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Stormyness
01-26-2014, 11:40 PM
I have no idea if this is in the right area or not.

I am looking for examples of cultures where, if asked, "how are you," the answer would not be "fine," or "good." Instead they would answer, "i have a sore thumb," for example.

Also, I am from the UK where the answer to that question is always dishonest and polite. Is it any different in the US?

Any ideas?

Torgo
01-26-2014, 11:44 PM
Going to move this over to Story Research. Please strap in safely while the thread is in motion.

Beachgirl
01-26-2014, 11:48 PM
You've apparently never met some of the members of my family. Don't ask them how they are unless you're ready to spend the next half-hour listening to a rundown of ailments.

I've found that the older people get, at least in my part of the world (Southern U.S.) the less likely you are to get "fine" as an answer. Many Southerners, especially older folks, tend to have never met a stranger and will very happily be honest in *exactly* how they think or feel.

Little Anonymous Me
01-26-2014, 11:49 PM
Also, I am from the UK where the answer to that question is always dishonest and polite. Is it any different in the US?

Colonel Henry Blake on your question:
"The last thing you want to know when you ask 'how are you?' is how am I." (M*A*S*H, episode one, I think)


It's no different on this side of the pond. I'll give an honest answer half the time (tired, hungry, really coveting ice cream), but it's standard to say 'fine' and leave it at that. Some people will talk your ear off, but the majority of us hustle on with our one word answers.

Putputt
01-26-2014, 11:58 PM
Hrmm, I could be wrong, but my instinct is that this is more dependent on the relationship than the culture?

For example, with Mr. Putt, if I ask him how he is, he'd tell me the truth, whether it's "Pretty good" or "shitty". Same with my friends. But when I'm working and dealing with customers, then my answer is always "Great, thank you! And you?"

But maybe there are some cultures where the answer is always an honest one...

*settles down to wait for other people's answers*

buz
01-27-2014, 12:12 AM
Colonel Henry Blake on your question: (M*A*S*H, episode one, I think)


It's no different on this side of the pond. I'll give an honest answer half the time (tired, hungry, really coveting ice cream), but it's standard to say 'fine' and leave it at that. Some people will talk your ear off, but the majority of us hustle on with our one word answers.

In some parts of the country, an answer isn't even expected; "howareya" is the same as "hi" :D (at first it confused the hell out of me when someone would walk past saying "hihowareya" and be gone before I had a chance to say "finehowareyou" :p )

I always say fine or good or I make some sort of grunting noise...:p

(...that's not relevant to the OP probably)

When I was taking Mandarin I was told not to use the "how are you" (ni hao ma?) unless I meant the actual question, as it's not meant to function as an empty greeting-phrase. Is that what you mean?

...However, I'm not Chinese, I've never been there, I don't really know anything :D Just repeating stuff my teacher told me; don't chisel it into a stone tablet or anything... ;)

Not sure if that's what you mean; seems more like a difference in function of the phrase, but that's all I got :)

Stormyness
01-27-2014, 12:22 AM
In some parts of the country, an answer isn't even expected; "howareya" is the same as "hi" :D (at first it confused the hell out of me when someone would walk past saying "hihowareya" and be gone before I had a chance to say "finehowareyou" :p )

I always say fine or good or I make some sort of grunting noise...:p

(...that's not relevant to the OP probably)

When I was taking Mandarin I was told not to use the "how are you" (ni hao ma?) unless I meant the actual question, as it's not meant to function as an empty greeting-phrase. Is that what you mean?

...However, I'm not Chinese, I've never been there, I don't really know anything :D Just repeating stuff my teacher told me; don't chisel it into a stone tablet or anything... ;)

Not sure if that's the sort of honesty you mean; seems more like a difference in function of the phrase, but that's all I got :)

That is exactly what I meant. A culture who hears what you say rather than what you don't. Thank you.

veinglory
01-27-2014, 12:23 AM
In general, no. I got as many honest versus polite answers in the US as in the UK. The phrase functions exactly the same way.

buz
01-27-2014, 12:25 AM
That is exactly what I meant. A culture who hears what you say rather than what you don't. Thank you.

