Friday, April 6, 2012

How Are You?

How many times a day do you think you ask the question, "How are you?" I'd estimate at least 20: every phone call you make, each coworker you see, and don't forget the barista at Starbucks.

Well, after being in Romania almost a year, you would think I would be proficient at such a simple question. The problem is that the question "How are you?" literally translates to "What are you doing?"

It's an acceptable answer to say that you're doing well, but it is much more common for people to explain exactly what they are doing at that moment. For example, people will tell you they're at work (while you're talking to them in the teacher's lounge), they'll tell you they're talking (meaning to you), and they'll even tell you they're in the bathroom if you happen to meet them while washing your hands. I still haven't figured out what I'm supposed to say in response to their answer..."Wow! That's funny, I'm in the bathroom, too!"

For a while I thought of the question as an equivalent of "What's up?" In the States the most common answer to that is, of course, "Nothing!" But, here you're met with blank stares or open shock, as if to say "How could you be doing nothing? Did you stop breathing?"

Then yesterday, the inevitable happened. I asked someone "What are you doing today?" expecting them to tell me their plans for the day. But what response did I get? "Good!"