How are you?

It's often the simplest of situations where we can feel awkward or confused when trying to speak English. This week, one of our trainers Ed wants to know: how are you?

I’m sure anybody who has visited the UK or USA has heard this question and when your friend asks you, it’s very easy to answer. However, when shop assistants ask ‘how are you?’ it can be difficult to know how to respond.

In Anglo Saxon culture, asking ‘how are you’ is an important way of building relationships and trust. Not to ask is considered rude, even in a shop.

How you reply is really up to you but it’s worth considering ‘how many strokes a person is worth’ or how much value I place on building a relationship.

In a shop, the assistant and I owe each other one stroke, just to be polite. Therefore, this exchange is fine:

Shop Assistant:  How are you?

Me:  Fine thanks, and you?

Shop Assistant:  Good thanks

However, if my colleague asked me, I owe him more strokes because we have a closer relationship so our conversation would look more like:

Colleague:  How are you?

Me: Good, looking forward to the weekend.

Colleague:  Oh really, what’re you doing?

Me: No plans, just looking forward to taking it easy. What about you?

This conversation may also seem quite short but we are colleagues, not friends. We give more information but don’t have to go into too much detail, it’s just small talk. With a close friend, I would go into even more personal detail because a close friend is worth more strokes.

So remember, to decide the best way to reply to ‘how are you’, think about the strength of the relationship between you and your partner. ‘Fine thanks’ is appropriate for people you don’t know; like shop assistants, but you should give full answers to people you know well or get on with.

By Ed


Anglo Saxon - (adj) a person from Britain, the USA, Australia or New Zealand

to owe - (v.) when you have to give something to another person 

an exchange - (n.) a short conversation

take it easy - (idiom) to relax

go into detail - (vb. phr.) give a lot of information

worth - (prep.) how valuable something is

give full answers - (vb.+adj.+n.) answer questions with lots of detail

get on with - (phr.vb+prep.) like someone and enjoy their company

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