Ok :)

I'm not sure it's an issue of honesty so much as linguistics tho :D But eh. As I mentioned, I don't know anything ;)

afarnam
01-27-2014, 12:41 AM
Three words: The Czech Republic. :)

Finally, a thread where I'm good for something. Seriously. I have the culture you are looking for. In this country, if someone asks "How are you?" which is only likely if they know you at least a bit (not going to happen in a store unless you are a super regular), the answer is usually "hrozne!" (terrible!) often with an explanation. The UN did a study some years ago about the moods of nations and the Czechs are super grumpy. I'm married to one and have lived here for 17 years. The honesty is actually not so bad. I like the fact that a friend really will generally tell you if they are having a bad day or they don't feel good. The other parts of the grumpy mood can be more annoying, such as shop keepers who act like you are bugging them by wanting to spend your money in their store, but I digress.

So, yeah, it does depend on the culture. Many cultures in Central and Eastern Europe are similar. The Germans are pretty likely to give you a straight answer. The Russians will generally be pretty voluble and positive at first but give them a few minutes and they'll be telling you their woes and exchanging hugs.

Los Pollos Hermanos
01-27-2014, 01:10 AM
Not strictly relevant to your request, but one difference I've noticed between the UK and US is...

In the UK, if someone asks how you are and you reply "Not bad", they're satisfied you're OK. In the US the same response gets you a "Do you need an ambulance?" concerned look.

In the US, a response of "Good thanks" seems to equate to "not bad", but say the same thing in the UK and you're looked at like you're on drugs.

It takes me (a grumpy Limey) about two days to adjust in either direction! :D

King Neptune
01-27-2014, 01:32 AM
Germans tend to either give a full and honest to questions as to how they are, or they say nothing, because they are too embarrassed (or something) to answer.

A German in his first trip to the U.S> asked me for insight into how to answer. So I told him to say whatever he wanted, and that no one really wants a complete answer, except his physician.

Liosse de Velishaf
01-27-2014, 02:01 AM
"How are you?" is a common set phrase used as a greeting, and the response in formal situations is relatively fixed. That is, a positive response is expected. It's not entirely accurate to classify an answer as "inaccurate" or "dishonest". Much like how many Americans will greet someone with "Wazzup?"/"'Sup, bro." And the goal here is not to elicit an accurate response to the literal question. It's just a set greeting understood by context. It can be somewhat confusing because there can be contexts in English where you would mean it literally, and the "direct"/"literal" translation in another language may not be a set phrase at all, or it may have different rules. For example, in Japanese, you might say "O-genki desu ka?" on your first meeting with someone in a middling period of time. It's often translated as "How are you?" in English (although, irrelevant to this discussion, the more literal translation is "Are you healthy?"), but unlike "How are you, it is almost never used except for the first time meeting someone in the time period in question.


There is generally little difference in response to "How are you?" between the US and the UK, at least among acquaintances or casual friends. If you're talking close friends or best friends, then the context of the question is generally different, and your likely response will vary depending on the people involved.


Comparing answers to the literal question across cultures is not necessarily going to mean what you think it means if you interpret the question always in the literal sense.

mccardey
01-27-2014, 02:07 AM
Talk about serendipity - I read this (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/20/opinion/the-how-are-you-culture-clash.html?_r=0) just a day or two ago. By Alina Simone
Ask a Russian, “How are you?” and you will hear, for better or worse, the truth. A blunt pronouncement of dissatisfaction punctuated by, say, the details of any recent digestive troubles. I have endured many painful minutes of elevator silence after my grandmother (who lived in the Soviet Union until moving to the United States in her 60s) delivered her stock response: “Terrible,” to which she might add, “Why? Because being old is terrible.” Beat. “And I am very old.”

