diamond geezer

 Friday, May 16, 2014

"Hi, how are you?"

She says it to everybody, the lady at the desk near to mine at work.

"Hi, how are you?"

It's her standard greeting, at any time of day. As she flits around the office, passing amongst the rest of her team, they all get it.

"Hi, how are you?"

And nearly everyone responds "Good thanks", almost without exception. This surprises me somewhat, because many of her team are clearly not having a good time. They have deadlines to meet, targets to hit, and important emails burning a hole in their inbox. But they still respond "Good thanks" and she walks on, and they walk on, and life continues.

"Hi, how are you?"

Sometimes "Good thanks" is the prelude to a longer conversation. "Good thanks, we went to the theatre last night." "Good thanks, I'm getting on with the invites." "Good thanks, but Sandra's off and I need to get the meeting sorted and nobody's fixed the software and the end of month deadline is coming up and I think I'm going to need to escalate." And it strikes me that

"Hi, how are you?"

is actually a very clever way for a senior figure to interact with her workforce, because it's bright and cheery but leaves the door open for underlings to come back with whatever might be on their mind. This lady's job is to keep on top of everything, to ensure that nothing based in her bit of the department falls over, so what better way to stay in touch than greeting every employee with

"Hi, how are you?"

She's not in my team, but she and I are invariably the first two people into the office every morning, which means we get to act out this charade daily without an audience being present.

"Hi, how are you?"

I played along at first. Whenever she greeted me I said "Good thanks" and usually rallied with my own "How are you?" in return. She'd then sometimes tell me how she was, or more likely just say "Good thanks" and our conversation would end. It always pays to be civil and friendly when your desk is adjacent to someone more important than you, I think, and our bland early morning repartee certainly met that goal. But eventually I grew tired of giving the predictable answer each time, and started to vary my response.

"Hi, how are you?"

"Fairly reasonable, thanks."

"Hi, how are you?"

"On the right side of average, cheers."

"Hi, how are you?"

"I've been better." And that answer stopped her in her tracks. Everyone else around the office always says something vaguely positive, so my response went completely against the grain. But on this particular occasion "I've been better" was indeed true. Some grim bit of workload was getting me down, something that had been ticking over relentlessly in my head overnight, and it was all indirectly her fault. What I really wanted to say was "I'm pissed off by that crap job I've had dumped on me, something I was given no say over and should never have been given, and it totally buggered up my evening" but instead I stuck with "I've been better." She wanted to know the reason why, but I so wasn't going there, so I came up with some feeble tale about something vague, which somehow managed to deflect her curiosity, and our conversation stumbled to an unsatisfactory conclusion. The next day it was definitely back to

"Hi, how are you?"

and "Good thanks" because somehow that seemed safer. But ever since then I've never felt entirely comfortable in answering her question every morning, because it's started to feel more like a scene from the Stepford Wives than a genuine request. So I no longer ever give the empty answer, I always come up with something different, and have started throwing curveballs rather more regularly.

"Hi, how are you?"

"Didn't it rain a lot last night?"

"Hi, how are you?"

"Rip-roaring!"

"Hi, how are you?"

"Still breathing successfully."

"Hi, how are you?"

"About a six." That was yesterday morning's response, which didn't go down well. "Oh that bad?" she said, "what's wrong?" "I never said it was out of ten," I replied, which merely seemed to throw her, and she attempted to enter into an earnest discussion about what it was out of rather than just laughing and moving on. I must look a bit of an idiot to her at times, but I'd rather that than be one of the drones who always responds to

"Hi, how are you?"

with the stock answer. And so I face the ridiculous task each morning of trying to work out how to respond today, whether to prepare an alternative answer in advance, to conjure up an instinctive witticism on the spot, or simply to roll over and say something bland. I know she means well, but I'd find it so much easier to engage in meaningful dialogue if only her opening line wasn't always so damned predictable.

"Hi, how are you?"

(sigh)


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