The Chat: Not the same old salutation

JEN:This morning, on my way in to work, someone asked, "How are you?" By the time I turned to respond, they were gone. What's the story? Is "how are you" the new "hi?"

PAM:I hate the "how are you?" greeting, even though I often use it. It's so neutral and non-committal.

JEN:It's become a reflex, just like answering "good" is a reflex. It may have started as a sincere exchange, but I think that time has passed. So here's my question: What would you RATHER be asked by an acquaintance?

PAM:I like it when my cycle instructor greets me with, "What are you reading these days?" I also like, "How was your weekend?" Then we each get to share a story and reconnect.

DAWN:I like, "What makes your soul sing?" or "Did you make someone smile today?"


JEN:How about: "Quick! What's the favorite part of your day so far?" or "What's your favorite book?"

PAM:I greet my kids after school with, "What's the best thing that happened today?"

JEN:That's a good one. I've asked, "What's one thing you liked, and one thing you wish you could change today?"

DAWN:I believe in making people uncomfortable right off the bat. Then they tend to stay away from me all night (#introvert). I ask, "How's your sex life?"

JEN:Well, that's bound to keep people away. Well done.

DAWN:It really doesn't. They get all embarrassed, but laugh at the question. Then I'm their best friend all night.

PAM:I'm an extrovert, so I believe in thinning people out, making sure that only the really cool or fun or engaged ones want to talk to me. Saying something uncomfortable or thought provoking usually scatters about 50 percent of folks. It's a good way to sort through the ones you really want to spend time with.

JEN:This kind of morphs into another one of those iffy, yet common, questions: "What do you do?" When you first meet someone, it tends to follow the "how are you?"


DAWN:I'm not sure I've ever asked that question, at least not in a long time. I really don't care what people do for a living. Everyone is in my clique.

JEN:I'm sure I've asked it, but I'm trying not to anymore. There are better ways to get to know who someone is.

PAM:"What do you do?" is a dangerous question to ask me. Because I have a clarifying question in return: For money or for fun?

JEN:Oh, that's good. I'm stealing that.

DAWN:Following Pam's idea, how about, instead of "what do you do?", we ask, "What do you do for fun?"

JEN:Or "What size shoes do you wear?" or "What was your most unfortunate fashion disaster?" or "When's the last time you sang out loud?"

DAWN:Those are so interviewy.

JEN:Maybe, but I don't think of them as novelty questions. They really can tell me who someone is.


DAWN:OK, except maybe the shoe-size question.

JEN:I beg to differ. Everyone has shoe-size stories. Either they think their feet are too big, or too small. Maybe the left is a different size than the right. There are stories there. You just have to know how to follow up … if the person you're talking to isn't already retreating, thinking you're weird. Which they probably are.

PAM:I don't really like feet. Can we ask about bra size? Now those stories are fun. I also like, "What are you doing on your next vacation," "What band or play or art show have you seen," or "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

DAWN:Let's go in the other direction. Have you ever run into someone that, well, you didn't get along with so well (ahem), and you just wanted to say to them, in a sunshiny voice, "Wow, you have gained weight!"

PAM:"Guess that bakery job isn't working out so hot after all!"

JEN:That's horrible.

PAM:We're just mixing it up a little, Koski. Remember that we want to weed out the wimpy and locate the brave conversationalists.

DAWN:I never said I'd do it, I just feel like I'd love to! I have a weird sense of humor.


JEN:Fair enough. Weird sense of humors top my list of character traits, right behind good conversationalists.

PAM:I love it when I'm pushing a cart through Hy-Vee and a person I haven't seen in a year stops me to catch up. We skip the pleasantries and go right for the nitty-gritty—to what really matters.

JEN:I love that, too. Small talk is the worst.

DAWN:So how is your sex life, Pam and Jen?

PAM:Well, let me tell you ….

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