How ya doin’?

The management of our local chain grocery store has ordered all its check-out personnel to greet each customer with “How are you doing?” Sometimes you get this twice: once from the clerk and once from the bagger who wasn’t listening to the first exchange. The other day the store manager checked me out, and when he didn’t hear my quiet “OK” asked me again—twice more!

I enjoy friendly interchanges with store employees as much as anyone, but not ones that are artificially mandated by headquarters. This one strikes me as annoyingly intrusive. I’ve fantasized some honest comebacks they might get:

- “Peeved that there isn’t a price tag on the artichokes.”

- “Worried that I can’t afford to feed my hungry kids because of what you’re about to charge me for this food.”

- ”Upset at how much your pharmacy charges for my new cancer medicine.“

People who ask “How are you?” as a standard greeting when they don’t really want to know how you are do not probably think of this as anything other than a friendly “hello.” But it’s much more intrusive than “hello” or “hi” because it demands an answer.

This grocery chain has previously urged its employees to engage customers in a conversation to make them feel more connected to the store. Another of its mandated tactics is for the clerk to check the customer’s name on the receipt—-if a card has been used--and thank the customer by name. Unfortunately for me, our joint card is in my wife’s name, and she and I have different last names. So the parting exchange I have with the clerk is “Thank you Mr. Wife’sname.” This does not make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

The worst are those store clerks who, if you give an unenthusiastic reply, feel entitled to cross-question you on what’s wrong, or tell you to cheer up and smile.

Sometimes when I am walking in our local park, a stranger will jog by in the opposite direction and toss a “How you doin’?” at me as he or she whizzes by. There’s no chance to reply even if I wanted to.

I wish people would save this phrase for friends, family, patients, and other people whose welfare they are genuinely curious about.

Oddly enough, “how are you?” had a neutral ancestor in “how do you do?” usually uttered upon being introduced to someone. This was understood to be a meaningless ritual phrase akin to “pleased to meet you” and was not really a question.

In the American West it got reduced to "howdy" and stopped being a question even in form.

Other languages also use “how are you?” as a greeting: “comment allez-vous?” (French) and “cómo esta usted” or “cómo estás” (formal and familiar Spanish). In German it’s common to greet someone with “Wie gehts?” (how’s it going?), which is just a bit less intrusive.

In those languages the phrase has been worn down to meaninglessness, although I’ve seen a page listing appropriate responses in French from the standard “Très bien,merci. Et vous?” to the wretched “très mal.”

It’s understandable that people who don’t really mean to inquire about your health or state of mind ask “how are you doing?” when they really don’t expect an answer. To them it’s like saying “goodbye” without thinking that the word originated as a contraction of “God be with ye.”

But there’s no excuse for bosses to order employees to greet customers with the phrase.

My wife likes to turn the phrase around and ask the checker how he or she is doing, often eliciting answers that reflect the hard and uninspiring nature of the job. This sort of bonding is probably not what headquarters had in mind.

Have a great day.


1 comment:

Raining Iguanas said...

"Have a good one" - Just poke a stick in my eye and stomp on my foot, I would like that better.