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American Pleasantries

Jenny and Dave Prager brought us First Impressions of the USA last month. Some of the response they received from global visitors to the USA concerned the common greeting, "How are you?" Lakshmi says:
“When I set foot at the Dulles airport in DC, the immigration/customs guy asked me how I was doing — and I was taken aback. Am I supposed to know this guy? Does this guy know my cousin? And so, is that how he knows that I would be here at the airport today? Did my cousin ask him to take care of me until he could pick me up at the airport? If so why didn’t my cousin tell me? I looked like a deer facing headlights.”

She wasn't the only one who was confused by the phrase, as well as "thank you", "you're welcome", and the constant smiles of Americans. Read more at Our Delhi Struggle. Link -Thanks, Dave!

In China, the standard colloquial greeting for friends (at least from the older generation) is "Have you eaten?"

My father told me that this isn't an invitation to feed you. Rather, because China has had harrowing times of starvation, it's both a greeting/statement of concern for your friend's well being all rolled into one.

When I moved to the States, the greeting that always tripped me was "What's up?" I started looking up whenever that someone said that!
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For some years, my husband has been in various positions that brought him into contact with many employees at a facility where about 1,300 people work. He said he got tired a long time ago of saying, "How are you doing?" because nobody really wants to hear the answer, and instead he greets people by saying "Good to see you." It demands no immediate response and seems to make people happy when they hear it.
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I live in the states and deal with folks all around the world on a daily basis for work. The one thing I've learned not to say is "Have a great day!" at the end of emails. IT usually leads to some loooooooong story about how their day is going whereas over here it's a standard customer service saying with no real meaning to it.
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Europeans and their descendants (Americans, Canadians, etc...) speak with forked-tongues. They say one thing, but mean another. Of course nothing we say is sincere, we say it to win each other's sympathy, in order to get what we want. We are too alienated from ourselves to speak genuinely.

Here is a script from my father (a salesman for 15 years and fan of Dale Carnagie):

"Hey, nice sweater! Is that new?"
(No, I've had it for years.)
"Oh, I don't remember seeing it. Did you have it away for a while?
(Nope, I've been wearing it in-front of you for years.)
"Hmm, then it must be something else about you that is different. Did you get your hair cut?"
(Nope)
"Have you lost weight?"
(Nope)
"Then you must be exceptionally happy today because you are beaming!"
(Nope, actually its the worst day of my life)
"I'm sorry to hear that. Can I ask you a favor?"

All of his nonsense is a build-up to asking you for a favor. He tries to win you over first. Forked-tongue. It's basically a lie.
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Ryan, what's wrong with pleasantries? It's better than saying "Hello! Now about that contract...." And sometimes a person can-gasp!- actually mean it. I do like chatting with contacts for a moment before getting down to business. It's less cold and formal. Not everyone is trying to get something from you.....
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Where I live, you can say "Howdy" and it just means hello. If you say "How ya doin'?" you will no doubt get a long long rundown of exactly how that person is doing, physically, financially, legally, and more. So if you don't want to hear it, don't ask.
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Alex, in the Philippines the standard local greeting during or near lunch and dinnertime is "have you eaten" as well, but I think it stems more from the island's prosperous past (in terms of food availability), back when people just picked fruits and foraged for crops and went fishing if someone got hungry.

I've never realized how deeply this culture become ingrained in my psyche until I traveled abroad and had eaten with Caucasians/Westerners. The first time I experienced this was when I joined a group tour in Vietnam, and was eating with polite, warm and kind Canadians.

I was shocked and later on uneasy when they ordered food and didn't offer it to me (there were four of us in the table). I couldn't care less about the food, I ordered plenty myself. I know they're not selfish but offering and sharing food is just not part of their culture. In the Philippines this would be seen as the uncouth manners. When I ride buses with foreigners I also offer my food to people beside or close to me, whereas they don't. It's almost reflex reaction in me, because it's what I've been taught decent people do.

This might make for some misunderstanding, and I know how infantile/emotionally immature it is to resent a foreigner who seems too selfish to share his food. understand how the New Delhites feel about the casual pleasantry/polite greeting that is "How you doin'? as it does sound so insincere.

p.s In my previous work, my colleagues disliked this American because he always ate his lunch alone and didn't share his food w/ others when he ate at the pantry.
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“When I set foot at the Dulles airport in DC, the immigration/customs guy asked me how I was doing... She wasn’t the only one who was confused by the phrase, as well as 'thank you', 'you’re welcome', and the constant smiles of Americans."

I live 6 miles from Dulles (IAD) and have flown in and out of there for over 18 years. I have never seen a smiling customs official there. And I am not being cavalier, I truly have NEVER seen a smiling customs agent. (Although I have seen the drug dogs wag their tails from time to time.) The smiles I DO see, however, are the people reuniting after a long absence. Even with the hassles of faux-security theatrics we are forced to endure today, seeing these smiles keeps the travelling enjoyable.
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I answer calls all day and am constantly asked "How you doin". It really threw me off when I started this job, but now I just say "OK" in a tone that suggests they can get to the questions they called about. I'm never really sure how these callers expect me to answer, because that question always meant to me that the asker wants to know the details of my current situation. Even though I'm USA born and raised, it still throws me off a bit to hear callers ask "How ya doin?" but with no hint that they want to hear any answer other than OK.
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@KateM

Of course, because socially we are weak-minded victims. We plead and cry and whine and kick and scream and make the whole universe about us. Instead of maturing to a point where we don't need platitudes and politesse.

The devil is there, in that weakness, in that poor sad-sack, victim, mentality. Where no truth can come in and no practical measures can be taken if they hurt the poor little ego inside. So we set about puffing each other up and rubbing egos, and the whole damn society is papered-over and nothing productive really gets accomplished.
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And that is how we screw each other over while wearing a big smile the whole time. It is all surface level nicities, and underneath that veil, we are cruel to each-other. When questioned, we toss the veil back over and claim to be innocent little victims.
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And Machiavellian pricks like my father, Chairman Mao, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin use that weakness to persuade and manipulate.
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I'm autistic. I've never understood so-called "small talk" either. When people ask me what's up, I tell them "the sky" or "the ceiling". They think that's funny; I think it's obvious.

I'm about two meters tall. When people ask me how the weather is up here, sometimes I start to lecture them on the diffusive tendency of weather cells: "It's about the same here as it is where you are." I used to tell them that it's raining and then spit on them. One punch in the nose cured me of that.
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