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Miss Manners: ‘How are you?’ has its limits

Dear Miss Manners: I’m so tired of the question, “How are you?”

When shopping at the mall, I am accosted with that question at every store, sometimes several times at the same store. People ask it when I’m walking by, and I don’t have time to answer it. I’m so tired of choking out, “Good,” that I’m planning to start taking these impositions as an invitation to unload my mind. Is “How are you?” overused and overly familiar?

Gentle Reader: Of course, these people are not burning to know about your emotional and physical well-being; they were instructed to say this, presumably to draw you into their establishments. Retaliating tediously is not likely to make them override this requirement. On the contrary, it will give them a chance to seem sympathetic, and thus delay you even more.

“How are you?” is merely a pleasantry, not overused so much as it is misused. It should follow a greeting, not substitute for one, and requires only a minimal answer.

But if choking out, “Good” – or, more properly, “Well,” Miss Manners feels compelled to point out – is too taxing, perhaps you can manage a weak smile as you hasten on your way.

Irked by sister-come-lately

Dear Miss Manners: My sister will not commit and keep to a time when her family and our parents will visit us, but will say, “Don’t plan around us; when we get there, we’ll get there” – and then get there three to five hours late.

Other times, we will set a time to meet at a midpoint, and after we have already arrived, we will get a text or call where she says, “Oh, don’t plan around us; when we get there, we’ll get there.”

But what are we supposed to do when we are sitting at the appointed place, waiting? She seems to feel that by sweetly saying, “Oh, don’t plan around us,” it relieves her of any responsibility for our time.

We’re currently trying to coordinate schedules for another family get-together. What can I say to my sister to let her know that her sweet statement is really saying, “Our time is more important than your time, so wait for us until we get there”?

Gentle Reader: Why don’t you just take your sister up on her offer and start without her?

You could say, “Since you always ask us not to plan around you, here is what we are planning,” and cite the relevant time frames. If she doesn’t show up within them, continue to your next activity or return home, as the case may be.

As she has repeatedly begged you not to take her schedule into account when planning yours, Miss Manners fails to see why you should not do so. A pleasant side effect may be that this gets her attention and makes her try harder next time not to miss the fun.