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Salutations and Traffic Circles

I was recently in the grocery store when the cashier greeted me with a friendly smile.  Out of common courtesy, I asked, "How are you today?"  While this is a pretty simple question, it doesn't always come with a simple answer.  Certainly there must be a list of inappropriate answers that everyone should avoid using. When you are stacking your overly priced organically grown produce onto the conveyor belt, an inappropriate response from your cashier is... "Well.... I'm better now that the rash is going away.  I was doing good just scratching my lower body until it spread everywhere.  My infectious disease doctor told me it could take a few months to go away completely. "   A rush of heat instantly overcame me and and it took all my might to keep from screaming, "Drop those carrots and put on some gloves!"   This was not the answer I was looking for, nor did I want.   My daughter is a complete germaphobe and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, I must admit.  About the time the words "Infectious Disease" were uttered, my child instantly began bathing in germ-X and hiding fruit that wasn't wrapped in a sanitary package.  What ever happened to the answer, "I'm fine.  Thank you."?  I've tried to explain to my children that when strangers ask how you are, they really don't want to hear anything other than a few words indicating that you are well and hopefully rash free.    There is a lady in town who I often run into.  I will say, "Hello" and she always replies with, "Fine, thank you."  This has puzzled me for years, because I didn't ask yet.  The natural thing to say after "Hello" is  "How are you?" but now we have already jumped right past that.  Sometimes I get flustered and ask anyway.  It's as if my manners are on auto-pilot and that question must be asked.   The conversation goes something like this:

(Me)            "Hello"
(Stranger)    "Fine- Thank You"
(Me)            "How are you?"
(Stranger)    "I'm Fine, I said"

           long pause....

(Me)            "Uh...I'm rash free."


Obviously we never have progressed much further in this friendship than the greeting.   Sometimes when I'm walking along at work and my mind is preoccupied with important things like budget variances, what tonight's dinner might be, or that woman at the mall with the really big hair,  I will get lost in the cycle of greetings and repeat the question making everyone terribly uncomfortable.    It always happens when you combine your salutation with the question addressing the other's welfare. They should never be joined as one.     I will politely greet them with  "Hello.  How are you?" and the other person will respond appropriately with, "I'm fine... and you?"  I will return with "I'm fine.... How are you?"   It is like one of those hideous traffic circles they have in lower Louisiana or Washington D.C.  Once you get in them, you can never get out.    At some point, you are forced to just lower your windows, circle for hours and yell at all the drivers - "Hello...How are you?"   I've actually made some really close friends this way.   Sadly, when you are standing in a hallway, face to face with someone and you have asked how they are one too many times, you need not answer when they ask about you because they have already figured out that you are obviously bordering on some kind of mental breakdown, just rude, or related to Dr. Seuss who is known for his wonderfully weird greetings:  "Hello - Do you like my hat?" "No I do not like your hat - do you like mine" "Yes oh yes I like your hat - do you like mine?"     At that point, you try to break eye contact and escape into the nearest office where hopefully you will not be met with those dreaded words, "Hi - How are you?"  The simplest things in life can sometimes be the most daunting.  

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