This morning I had one of those Aha! moments about how long I have been here and how much I have adapted to this Texan small talky friendliness… In the stairways on my way to work, I ran into somebody who works on the same floor. I don’t know this person’s name or function. He said “How’s it Going?“, I said “Good. Thanks! How about you?“, and he said “Great!“. All this happened while we were both walking into opposite directions, so the last words were spoken when we were almost on different floors. I have this type of “conversation” about 30 times a day. This morning though it hit me again how weird it actually is…
Let me back up for a second. When I first moved here (in 2002) as an exchange student, I lived in an off-campus dorm. Lots of new people, jet lag, I don’t know what else I can blame it on… I would run into people in the hallways, they would say “Hey! How’s it going?“. I would stop walking and say “Great! Thanks! How about you?” (or on bad days “Oh, ok, I guess. Could be better. And you?“). The person I thought I was having a conversation with would at that point be many steps away from me and I would be left standing wondering what the hell had just happened. How could somebody be nice and ask me stuff and simultaneously be so rude and not even wait for my answer?!
The answer of course is simple. Just because you understand the words, doesn’t mean you understand the meaning! In Germany, if you walk by people you don’t know, you usually don’t say anything. Maybe you nod. Maybe you smile. Maybe you even say a brief “Hello.” if you’ve seen them many times. You would usually only ask people how they’re doing if you know them and care for the answer. So, when people in my first few days here would greet me, I thought I might have run into them before and they were being nice – blame it on the jet lag!
This morning I thought how funny it is that I’ve started behaving like a Texan in my greetings and good-byes. I do it every day. And it’s normal. I guess they think it’s rude not to say anything, so everybody does it. And I actually have to admit that it does kind of create a nice atmosphere even if it doesn’t mean anything. However, you have to know that it doesn’t mean anything first! So, my non-Texan friends, here’s a little glossary about greetings and good-byes in the Lone Star State:
- When a Texan says “Hey! How are you doing?” or “How’s it Going?“, it means “Hello!“
- The expected answer is always “Good! How about you?” or if you want vary a little “Great! And you?“. Nobody cares if you’re not doing well. It is just a greeting that basically means “Hello.” No more, no less. And keep walking. Nobody expects you to stop and actually chat.
Another funny one? How about “What do you know?“. That one basically means “What’s new?” A good answer seems to be “Not much! You?“. You are not expected to stutter and say “A lot??“.
So, what do people here say when they want to know how you’re doing? Well, it’s a whole different situation. You pretty much have to stand or sit somewhere together and talk. Then somebody might ask “So, how have you been?” or “What have you been up to?“ But even then you sort of have to be at least ok friends to answer with anything but positive stuff.
You think good-byes are simpler? No! Let me admit to you that many times in my first few months here people would say at the end of a conversation “See you later!“. And I would be like “Later? Where?” and simultaneously asking myself what I missed and where I was supposed to be later. Another one? “I’ll give you call” doesn’t really mean anybody wants to call you (unless it means exactly that – different situation though). I remember actually explaining to people that I didn’t have a phone at that point and that they could write me an email instead (Facebook was not in then). I’m cringing right now, just to let you know. By the way, along the same lines, an enthusiastic “We need to hang out more!!!” by a fellow drunk girl exclaimed at a bar doesn’t necessarily mean that. All of the above usually mean “Good bye“. They only ever mean more if you already are friends.
How do you what means what? You learn by doing and make a fool of yourself plenty of times in the process.
I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I can think of for now. Know any other greetings & good-bye’s that could easily be misunderstood by a new expat in texas? Share them in the comments and save them from being that awkward girl that must have seemed way weird to most people 😉
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