The other day one of the acquaintance colleagues asked me THE question: “How are you Alexandra?” I have been struggling with this question for so long. It is so culturally bound and blatant and shallow. Still practical to ask when you look into eyes of someone and do not really know what to say.
When I started to work in the multicultural environment I sometimes used to shock my French speaking colleagues with my not so traditional response to “Ca va? (equivalent to how are you): “Non, ca va pas.”or in other words – No I am not fine. I explain. Just imagine this: You are not an early bird on the contrary you go to bed late. In the morning while you try to put on your make-up and stockings and you try to figure out in which bag you might have your company badge, driving license and favourite lipstick your kids are not very cooperative. Meaning one is playing with the cat while the other is putting on jogging trousers with a hole on a knee and 2 sizes smaller than the actual size. Basically, you run half naked from one floor to another until you decide to throw out the cat and reason why it is more appropriate to wear another pair of jogging pants. Useless, because soon afterwards the cat is let in and you are accused of being cruel and the pants are not exchanged because you are ridiculous and have no clue that holes are in fashion. Kids miss the bus so you drive your darlings to school which is nearby but still out of reach due to heavy traffic and after an hour or more you arrive to work. At this point you already feel like having a reasonable break with coffee because you cannot start with red wine at 9.30 in the morning.
And here it comes: “How are you?” I could lie and smile and tell you how wonderful I feel – I can assure you that I can do that. It just does not feel right. So I tell you the truth and guess what? You appreciate it. After initial awkwardness you like it. As the other day. The acquaintance felt strange because he was looking for someone else and I was the only one left – a leftover. What do you say? Of course “How are you? “- how perfectly polite and handy. So I hesitated. And then I said: “Listen I am thinking what would be the good answer?” He sat down and laughed. I continued: I can tell you about the traffic, the weather – both topics comply with small talk. I can tell you about how I feel about working here. What I really would like to talk about now is my daughter and the school she goes to. I expressed my worries and he told me more or less the same about his kids. We shared a genuine moment of trust, not playing roles, not pretending to be super employees with super time. Eventually he left and I got back to my work. I thought about the tradition, political correctness, rules, expectations, roles in the society, efforts we made to prove something to others and to ourselves…And the power of humour, irony, authenticity, openness, lack of fear, honesty. It makes life so much easier and enjoyable. We are free when we can say: I have nothing to declare but here is my true story if you want to listen to it. And people do. They really do. We are all fed up with “How are you? I am fine.” Because we are not all the time fine and when we are not, the last thing we want to declare is that we are super happy. All we need is to tell somebody the truth. All we need to hear in return is “Well I have been there before”. “Do not worry.” “It will be fine.”
We don’t need to be afraid of being genuine and vulnerable. We all are at one moment or another. It does not mean we should play a victim. However, we can be perfectly hopeless from time to time and not willing to engage in pretentious talks. We must try to step out of the routine in relationships. Break the norm and see what happens.