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The Scrivener: How Are You, Really?

"Whatever you do, never show anyone your scar,'' advises Brian Barratt. ""Ah, I see you've guessed - yes, they'll show you their scar, and it will be much larger and much nastier.''

After reading Brian's amusing column you may well conclude that there is one question that should never be asked by way of a greeting.

For more entertainment visit Brian's Web site http://www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

It’s the standard greeting, isn’t it? We ask ‘How are you?’ but we aren’t always ready for the answer. In fact, we don’t always want to hear the answer.

If the response is simply, ‘Fine, thanks’, we’re safe. But there are times when we get (or give), ‘Well, I was OK when I got up this morning, but I did have a bit of a headache, and it got worse when I cleaned the windows, so I phoned my doctor, and she said there’s nothing to worry about, probably, but I thought I’d better take something, so I went to the chemist, and . . .’ You know how it goes.

‘How are you?’ can give rise to a litany. It can also release some puzzling short responses.

One mystifying response regularly came from a chap who, once a week, brought his report to the office. Once a week, I greeted him with, ‘How are you?’ Once a week, he glumly answered, ‘Better now, thank you’. I never found out about his ailments during the previous six days. It seemed prudent not to ask.

There was another friend who went through the usual how-are-you-I’m-fine routine. But then he would pause, and ask in a meaningful way, ‘But how are you otherwise?’ Was he probing the physiological, medical, mental, spiritual, or even sexual ‘otherwise’? The easiest way out was to change the subject.

When I told an elderly neighbour about him, she recalled an acquaintance who invariably answered, ‘Quite well, considering’. She didn’t enquire any further, in case she heard the full story of what she had to consider, good soul though she was.

Then there’s the way a few individuals seem to pounce with an excessively breezy, ‘And how are YOU today?’ You’ve been singled out from the crowd, like a vulnerable child or fragile elderly who needs jollying along. But I’m sure they mean well.

It works both ways, of course. You know what some folk are like—whatever you’ve had, they’ve had it much worse. They nearly died of it. Or they know someone else who did die of it. If you merely hint of an ache, you’ll hear about the pain of their broken leg. If you have a head cold, they’ve got an auntie who just died of pneumonia.

I thought I’d foiled them when half of my face dropped, twenty years ago. My GP said it was sinusitis. Good friends, alarmed by my appearance, thought I’d had a stroke. I needed a second and third opinion to discover that it was Bell’s Palsy, and so I assumed that this was a rare affliction. Not so! Every second person I met had an uncle or grannie or niece who’d suffered from it, much worse than me. I fully expected to hear from someone that the budgie next door died of it.

It happens if you mention that you’re seeing a specialist, too. They’ll immediately tell you about The Best Specialist In Melbourne, or wherever you live. Whatever the problem, other people always know The Top Specialist, don’t they? In fact, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t even mentioned going to a specialist. They’ll tell you which one you must see, regardless.

Whatever you do, never show anyone your scar. Ah, I see you’ve guessed — yes, they’ll show you their scar, and it will be much larger and much nastier.

In the end, if you’ve been unwell, and feel like telling someone, you’ll find out that it’s merely a case of TALOIA — There’s A Lot Of It About. So perhaps the best response to ‘How are you, really?’ is ‘I thought I had hypochondria, but now I’ve got something much worse’.

Anyway, have a nice day!

© Copyright 2005 Brian Barratt

Adapted from an article first published in Bonzer!


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