Friday, August 28, 2015

On socwardness (part whatever it is by now - who keeps count anyway)

It is an old, much bespoken, and thus well-known problem for Norwegians when encountering Americans that we misstep on one particular (and very crucial) part of initial social codes: the greeting. Anyone having experienced the horrified look on their faces when we reply to their greeting "how are you?" with an actual answer to how we actually are doing. 30% hilarious, 60 % awkward, and, if you're lucky, 10% insight that this is not something you will ever do again.

Globalization and all that - Norwegians and Americans meet one another fairly frequently these days. Most of us have learned that the appropriate way to respond to this polite question is the equally polite "Fine, thanks. How are you?" or some version thereof.

However, globalization and all that - the custom of asking someone how they are doing is migrating. I've noticed this more and more the past few years - you can hardly run into someone, American or no, here in good ol'Norway, without them inquiring the dreaded faux-pas-in-the-making: "Hvordan går det?" (which actually sounds quite ridiculous, and directly translated means "How is it going", because even silly customs adapt somewhat and the direct-direct translation of "How are you?" would be "Hvordan er du?" and that sounds ridiculous-er still, though why we don't just use the formerly perfectly acceptable and proper Norwegian "Står til?" ("Stands to?" Yeah, I know...) or "Hvordan har du det?" ("How are you having it?") is beyond me. But I digress).

Faux-pas-in-the-making because even though we have learned not to burden Americans, who only meant to be polite when asking this (when you think about it really quite) intrusive question, with an honest answer, we still struggle with knowing how to deal when we're meeting the same issue among our own.

It's a fine balance. Because this migrated greeting is still new to us, we can't yet be entirely sure that the answer we have learned to provide when meeting the greeting in its original form is the correct one. If you reply "Joda, bra. Hva med deg?" (or some version thereof), you risk being met with suspicion. It sounds too much like a formula. We haven't internalized the greeting enough to have such a formula. Thus you need to provide some form of flesh. But how much?

"Hvordan går det?"

"Nja" (you don't need to know much Norwegian to realize that when someone starts their reply to that question with a contraction of the words for "yes" ("ja") and "no" ("nei"), it can't be good...) "[insert long rant about how you actually feel because it is autumn and we had a shitty summer and you have not slept well for weeks and you think you might be catching a cold and you are currently experiencing one of your periodical antisocial bouts which people are not actually respecting (probably because you only tell them through growling extra much before replying with a semi-honest answer to their question of how it is "going") and you secretly (and not so secretly) worry that you are setting yourself up for failure at work and you hate the fact that you have not cleaned the bathroom in two weeks which obviously makes it super disgusting but you also have absolutely no energy to actually clean it and if you could you would just stay at home all that and bake but you can't because pastries makes you fat(ter) and you have to go to yoga]".

Well, actually, you won't reply that. Because since you meet people, even here in good ol'Norway, who ask you this (when you think about it really quite) intrusive question on a daily basis, and thus you have experienced the formerly American-specific-but-now-globalized version of the face even here in good ol'Norway. You have told someone the brutal honest truth, and you've seen the blood drain from their face, their eyes blink slower than normal with that extra squeeze when the eyelid reached the bottom of their eye as if to buy them time before they have to open their eyes and look at you again. You have seen them heave seemingly insignificantly (but really quite visible when you look for it) tighter, longer, deeper than normal when they take a breath of air. You have seen the face of regret. ("Why did I even ask?")

You have seen that face before, and so you reply, instead: "Joda, bra. [insert customized comment about the weather] Hva med deg?"

1 comment:

Kelly said...

It all depends on who does the asking as to how I'll answer that greeting. You can usually tell who wants an honest answer versus the obligatory "fine thanks, and you?"

Of course, living in the American South (known for its friendliness), you never quite know what the answer will be to that question, even from a total stranger in passing.

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