I call my friend, and she says, “What’s up?”
“Um…” Then 5 seconds of pause..
I walk into a supermarket, and the clerk says, “Hey, how’s it going?”
“Um…” Then 5 seconds of pause..
Now I’m in the US, I hear it every single day, every place, wherever I go.
Let’s get this straight. The 5 seconds of pause… Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ignoring you. Not intentionally. Believe me! It’s just I found it really difficult to answer those questions, that’s all. You might say, “Are you serious?” and I can answer you THAT, “Yes, I am serious.”
It has been about 7 years since I got interested in English and I’ve been using it pretty widely for last two years. I think I’m good enough to show my sense of humor in English and I love sarcastic expressions in English. But somehow, these simple greetings, they are giving me a hard time.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. Moreover, now I’m in the US, I hear a lot of those everywhere, every time. Why I felt so awkward when I hear them, every single time. Clearly, these are rhetorical questions. No one wants to hear what you really are doing at a grocery store. I can just simply say, “Good, how are you?” and they will say “Good.” and the moment will be over soon.
The reason why this is hard for me is because I ‘learn’ this language. I didn’t grow up with it. Gladly, I picked up most of my language skills on the road, but still I studied from books. Even though I’m comfortable to use English in everyday life, still parts of it is very literal for me.
For example, when my friend says ‘What’s up?’ when she answers the phone, I feel like I have to call her with an important reason, when something’s up, but the fact is I just called to say hi. So I always go, “Um…… nothing..?”
When someone says, “How’s it going?” as a greeting, I feel like I really have to tell him or her what is going on my life.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about my future a lot, lately. It’s really complicated, you know. Thanks for asking. I really needed someone to talk to. Can I ask for your advice?”
But no one expects me to answer like that. All they want to hear from me is “Good.” not a lifetime drama.
I know how to answer it. Now I can more naturally answer them with a smile, “Good, how are you?” However, still, I feel like I’m a two-headed man. In one head says, “Good, how are you?” and the other one still wants to answer them with a heartfelt life story. But I can control them now.
I’m still learning this language. Therefore, things can be really literal for me. That’s the major differences between the first language speakers and the second languages speakers. It’s harder to take it ‘just because’. Language education is not working that way. There’s no ‘just because’. There’s always grammar, translation, and specific reasons why we have to answer this way. You know, when you correct someone’s expression or grammar in your first language, sometimes you can’t explain why you think that’s the right way. We feel, but it doesn’t mean that we know why it’s grammatically right. That’s just, ‘just because’.
So, please don’t feel bad or give me the EYES when I don’t answer your typical and rhetorical question.
Give me 5 seconds. It’s just my two heads are fighting each other.