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This is closely related to the How to respond to "What's up?" post, but carries some different nuances. What is the best course of action when a casual acquaintance or work colleague greets you with a "How are you?" Is a casual or non-committal "Okay, thanks" expected, or should one give a more accurate (if not fully detailed) response such as "I'm feeling a bit down today"?

Would giving the later be uncomfortable for most casual enquirers, as it might make them feel obliged to converse more than the mere exchange of greetings?

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    "What is best" or "what is expected"? I don't see that there's any sort of "best" response... it's pretty subjective... but what type of response is expected is probably pretty standard.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 18:09
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    If you want to give honest answers to "How are you" you should consider moving to Central Europe ;-) Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 20:18
  • What country is this in? Could you add country tags to all your answers?
    – user288
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 6:03

2 Answers 2

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This is assuming you're in the USA; I've heard it's different elsewhere.

If it's a person you don't know well, it's just a greeting that's roughly equivalent to "hello." They're not actually asking about your well being. The less well you know them, the more true this is. If it's someone you have zero personal connection (like a client or customer you've never seen before), they absolutely expect a response of "good, and you?" They often won't even listen to your response; countless times, I've simply said "hi" back and still had them respond as if I had asked the question back. If it's a colleague you occasionally run into in the hall, but don't know well, the same applies. I personally hate this custom, because I hate having to lie, especially about feeling miserable, but that's what's expected.

However, if it's a colleague that you sit next to, and the two of you regularly share what's going on in your life, then they will likely appreciate an honest answer. Same goes if it's your best friend or mother asking, obviously!

As a general rule of thumb, consider what the person has shared with you in the past. If they've shared feeling down, then they likely won't mind if you do the same. If you have no idea what's going on in that person's life, then give them a smile and tell them you're doing great, regardless of the truth.

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    As an (English speaking) immigrant to the southern USA, I've gotten into the habit of automatically translating "how are you" into "hello" and typically respond as such. I feel exactly as you do about this custom as it seems false to me to be asking how I am without any expectation of an honest response. Only friends & close co-workers get much more than "hi" from me in response to a "how are you"...
    – brhans
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 20:34
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    @brhans I respond to it as a 'hello' as well, and it's very rare that anyone gets offended that you didn't answer their fake question. Which country are you from that doesn't do this?
    – Kat
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 20:42
  • I'm from South Africa, and my British wife holds much the same opinion.
    – brhans
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 20:48
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Well, if you want to keep a conversation going, you could say, "I'm great, I just got a new dog", or whatever.

If you are in a rush, you could say, "I'm fine, thanks", or something along those lines.

If you are having a bad day, and you would prefer them not to know about it, say something like, "I'm good, thanks". If you want them to know, say something like, "I could be better, my dog just died."

Good luck! :D

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  • Why should the person outright lie? The other person has good intentions; be duplicitous seems obnoxious.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 11:53
  • @HDE226868 It's just a suggestion. :) Obviously, if they feel it would be wrong to lie, they could just say "I could be better", and then when they ask why say, "I'd prefer not to talk about it, thanks". However, this could prove to be awkward at the present time or in the future. Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 1:40
  • @HDE226868 Duplicity is part of normal adult behavior for proper social functioning.
    – Dogweather
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 20:11
  • @HDE226868 "I'm good thanks." Is the expected response from a person who does not wish to continue the discussion. No native speaker would be likely to interpret that as meaning that you are actually good, so it really isnt duplicitous at all. Its just one of those linguistic peculiarities where a phrase doesn't mean what it seems like it should. As an aside though, if you want to avoid that, you could say something like 'I've been better' which is similarly dismissive. Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 16:08

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