Bing Z
01-27-2014, 02:12 AM
I once read an American dude's travel blog.

He meets a Russia guy online and goes to see him while traveling in Russia. The friend is working when he arrives, but has arranged for his father to pick up the American kid.

American kid asks something like, "How are you doing?"

The Russian father makes the kid tea and talks for an hour about how he's been doing all day.

Pretty much like what afarnam has described.

Nymtoc
01-27-2014, 02:21 AM
New York City here:

While "fine" is the usual response, you might hear a variation like "Could be better," "Same as yesterday," "Getting by," "Can't complain," "Same old same old" or maybe a change of subject, like "When is this cold spell going to end?"

If you know someone fairly well, the person might get more specific: "How are you?" "I'm still having problems with this ankle."

Jamesaritchie
01-27-2014, 02:38 AM
I have no idea if this is in the right area or not.

I am looking for examples of cultures where, if asked, "how are you," the answer would not be "fine," or "good." Instead they would answer, "i have a sore thumb," for example.

Also, I am from the UK where the answer to that question is always dishonest and polite. Is it any different in the US?

Any ideas?


I don't think it's culture, it's individuals and situations. There's nothing wrong with "fine" or "good", and it isn't always dishonest. It may never be.

I've mingled with quite a few cultures, and strangers generally are going to answer "fine" or "Good", or, at most, something like "I'm getting by." They aren't being dishonest. These things are relative, and most often something they consider none of your business. The very question is no more than politeness, and more shouldn't be made of it.

Most people in any culture aren't going to start pouring out details just because you ask how they are. In fact, the UK and the US are far more open than most of the other cultures I've been around. In several, it's even considered impolite to do anything other than say something like "Fine", "good", or some other one word answer.

In every culture I can think of, you have to be on very friendly terms with someone to get a real answer, and even then you may not get a full answer until how they really are is too much to hide.

But I've met a few individuals in every culture who just pour out every problem they have if you give them any opening at all. Go by individuals, not culture, and understand that in most circumstances, the question is no more than politeness, and the only polite reply is a one or two word answer.

veinglory
01-27-2014, 02:39 AM
There is an essay online somewhere about how Russians generally answer int he negative

Peggles
01-27-2014, 03:01 AM
I have to second that I think it's mostly up to individuals. Having worked in retail in the Southern US, I asked people how they were all day, and most would say "Fine," or some other variant, but there were always some that would say something strange and way too personal. I think this is mostly looked down on here, though.

I did appreciate the more creative answers I would get, though, since they broke up the monotony. One of the ones I didn't expect was, "Better than I deserve." It was interesting the first few times I heard it, but it got old fast.

Cathy C
01-27-2014, 03:05 AM
Don't ask the question in Central or Eastern Texas unless you have sufficient time to spend listening to the answer.

Really.

"How are you?" will be met with anything from, "Oh, I hate to complain" after which they proceed to do just that, at length, or "Thank you so much for asking." after which they proceed to explain, also at length.

I've learned to stop after "Good morning." if I'm in a hurry. :ROFL:

jjdebenedictis
01-27-2014, 03:56 AM
Slightly off-topic, but in university, I knew a German guy who came over to study for a year.

One day, someone asked how he did on a test, and he admitted he'd done very well. The person replied with an enthusiastic, "Good for you!"

The German got a bit of a reserved, unhappy look in the wake of that, and then he looked thoughtful. After a moment, he said, "You mean that, don't you?"

It turns out that in Germany, saying "Good for you" is always snotty sarcasm. It's never meant genuinely.

He also said that the phrase "Take care", which people here use as a casually-pleasant way to say goodbye, is not an off-hand comment over there. You'd only say it in a very wrenching, emotional goodbye.

But yes, "How are you?" pretty much just means "Hello" where I live, and most people would be a little disconcerted if they got the unvarnished truth from the person they'd asked it of.

Beachgirl
01-27-2014, 05:05 AM
Don't ask the question in Central or Eastern Texas unless you have sufficient time to spend listening to the answer.

