In Strout’s new novel a renown attorney falls from grace, settles as a college instructor in Upstate New York, thereat he learns this piece of social etiquette for the first time in his life: For when meeting new people, the correct greetings are ‘How are you?’ and ‘How are you?’ right back; and ‘Nice to meet you’ is no good – will shake heads that you are either being vulgar or an ignorant bumpkin.
There is no “official” greeting in English. Whether meeting someone for the first time, or meeting an old friend, or meeting a relative, greetings are all over the spectrum. From casual to formal, you’ll hear an interesting mix. There are some regional conventions … for example, here in Arizona, “Howdy!” is popular. Never heard that when I lived in the Midwest (except in western movies).
The greeting “How are you?” is a rhetorical question to which the speaker doesn’t expect a detailed answer. Nevertheless, I’ve often heard socially-challenged people respond with elaborate replies regarding health, finances, and whatever.
As a reply to “How are you?” it’s also quite common to hear “I’m well, thank you. And you?” So it’s sometimes used to “get the ball rolling” and progress to small-talk.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with “Nice to meet you!” I use that greeting myself.
There are some regional conventions … for example, here in Arizona, “Howdy!” is popular. Never heard that when I lived in the Midwest (except in western movies).
The late Minnie Pearl from the Grand Ole Opry always started her gig with a drawn out “Howdy!” Nashville is pretty close to Midwest if not in it.
In SW Missouri, “Howdy” is used quite often.
I grew up in a little town in Wisconsin that’s home to a small liberal arts college. Nearly thirty years ago, I was walking down a street that skirts the college. A young lady coming the other way, who was almost certainly a student so she could have been from anywhere, greeted me with a bright, cheery, “Howdy!” It certainly wasn’t something I’d grown up hearing, so I was both shocked and amused. In fact, I was so tickled that I’ve been using it myself ever since. Short, friendly, folksy, “Howdy” can’t be beat.
When I’m asked, “How are you?” I find it nonsensical to simply reply back, “How are you?” My sincere response is usually along the lines of, “Eh, not too bad.” — like someone from Lake Wobegon.
When I feel like creeping someone out, I like to say with maximum snobbishness/goulishness: “How do you dooo?”
I believe that greeting rituals can be considered markers for class or region.
For example, I recall reading that among upper-class English people, it is (or was) considered “proper” to respond to “How d’you do?” with “How d’you do?” when being introduced to someone for the first time, with neither person even attempting anything that took the form of a response to the question. Deviating from this form would mark a person as being from a different social class.
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