How Are You? Fine.
Many (many!!!) years ago, Older Eyes, his wife, Muri, and their two children took a vacation in Florida. Naturally, part of the trip was a visit to Walt Disney World and the other similar attractions that had sprung around Orlando. The second half of the trip was a relaxing stay at a beachfront hotel in Clearwater. On the first day there, my gregarious little girl, Amy, made a friend at the pool and, as often happens on vacations, we ended up sitting with her new friend’s parents several times. I don’t remember much about them except that Dad had a heavy Scottish accent and knack for spotting the idiosyncracies in the tourists around him. One day, after saying good morning and settling into a chaise lounge beside me, he said, Let me ask you something. When you Americans say, “How are you?” you don’t really want to know, do you? It’s just like hello. And Fine is just hello back. As one of those Americans, I’d never thought of it in exactly that way.
For the last twenty three years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time with people working the 12-Steps, who (most of the time) really mean it when they ask. They don’t want the one word answer, although I will admit that sometimes they ask, How are you? so you’ll ask and they can tell you. If someone answers How are you? with a perfunctory Fine, the frequent comeback is, Oh, F&%$ed Up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional? The implication, of course, is that you are hiding how you really feel under that one word answer. Me? I’ve always thought Fine was an answer that fit most situations in this life, equivalent to OK or Not bad. Ironically, in the same circles, there’s no objection to acting as if life is wonderful by answering I’m just great or I’m living the dream, even when you’re not.
There’s no real point to this post, which makes it what Older Eyes calls a ramble. If I ran into my Scottish acquaintance these days, I’d tell him that How are you? is more than hello … we really want to know, we just want the short form answer. And if someone answers Fine or I’m living the dream, it’s either the truth or they don’t want to talk about their problems right now. Either of which is Fine with me.