This is more of a culture question than a language question, but the two can't always be separated, can they?

For me, one of the most shocking things about the United States was how often people ask "How are you doing?" The first thing the cashier in a shop says to customers is this. So obviously, this is a form of greeting, and not a genuine interest in one's wellbeing.

It reminds me of "How do you do?" from my very old fashioned (British) English textbooks, which taught us that the correct response to this is simply "How do you do?"

So, what is the correct and polite response to "How are you doing?" in the United States?

  • Can I just say, "How are you doing?", or do I need to reply with "Good." first?

  • Or just say "Good", and leave it at that without asking the other person the same question?

  • Can I just simply say "Hello"?

It still feels like a genuine question to me, so it's hard not to reply. But it also feels very awkward to say it so many times each day.

marked as duplicate by MetaEd, Kristina Lopez, J.R., aedia λ, tchrist Feb 26 '13 at 1:51

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  • This might sound strange to Americans but please understand that from my point of view this is a very valid question that I would like to know the answer to. – Szabolcs Feb 25 '13 at 19:48
  • 1
    "Fine, thanks; and you?" is the simplest and most common. – John Lawler Feb 25 '13 at 19:48
  • @John Thanks for the answer. So it would sound strange to you if I'd just ask the same question without answering first (even though this seems to be just a greeting and not a real question)? – Szabolcs Feb 25 '13 at 19:51
  • Especially in the situation of being served in a shop where you may be there for just a few minutes. – amanda witt Feb 25 '13 at 19:51
  • 'Define your terms' is facetious but possibly warranted. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 25 '13 at 20:51

The greeting 'How are you?' and its variants ('How are you doing?', 'What's up?', etc) sorta mean something and sorta don't.

The best response is somewhat empty, 'good' or 'fine' or 'OK', and to reciprocate expecting the same or similar. One can be clever and add depth, but to actually respond literally is often not expected. If you just got run over by a car, then you would probably want to answer somewhat relevantly, e.g. 'not so great' or ' as a matter of fact I just got hit by a car'.

But beyond that, no one really wants to know any details or even if things aren't so great. You should always reciprocate. But it's not truly genuine (though some askers and some answerers may treat it that way).

For someone you don't know or an acquaintance or in a client relationship (like a cashier), it is purely an empty form of politeness; it'd be totally inappropriate to attempt to answer meaningfully. But for someone closer, it could be taken as a conversation starter.

  • "You should always reciprocate." answers my question. Thanks for the more detailed explanation! – Szabolcs Feb 25 '13 at 20:57

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