Social Niceties

Social niceties are things we say and do in our culture because it is considered the polite thing to do. Your words may or may not be heartfelt.

For example, someone you know has lost a loved one. Your response is, “I’m sorry.” You are truly sorry but somehow it doesn’t seem enough and there are no other words you can conjure up that express your feeling. When you stepped up to the casket at the funeral home, did you say, “Oh, he looks so good.” What? Of course he doesn’t look good, he’s dead! Why do we say, "He looks so good, just like himself?"

From a young age, I was taught the proper polite greetings and responses. When my parents’ friends greeted me, they usually said, “How are you?” I was expected to say, “I’m fine, thank you, and you?” The response was, “I’m fine too, thank you.”

The Truth?

I doubt anyone wants the real answer. They want to hear the empty rote words and then continue on their way. Here’s the real answer:

“Not good. I woke up late this morning to find my cat had opened the birdcage and left a cluster of floating yellow feathers. Then tripped on the edge of the rug and hit my head on the doorway. See the bruise here? I fixed my usual morning coffee and spilled some on my sweater. On my way to the door, I detoured to the bathroom because morning sickness had reared its ugly head again. As I hurried to catch my bus, it began to rain. When I finally reached the office, my client was already there and waiting for me. I apologized and, to my horror, realized I was wearing a red shoe on my right foot and a black shoe on my left foot…each with a different heel height. So, you asked how I am. I am not well!”

Casual Encounters

I’ve noticed lately that more and more strangers are asking me, “How are you?” People who don't know me call on the phone wanting me to do a survey or buy new siding. My answer is usually a rude one to someone who has intruded on my privacy at home.

Sales people in stores greet me like this too. In these cases, I do the polite thing, “I’m fine, thanks, and how are you?” They usually recite the universally acceptable answer. “I’m fine, thank you.”
Nothing of real value is exchanged in these situations…unless someone breaks the pattern.

Barbara, employee at the Glen Burnie Dollar Tree.
© Bonnie J. Schupp, Photographer

Recently I was browsing the Dollar Tree in Glen Burnie. I waited in line to buy a few items and when it was my turn, the clerk said the usual words, “How are you?” I responded, “Fine and how are you?”

Then came the surprise. She responded, “Blessed.” 

I remarked to her how delighted I was to hear her unusual answer. She's an African American working as a cashier at the Dollar Tree, probably working for minimum wage. But she wore a smile and said, “I am blessed. You woke up this morning, didn’t you? Well you are blessed too.”

I got more than a bargain at the Dollar Tree. I got a priceless reminder to appreciate what I have and count my blessings. 

Thank you, Barbara! You are priceless. 

I don't know who to give credit to for this poster but it fits with this blog. If you are the creator, let me know so I can add your name.