The American ‘How are you.’ versus the Pinoy ‘How are you?’

This afternoon I saw a familiar face in the neighborhood and greeted, “How are you.” While saying it  I kept on walking and by the time I was done, the guy was no longer in sight.  That was the end of it. An initiation that was discontinued. If this was in Philippine context, it would be deemed  impolite, insincere and somewhat pretentious. Fast forward 5 years. I recall that whenever asked, “How was your weekend?” on a Monday morning, my typical response would be a litany of what I did from Friday up to the last thing I did on Sunday night. I would go on and on until the conversation –or so I thought it was a conversation– was dropped. At that time, I probably was too focused on the production of the foreign tongue that I didn’t notice my workmate’s reception. Or maybe she was just being nice to ever cut me off. Knowing what I know now, I could just imagine what she was thinking. She probably thought I was too gabby or worse, very self-absorbed. Language reflects thought and culture, vice versa. In New York, where every minute is precious, even greetings are cut back to make more time for other things deemed more important. In the Philippines, this same question would have been followed up with statements bordering on the lines of insult and personal, “Uuuuy and taba mo na. ” (Translation: Hey, you’ve gained weight.).  Back there this would be received warmly while in US context, it’s mean and inappropriate. And this greeting would drag and turn into a conversation even. The American How are you didn’t require a real answer. The question is rhetorical and the expected answer, regardless of the current emotional being of the person, is always ‘I’m okay’ or its variants: Good-good, I’m all right or if you have 5 seconds to spare, throw back another “How are you” — one that is also bereft of a question mark and functions more like, “Bye now! I still have a lot to do.” So in the my most American way, now I say — How are you?

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