The Collegian
Tuesday, August 16, 2022

How are you? I meant that as a rhetorical question

In my high school, the greetings were untrained at best. We were pretty informal with one another, and while "sup" was the most "talkative" form of greeting, a head nod was the norm. We weren't preparing for businesslike settings -- we were really just acknowledging one another as I figure most high schoolers probably do.

We were cool and casual, or at least we thought we were -- nothing fancy like "hello," and certainly not "how are you?"

Which is why it was a culture shock for me upon my arrival at Richmond to find myself amidst a train of "How are yous" on my way from any one location to any other on campus. "How polite!" I thought to myself throughout my first few weeks (OK, two years), and "How thoughtful! -- even "How professional!"

All of these thoughts would have been accurate were it not for two facts yet unbeknownst to me (yes, it seriously took me that long to catch on).

1) That "how are yous" are much more valuable than "sups" and head nods, and thus are given out much less liberally and 2) that they are statements, not questions.

Elaborations -- #1: Why exactly "How are yous" are stashed away and given out sparingly remains an unsolved mystery, but the fact is that we Richmond students do not greet everyone we know.

Even when the other person sees and knows they know us too, which is pretty amusing if you stop to think about it.

I suppose one could hypothesize that the number of "free giveaways" when it comes to everyday greetings might be divided according to the number of syllables that make them up.

This is about the only thing that I can come up with to logically explain why "sup" was handed out at least three times as often by any respective person in my high school as "how are you" is here.

But the fact that this makes absolutely no sense with respect to people who aren't charged a dollar per word as they go about their daily routine suggests that this isn't the case.

And besides, there's a very important reason why "sup" should actually be given out with more discretion than "how are you," and this reason is what I once privately referred to as "cool quality."

"Cool quality" is measured by how naturally someone pulls off a particular phrase or style. It isn't easy to successfully incorporate into a greeting in the form of "sup."

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In fact, I find that if you're not wearing a flat brimmed hat it's nearly impossible (as is the case with any kind of side-bangs and the head nod), let alone if you have the tendency to over-pronounce your words and rarely "abbrev" any of them.

"Sup" is a hazardous phrase with the ability to completely embarrass its giver in front of its receiver any time it enters a social interaction.

"How are you," on the other hand, is relatively easy. Anyone can sound good saying, "How are you," from rap stars to historians.

In fact, something I noticed about the phrase the second I realized it was the standardized form of acknowledgement here is that it is very hard not to sound good when saying it.

It exudes stature, a certain degree of caring, and it makes anyone saying it sound just like an ideal "grown-up" -- someone who is going so many places that nothing is wrong, and thus she or he invites hearing of your well-being on the off-chance that perhaps you need the therapeutic assistance that she or he certainly doesn't (but is enthusiastic to give). Charming.

Yet perhaps this exonerating effect is not one to be taken lightly, and therefore requires precaution.

The mystery remains unsolved as to why Richmond students tend to avoid greetings when possible (even to those they mutually acknowledge and even like), but the fact is that this is a distinguishing characteristic of Richmond greetings and must be noted by those who engage in them.

Onto No. 2: No mystery here -- "How are you" is a statement, not a fact. Thinking otherwise will lead you right into severe social trauma -- I know this from experience.

I cannot even begin to count the times I tried to answer the question, relieved that I had been asked by some arbitrary classmate or faculty member because I had had answers ready throughout timeless failures-to-greet.

Numerous times I answered in detail: "Well, not wonderful actually ... Let me tell you what happened to me today along Charles Street," or "Oh I'm great! Listen to what happened this weekend."

Every time I had to trail off as subtly as was situationally possible. (I'm sayin' -- the ability of non-listening signals to completely and unavoidably interject is uncanny.)

People don't want to know.

They didn't hand me the phrase to know the answer to any sort of question -- they gave it to me so that I could hand it back, and so that the mutual acknowledgement could be made (for which I should consider myself lucky in the first place, let's face it -- see No. 1), and we can both move on to the next unimaginably important task in our equally important lives.

Those of you who have ever made the same socially fatal mistake as I have described above understand what I mean -- "how are you" might as well be the head nod itself.

One person nods, the other person nods back, like playing catch. Answering the phrase as though it were an actual question (something one would pick up on by an inquiring rise in the vocal tone if there was one -- which there isn't, I assure you) makes you a nuisance and, well, kind of uncomfortably odd.

And there we have it -- The UR greeting explained. A rare gem in the form of "how are you" that requires an exactly equal return.

I used to be perturbed by the phrase "sup" for its commonality, its "coolness" demands, and the frequency at which I was expected to give it out.

The pressure is off --thank you, Richmond. How are you? I meant that as a rhetorical question.

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