“How Are You” in the San Luis Valley

Years ago when I was teaching ESL in an international school, I heard (mostly from Swiss and German students) that Americans are ‘superficial.’ I asked why and the answer was, “Ja well you say ‘How are you?’ but you don’t really care about the answer.”

I don’t think that makes an entire people superficial but whatever.

I thought about all the various greetings I had become aware of. In China, Chinese people don’t greet each other with “Ni hao?” which is “You good?” they ask if you’ve eaten. “Chi baole ma?” “Did you get enough to eat?” In Switzerland the greeting seems to vary by dialect but often it’s a regional variation of “Good God” “Grüss Gott” connoting “Good day.” I imagined greeting people in the US with “Good God!” (Take the literal as it’s more interesting). Italy, of course, Buon giorno, good day, Buon di, good day, Ciao, ciao… And on it goes…

Some of my German students ended up in the US for a while (I still know a couple of them) and when they returned home, they missed the “superficiality” of “How are you?” Still, in San Diego, though it’s a generally friendly city, “How are you?” is really just three random words used to smooth over an awkward moment and to prevent hostility and conversation at the same time. “How are you?” “Fine.” Finito.

My store in Alamosa is adamant about friendliness. Jobs are scarce in the valley and people want to keep theirs. I like my store (City Market) a lot, partly because it is a very friendly place to shop and there are employees everywhere who really will help customers find what they need. Good for sales, of course, but the store has real competition in the Safeway not far away (that, incidentally, has the ONLY Starbucks in the San Luis Valley). Today at the store I was struck by how many times store employees said to me, “How are you?” or “How are you, ma’am?”

I usually answer with, “Great! How are you?” Often, down here in the miraculous San Luis Valley, I get an answer to that question. Today I got:

1) “How are you today, ma’am?” (High school kid stocking shelves)
“Doing good. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m a little sick, but I’m doing what I can to make the store look good.”
“Yeah, I hear it in your voice,” I said. “Get well, OK?”
“Thank you,” he said. “I’ll try.”

2) “How are you, ma’am?”
“Great! It’s a beautiful day.”
“I know, right? What a great change! Can I help you find something?”
“No, I’m good, thanks.”
“Take care of yourself!”

3) “Hi, how are you?”
“Great! How are you?”
“Oh, I’m ticking along. Glad all that snow is finally melting.”
“Oh man, me too.”
“Have a lovely day!”

4) “How are you? Did you find everything you wanted?”
“I did, thanks.”
“How is it out there?”
“It’s a beautiful day, glad to be able to get out, finally.”
“Oh, I know what you mean. I live on a ranch and we have holes you wouldn’t believe. Well what can you do?”
“Just wait it out, I guess. Can’t change it.”
“No, we sure can’t. Do you want two of these packages of English Muffins? They’re two for one.”
“Not really. I wouldn’t eat them.”
“Tell you what, I’ll do these half off, OK?”
“Oh that’s really nice of you! Thank you!”
“No problem.You be careful out there, OK?”
“I will. Have a great day!”

And THAT is “How are you” at the supermarket in the San Luis Valley.



11 thoughts on ““How Are You” in the San Luis Valley

  1. I always reply with, “I am well, thank you.” For some reason that makes people stop just an instant to process that I didn’t give them the standard, “I’m fine.” When we part company and they say, “Have a good day,” or, “Take care,” I always reply with, “You, as well.” That also makes them either hesitate, or say, “Thanks!” My father used to answer the phone with an emphatic, “Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening!” which made people stop a moment and then also bid him a good whatever time of day. My bro-in-law, long before caller ID was available, would answer the phone with a cheerful “Hello” as if he had been expecting your call all along. He said people frequently asked him how he knew they were calling. Louis Valleys are everywhere!

  2. Yeah — I figure we’re all pretty alone on this planet and a friendly gesture, even a formality, is a friendly gesture. “Good morning” is an amazing greeting. I’ve noticed it actually makes people smile! Blessings on the international San Luis Valley!

  3. The folks are that way up here in New Hampshire, too, I’ve learned in the few months I’ve been here. In fact, it kind of struck me immediately, and in the grocery stores, too. Very different from the treacley-sweet ickiness in Kentucky that was so fake. Here it seems genuine. Every place I’ve lived (and it has been a few) or visited has been different.

    • My theory is when you have a tough climate and an economy that isn’t booming people realize how important they are to each other. Plus the people in the Rockies are notoriously down to earth. I took that with me to CA and people remarked on it all the time, saying, “You’re not from here.”

  4. What a friendly lot of people! I guess when I lived in England, they didn’t expect a response from the question, ‘How are you?’ Here in Australia people might answer generally, only occasionally will you get someone to tell you how they REALLY are! Usually I deflect it with another ‘what a gorgeous day!’ or some such! Australians are generally friendly too. I do think smiles are contagious too!

    • I have that impression, Barb, that Australians are friendly. I think out here (and maybe there, too) it’s related to a harsher climate and a little more struggle to live.

  5. Martha, you could have been shopping at the City Market in Craig. Those types of conversations are so typical, I sometimes forget they would be atypical other places. Great post.

    • I’m still surprised by them. For a long time after I moved to CA people still said, “You’re not from here.” Most of the time in CA clerks talked to each other or the person bagging, never even a “Hello, did you find everything?” which is a good question to ask a customer because it could lead to more profits.

  6. Well, I think folks in central Texas are friendly, but your area has my town beat all to pieces. Loved this post. It is so good to know that real people exist.

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