talk is small

“hey, what’s up?” 

to be asked this question asked is the nightmare of most people who don’t know how to respond to it. (by the way, the only possible answer to this question: “not much, and you?”)

even though i’ve lived here a little while now, i still like to ask people “how are you?” as one of the first questions. not strangers, but really, friends… people i know. i will usually get one of two responses.

the first:uhhhhhhh, fine! (that’s what you expect me to say, right?)”

or the second: “terrible. the kids are behaving badly, the dog has got into the garden again, and the weather is awful!" 

the latter being what the typical response would be when czechs ask each other how they are… the few times that happens, they really actually want to know.
the former response being the "oh, i’m talking to an american so i should probably say fine like all of them do” response. while i do admit, sometimes i answer this question myself with “fine” when things are a little less than fine and i just don’t want to get into it at that moment, but i do appreciate a genuine answer to this question! 

you would never ask a stranger how they are, however, and this is one thing i do like a lot about czech and european culture in general. there’s no awkward small-talk at the grocery store or sandwich shop. 

last summer during the first of our fifty days back in the united states, alex and i entered the local subway and upon stepping in the door, we were positively bombarded by a wave of obviously forced “hi! how are you’s”, which caught both of us off-guard and made me feel uncomfortable. then, to suffer through another “how are you?” from a stranger once i made it up to the register. “fine…….”, i started, adding, “uhhh….. and how are you?” because i felt awkward. (later after paying, we heard the manager admonishing one of the workers for not saying hello loud enough!)

however, i am just fine with small-talk besides these extreme scenarios. in fact, i rather like it. the way i see it is that we are all people, and we all happen to live and exist here, so why not recognize each other and exchange a few words about going through this “crazy thing called life”? we are all the same species, after all!

this past weekend, at a party, i saw a colleague i don’t speak to very often, and offered an initial, “how are you?” to which he answered “fine……” followed by a somewhat angry, “so what’s with the small talk? it’s stupid!” ohhhhhhhkay. (pulls on collar) what do you suggest? (he didn’t have answer really to that question)

i guess i am on the pro side of small talk (to people you know), is what i’m saying. do you agree or disagree? i’d be curious to hear your thoughts! this icelandic take on small-talk was pretty interesting to read as well.