking.
I grew up at a time when you were introduced to strangers by someone who was already acquainted with them. This was followed by the shaking of the hands and then the inevitable: “How do you do?”
Although I could never figure out what was meant with the second “do,” in the “How do you do,” at least you had the option of responding with a “How do you do?” of your own – right back at the person asking this ambiguous question in the first place. A sort of tit for tat – do for do.
That would be the end of the “do-ing” formalities. Nice and vague; with no strings attached. Normally this would be followed by: “Nice to meet you. Delighted to meet you. Pleased to meet you. Glad to meet you.” And that would be that – both parties dishing out these happy little lies.
Mind you, that was all very British; they of the stiff upper lip. But, here in Darkest Africa, We Got Da Beat. (According to David Kramer.) So maybe we should adapt.
Picture this little scene from my local supermarket check-out counter this morning.
“How are you?” coming from the lady at the till – while she seemed to be staring accusingly at the vegetables that I was busy unpacking from the trolley onto the counter. After a couple of seconds I realised that the veggies were not going to answer her, so being polite, I decided to act as their spokesperson.
“Fine,” I replied, “except that my erectile dysfunction is playing up a bit today. And you?”
Unimpressed; still without looking up, she said: “I’m good.”
She rapidly scanned the carrots and mushrooms; and then followed up with another very intimate question: “Plastic?”
“No, it’s still the original member.”
“Good,” she said, as she shoved the cucumber to the very edge of the counter.
“Smut cut?” she asked.
“Yes,” I handed her my Pick n Pay Smart Card. (Gotcha! I’ll bet you thought that I don’t know the difference between a smut cut and a circumcision.)
I paid, packed the veggies into my carrying bag, and left – still puzzled as to her reason for inquiring into my wellbeing.
But seriously – why do people ask about your welfare; when they really don’t care or know you from a bar or a soapie?
Do this, the next time a complete stranger asks: “How are you, Kunjani, Hoe gaan dit, Unjani, or, O kae?” Test to see if he/she is listening to your reply.
Say: “Real nice. My haemorrhoids are in an extremely exuberant mood today. And yours?”
See what happens.
But don’t be surprised if the reaction is: “Eish!”