Really.

"How are you?" will be met with anything from, "Oh, I hate to complain" after which they proceed to do just that, at length, or "Thank you so much for asking." after which they proceed to explain, also at length.

I've learned to stop after "Good morning." if I'm in a hurry. :ROFL:

That's where I'm from, so it's no wonder this describes my family perfectly. :tongue

Snitchcat
01-27-2014, 05:35 AM
Have to agree with the explanation refarding individuals and relationships. Over here (China), you don't generally greet strangers at all. If you're dealing with customers, expect a general, "How can I help?" prefaced with the appropriate greeting for the time of day or "Hello, how are you?" or "Welcome":

Zao, huanying guanlin, xuyao bangzuo ma?
Good morning, welcome, can I help you?

Neiho, you meh sui yiu bong mong?
Hello, how are you, do you need any help?

NeuroGlide
01-27-2014, 08:04 AM
I have mild Asperger's Syndrome. I had to learn what "How are you?" really meant. I still won't answer with fine or OK, but rather "Not dead yet."

Orianna2000
01-27-2014, 10:55 PM
When we moved to the south (North Carolina and Tennessee), my husband and I had to get used to "How are you?" being used as a greeting, not a question, to which a response is not expected. Nobody really wants to know how you are. At first, I thought it was genuine, so I felt uncomfortable all the time. I have several major health issues that I did NOT want to discuss with strangers or acquaintances, but I thought they were sincerely asking how I was doing, and I felt bad saying, "Fine," which wasn't true, but I didn't want to tell them how awful I felt, either. I felt weird saying, "How are you?" to people, too, knowing they wouldn't reply. Eventually, I learned to deflect the greeting by replying, "Hello," or just smiling and waving. My husband replies with a quick, "Hi, how're you?" which is usually just what people want to hear, so they always smile at him and ignore me.

shakeysix
01-27-2014, 11:20 PM
I worked in an Adult Learning Center teaching English and citizenship to recently arrived immigrants. My director and two of the administrators were Vietnamese. There were seven or eight instructors. Although most of us had other jobs, a couple of us depended on the job as our only income.

The school was going to be closed down in July because of cuts in the program. The secretary, Elva, warned us that spring. She said that we would not hear the bad news from Tuan or even Vinh--who I considered a friend--because in their culture they would not give out bad new;, everything always had to be good. Anyway that was her take on it. Later on I asked one of the main directors about it and she said Elva had it right. She had told Elva to warn us because she knew our bosses would not.

At the time it struck me as weird but I knew the secretary well, she was one of my husband's old students, so I trusted her and began to look for other employment, even though Tuan and Minh ducked the question with false assurances if someone was rude enough to ask.

Sure enough, the first of July the men came to move the desks and books out and the building became a trucking office. I was surprised but not surprised as I could have been. Strange but true--s6

Alpha Echo
01-27-2014, 11:48 PM
In the UK, if someone asks how you are and you reply "Not bad", they're satisfied you're OK. In the US the same response gets you a "Do you need an ambulance?" concerned look.



I wouldn't go that far, but you're right that if we answer with "not bad," we may get something like, "but not good?" But generally, in my experience here in Northern VA, "not bad" is perfectly acceptable.


New York City here:

While "fine" is the usual response, you might hear a variation like "Could be better," "Same as yesterday," "Getting by," "Can't complain," "Same old same old" or maybe a change of subject, like "When is this cold spell going to end?"

If you know someone fairly well, the person might get more specific: "How are you?" "I'm still having problems with this ankle."

Yup. That's it here. There are a few people who will open up and tell you all about how you are, but they are few and far between. I work in the front office, so I see everyone as they come in for their various shifts. All morning it's "Good morning! How are you?"

I usually say, "I'm well, thanks, and you?"

On Mondays, people will say, "It's Monday."

On Fridays, people will answer with, "It's FRIDAY!"

Lately with the cold weather it's, "I'm COLD!"

