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.

 

Why?

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.

 

 

 

30 thoughts on “Why I am Unintentionally Ignoring You”

  1. Welcome to one of those cultural things in America! I am sure you know that it’s just people saying “hello” and no they really don’t want to know how you are doing. As an American, it’s just one of those things we learn “good, how are you?” At least you know enough English Juno that you don’t take it literally when someone says “What’s up?” so you don’t start looking over your head to see what you can find. 🙂

  2. Reminds me of a stand up show I once saw 😛 The guy pretends to run after a friend on a bicycle after being asked how he’s doing screaming; NOT SO GOOD I JUST GOT DIVORCED AND MY DOG DIED

    Okay it was more hilarious when he did it 😛

  3. It sounds to me like you can express yourself pretty well in the written word.

    I had a similar problem with the Aussies greeting me with, “How you going?” I just had to learn to answer it the same way as when asked the question “How are you doing?” in the US.

  4. Haha, I’m a native English speaker born in the U.S. and I actually feel the same way sometimes. I also want to give a long answer to people after they ask casual questions like “How are you doing?” Hey, they shouldn’t ask if they don’t really want to know! 😉

    1. I agree with Ody. Sometimes I just want to say something completely crazy to see if they are even listening to the response. We can be such robots!!!!!!!!!

    2. Agreed! 🙂 What if I’m having a bad day and I don’t want to say ‘good’? haha well, I know it’s a cultural thing, but hey, I know that now! I can answer ‘properly’ now!

  5. Hahaha! It’s true – people can be so FAKE sometimes.. u ain’t been to California yet.. mwuahaha!! Nah, but seriously my best mate is from there – love her to bits. Just regard those greetings as “hello”, and just answer “hello back”. “Great.. and you..? ” “D

  6. I completely understand. I had a similar problem with Spanish.

    Also, even in English, I don’t like the phrase what’s up because I think, “good” is a weird answer to a question that starts with “what.”

  7. I find this interesting because I struggle with your native tongue at times. I suppose the biggest difference between English and Korean is in the wording of this question. In Korean you’re asked if you’ve ate rice – something I found very strange at first!

  8. haha..love this article. I’ve had the same problem the first time I came to England. It was really confusing at first because I answered all of the hi’s very literally. So there are times when I do say I felt kinda s*** and people would be surprised. I now say ‘I’m good thanks and you?’ every time. Though it does feel a bit fake though. By the way, it took me months to understand this until one day my friend told me about this. Felt quite embarrassed after all this time! 😉

  9. The expectations of our responses to questions like that are pretty lame, I have to admit. Every once in a while, just to mess with people, I do start to respond with a long, drawn-out explanation of “how I’m doing”, and most of the time, people do a double-take, like “Wait–what? You’re not supposed to really tell me how you’re doing.” 🙂

    1. That’s a splendid idea actually. I want to do it someday. I’m preparing with my friends. Now I got a lot of ‘what’s up Juno?’ due to the post. 😉
      Well, if they don’t care how you are doing, they shouldn’t have asked you, right?? 🙂

  10. Agree on the cultural aspect of it. Really, the best and simple way is just to respond in a generic and polite way. It’s true that most of us prefer more sincerity from people who ask us that question but it is too much to ask in this day and age.

    Just like in most parts of Asia, where we always ask people, even strangers, to join us to eat, we don’t really expect the person to join otherwise it would be too rude. But still it’s being polite to ask. Stange and ironic isn’t it? =)

  11. in Thailand where I live, the locals ask you “bai nai?” all the time as a way of a greeting, it means ” Where you going? Sometimes fellow foreigners get annoyed as they think ‘that’s none of your business’ but it’s just the same as saying ‘how’s it going?’

  12. Haha. I like this post. As a native speaker I have this same problem of too heads…Even though I know its just a casual What’ up I want to Say More!!

  13. Hmmm…is it wrong that it bugs me when people ask how someone is and then don’t listen to the answer? Like you, I’ll just have to get used to saying “fine” and move on…

    1. Exactly, right? I don’t like when people are ‘too’ polite. I know that’s just a regular ‘hi’, but still sometimes I want some real conversation! 🙂

  14. I’ve always been so impressed with you for learning enough English and being comfortable enough with it to blog in English. Totally awesome! I actually don’t like the small talk crap we do in the States, it seems so fake. Like we all want each other to think we care when we really don’t. I do care what’s going on with my friends, but not every single person I pass in a store or at work. It gets exhausting.

  15. haha well, I know it’s a cultural thing, but hey, I know that now! Share your wiseness with us…! I actually don’t like the small talk crap we do in the States, it seems so fake.

  16. I was born and raised in the States with English as my first language, but I still have the same 5 second hesitation. I don’t know if it comes from living in other countries, or the awkward grammar of the exchange. You’re correct that “good” is a silly and gramaticaly incorrect response to “What’s Up?” More appropriately, a short sentence…I’m doing well; life is great; the world is still turning; one day at a time (a phrase works too), gives you a polite way to respond briefly, while still venting a bit of your life condition, and not feeling so gramatically clunky.

  17. Though it does feel a bit fake though. Felt quite embarrassed after all this time! I had a similar problem with Spanish.

  18. That’s right, many people hate that question. They just ask it automatically.

    I usually just skip it.

    Sales clerk: – How are you doing today?
    Me: – Hi! In your online catalog I saw…

  19. Too funny! I’ve had this issue when I speak Spanish too. There’s so many ways to say “How are you” in Spanish, I was never 100% sure how to answer. (A few examples: Como te va? Como andas? Que pasa?). Like you, I learned just to say “good” (“todo bien”). The easy way out!

  20. We joke about how sometimes people will ask “hey, nice to see you!” and someone will answer “I’m good, thanks.” We make silly mistakes like that because most of these greetings are just automatic and they don’t really mean anything more than just hello. You can just say hello back and it’ll probably be okay. Kinda funny to think about, though. It’s the little things that seem funny when you look at them from the context of someone who’s never experienced them before.

  21. I find that it all depends on the situation. There are times when I genuinely want to know how someone is doing, although this always with friends are family. But I feel there is a very same feeling with my Korean friends. Whenever we message each other it almost always starts out with your basic “안녕~ 잘지내?” “응, 잘있지 ㅋㅋ” And then we go into what’s actually happening in our lives. I think these kinds of pleasantries are common in most places of the world. I can understand the hesitation though. I still find myself hesitant and sometimes confused in the world of language acquisition.

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