For three years I listened to the stereotype that American relationships are shallow. The evidence? Greetings. Like “how’s it going?” Clearly, because the person asking the question doesn’t care about the answer, the question is shallow, thus the entire relationship is shallow, thus all American relationships are shallow. Ipso facto, case in point, if then, told ya so, hah!
But while back at home I realized just how ridiculous it can sound. I was on the phone with a buddy of mine, who just one day later would relate a story as way of introducing me as to how I once ate a piece of bread soaked in food coloring for a dollar in 8th grade. My teeth turned food coloring brown. I told everyone not to worry. A swig of Coke and my pearly whites were pearly white again. You may ask, how does an 8th grader stupid enough to eat a piece of bread soaked in food coloring for a dollar know that Coke will clean his teeth? You would be right in asking that. The answer? Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. An amazing tome filled with useful knowledge. The point of this was not to get you to buy Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader (although you should) but to show that I clearly have known said friend for quite some time. Our relationship is not shallow.
That’s why the greeting was so ridiculous. It went something along these lines:
Not much, how’s it going?
At this point, the questions were actually repeated in full form with the intent of actually asking and actually listening.
What are you doing?
How are you?
What have you been up to?
That’s when I realized just how shallow it actually does sound. There was no intent of being shallow; it was just taking the place of the formal hello. But to the uninitiated, or someone who may not have English as a near native language, that nuance may be lost.
Even when speaking with people you don’t know, salespeople at a store for example, I find myself saying how’s it going. Not because I know them, or care to know them necessarily, but as a replacement to hello.
Looking back though, I found this happening to an extent in Swedish too. Not as widespread by any means, but the use of "läget" as a greeting amongst friends was quite common in the circles I found myself frequenting. There was no real need for an answer; the meat of the conversation came later anyway. I never once saw it as shallow. Probably because it fit so well into my English way of speaking. I suppose not picking up on that nuance could be said for someone just learning the Swedish language. I had my English language skills to fall back on, so it never seemed strange to ask a question and not necessarily need an answer.
I’d like to think I solved the mystery of this American stereotype. Probably not, but I do think this plays a big role. It just took me three years in Sweden and six months in the US to figure out. No problem right?
Welcome to Swedish-America. How’s it going? No, really, how are you?
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