And what about the everyday question, which really isn’t a question but is simply a greeting (except when said by your therapist): “How are you?”
Now I know some people don’t give the standard reply, “Fine,” but rather liven it up with alternatives like “Well, I woke up this morning,” or “Couldn’t be better,” or even “Eh.”
But when you say “How are you?” how often do you hear, “Come on, what kind of question is that? When did you start being so rude and intrusive? Leave me alone!” (Now I know the “leave me alone” part occurs in marriages all the time, but how often do you hear it when you greet a friend on the street?)
Or what about when you run into an old friend, one whom you haven’t seen in months or even years? You are excited to see the person and you say, “Hey, long time no see.” And he or she replies, “Yes, it’s great to see you.” Oh well, same old same old. Why not shake things up a bit next time this happens, and when they say “Long time no see” or the equivalent, you respond, “Yes, but not long enough. Good-bye.”
And then there are the standard polite inquiries from store personnel when you are looking around at items. Someone on the floor comes over to you and says, “May I help you?” Your typical response here is “No, it’s okay, I’m just looking.” Or “Yes, I’m looking for the grintker, since I’m having trouble with my prenzinplat.” But wouldn’t you, just once, like to say, “Oh, do I look helpless or something? Get away from me or I’ll call your manager.”
On the other hand, if you are a floorwalker, and you see customer after customer looking lost or confused, when they say, “Excuse me,…” wouldn’t you at least occasionally like to reply, “Feeling lost? Well, aren’t we all? Do you think you’re going to find what you truly need in this store? I’m not even going to ask if I can help you, because the help you need would have to come from something greater than me. So please, get out of the store as soon as you can and go meditate or something.”
Actually, on at least one occasion I did come back with a novel response to a standard inquiry. I was at a local restaurant with a friend whom I met every Friday at 5 o’clock for coffee and an afternoon snack. We not only came to the same place every week, but we sat at the same table -- which the staff graciously reserved for us. We would typically have the same waitress each time too, and she got to know us -- so I felt pretty comfortable with her.
I was a little down one of those Friday afternoons, and when she came to our table and asked, “Can I help you?” I said, “Could you give me a reason to live?”
She looked quite taken aback, and I quickly told her that I was just kidding.
Of course, what she could have said, if she wasn’t somewhat shocked by my very unusual reply, was “Yes, our onion soup! It works as well as Prozac, and it certainly tastes better.”
One of the great freedoms we have in our country is freedom of speech. There is no law saying you have to respond with “Thank you” when someone holds a door open for you. That’s what the other person is expecting. Saying nothing is commonplace (and often yields a sarcastic “You’re welcome.”), but how about trying, “Do I look like I couldn’t open the door for myself, you rude jerk?”
Go ahead, try it. You might wind up with your nose stuck between the door and the door jamb, but at least you will have given the door-opener a story to tell his friends.