There's a predictably variety around here.


I worked in an Adult Learning Center teaching English and citizenship to recently arrived immigrants. My director and two of the administrators were Vietnamese. There were seven or eight instructors. Although most of us had other jobs, a couple of us depended on the job as our only income.

The school was going to be closed down in July because of cuts in the program. The secretary, Elva, warned us that spring. She said that we would not hear the bad news from Tuan or even Vinh--who I considered a friend--because in their culture they would not give out bad new;, everything always had to be good. Anyway that was her take on it. Later on I asked one of the main directors about it and she said Elva had it right. She had told Elva to warn us because she knew our bosses would not.

At the time it struck me as weird but I knew the secretary well, she was one of my husband's old students, so I trusted her and began to look for other employment, even though Tuan and Minh ducked the question with false assurances if someone was rude enough to ask.

Sure enough, the first of July the men came to move the desks and books out and the building became a trucking office. I was surprised but not surprised as I could have been. Strange but true--s6

Wow. My husband's family is kind of like that. They don't like confrontation. But bad news...you still have to give bad news. That is so weird that they didn't tell you! Not a good way to run a business.

Los Pollos Hermanos
01-27-2014, 11:59 PM
Haha! My American roadtrippin' exploits have been predominantly confined to the western half (due to my love of heat and loathing of humidity), so perhaps it's a bit different on that side of the country? I remember the first time I replied with "not bad" somewhere in Denver - the poor lady behind the till looked horrified!

In NW England "fair to middling" is a common response, which equates to "not bad".

I favour "surviving" when asked in a workplace context. Wouldn't dare say that one across the Pond! ;)

sohalt
01-28-2014, 12:04 AM
If you are interested in cultures that are more straightforward in their general approach to communication, you might be interested in Hall's distinction between high- and low context cultures. Low context cultures generally allow for a certain bluntness, prioritizing the explicit part of any message, while high context cultures expect you to mine the context for clues to arrive at the correct inferences. (I would try to bear in mind though that all these things are not just a matter of culture, but often also a matter of gender and class.)

That said, I'm not sure that the whole "How-are-you?"-greeting issue is a particularly good indicator of anything in that regard. Yes, there's some cultural variance whether people are more likely to give a vague, non-committal reply in the positive or a vague, non-committal reply in the negative (depending on wether the national moods tends more towards cheery or grumpy; I'm Austrian, so I'm firmly on the grumpy side of things), but mostly the level of detail of the answer seems to depend on specific circumstances (your old neighbour lurking at the garden fence hungry for someone to chat with will most likely give a more elaborate answer than your colleague on her way to a meeting when you run across her on the corridor). If I just look at myself - I totally answer that question rather frankly and comprehensively when I feel like it (and know the asker sufficiently well, and none of us seems to have anything urgent to do in the next couple of minutes) but I generally appreciate the fact that I'm not expected to.

I might not count as a representative of a low-context culture, because I'm Austrian and not German, but I think I know enough of our German neighbours to suggest that - low context culture or not - in the "colleague-in-the-corridor-on-her-way-to-a-meeting"-scenario you're not supposed to completely bare your soul when asked how you are. You can absolutely reply with something less than enthusiastic - "One survives." or "Could be better" - but you're not expected to launch into a monologue about the deeper causes of your most recent existential crisis or something. "Too many deadlines coming up" - Okay. "Questioning the validity of our profession, its contribution to society and my deeper purpose in this cold and cruel world." - Ehh. Maybe not so much. No matter how accurately it captures the truth of the matter in this moment. That's the answer you can give over a glass of wine, on Feierabend, if you two are somewhat close outside of work. It's not suitable for a chance encounter in the corridor. It's not so much a matter of honesty but rather of respecting the circumstances.

shakeysix
01-28-2014, 12:21 AM
When I was teaching the Vietnamese guys I would hear them greet each other. One would say something and the other would answer with "lam, lam, lam." (There were marks over the a in lam but I don't know them. It sounded more like Lahm than lam. ) Anyway i asked and learned that the first speaker was asking "How are you doing? or How is it going?" The second speaker would answer "Work, work, work." --s6

StephanieFox
01-28-2014, 04:46 AM
I think that culturally, in most parts of the USA, if the question is short, the answer should be short unless it's asked by your doctor or your mother. For example, 'How are you?" could be answered as 'Fine, thanks,' or 'I'm fighting a cold, but it's OK.' But if the question is long, then it's not just a greeting. An example, "How are you doing? Have you gotten rid of that stomach bug, yet?" This you could answer with, "No, but I've got an appointment with a doctor next week. I don't think it's a bug 'cause I haven't been able to eat anything by chicken soup for a couple of weeks. Thanks for asking."

Antonin
01-31-2014, 02:22 AM
Three words: The Czech Republic. :)

Finally, a thread where I'm good for something. Seriously. I have the culture you are looking for. In this country, if someone asks "How are you?" which is only likely if they know you at least a bit (not going to happen in a store unless you are a super regular), the answer is usually "hrozne!" (terrible!) often with an explanation. The UN did a study some years ago about the moods of nations and the Czechs are super grumpy. I'm married to one and have lived here for 17 years. The honesty is actually not so bad. I like the fact that a friend really will generally tell you if they are having a bad day or they don't feel good. The other parts of the grumpy mood can be more annoying, such as shop keepers who act like you are bugging them by wanting to spend your money in their store, but I digress.


I can vouch for this. My grandfather is from the Czech republic and basically answers like this. Before my grandma died (only two weeks ago) he'd always throw in "Eh, Babi soon die, I die too" and then just shrug.

Come to think of it, I think my dad (also an immigrant) also answers like this (minus the dying part).

Torgo
01-31-2014, 03:06 AM
As a side-note: I love Italo Calvino's collection of Italian Folk Tales, and it's often interesting how they end. The formula in the English-speaking world is usually 'and they all lived happily ever after.' The formula in IFT is often 'and they all lived happily ever after, while here we sit, starving to death' or the like.

Antonin
01-31-2014, 06:12 AM
As a side-note: I love Italo Calvino's collection of Italian Folk Tales, and it's often interesting how they end. The formula in the English-speaking world is usually 'and they all lived happily ever after.' The formula in IFT is often 'and they all lived happily ever after, while here we sit, starving to death' or the like.

I was reading a collection of Romani folktales and they tended to end with "and if they haven't died yet, they are still alive today."

Made for a good laugh.

sohalt
02-01-2014, 03:52 PM
I was reading a collection of Romani folktales and they tended to end with "and if they haven't died yet, they are still alive today."


That's also a common ending for German folk tales. "Und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind, dann leben sie noch heute."

Dryad
02-01-2014, 11:31 PM
That's a common folktale trope. For what it's worth, when I lived in Italy I found that only very good friends would answer the how-are-you question with anything other than a short positive.

afarnam
02-06-2014, 10:23 PM
While there are individuals in every culture who will tell you all of the details honestly even if you are a stranger and there are individuals in every culture who will aways grunt "fine," these responses are more socially acceptable in different cultures. The more socially acceptable something is the more people will do it. It is just like people being loud in public. There is no genetic basis for some ethnicities being "louder". The thing is that if you grow up in a certain culture, you absorb the idea of what is acceptable. If you are a loud temperament person in a loud culture, you tend to let it all hang out more. If you are quiet in a loud culture, you feel pressure to adapt at least a bit. And visa versa. The same applies to these responses. In the Czech Republic, you have to be a very chipper person by nature to say "fine" even if you are fine. I also know Americans who will give you a brief and reasonable answer that may be negative but is always basically honest. But these people are not the norm in their cultures. So, if the OP wants to find a culture where it is normal to give honest answers, the Czech Republic or Germany are great. Russia is better if you want LONG answers. :) I love Russians but this is a serious thing in many instances.