The 'How Are You?' Culture Clash - University of Michigan (3 pages)
nonstatesanctioned response to “how are you.”
I liked this theory, but my father scoffed when I suggested it was the
Soviets who devalued “fine.” By way of explanation, a quote from
Dostoyevsky arrived in my inbox: “The most basic, most rudimentary
spiritual need of the Russian people is the need for suffering, everpresent
and unquenchable, everywhere and in everything.”
Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Psychologists at the University of
Michigan have shown that, while Russians are, indeed, more prone to
brooding than Americans, their open embrace of negative experiences
might ultimately be healthier, resulting in fewer symptoms of depression.
Recently, when I looked through a few American guides on traveling
to Russia, I was disappointed to find that they all suggested that tourists
adopt the American approach to “How are you” (“kak dela” in Russian)
and lob back a hearty “Khorosho!” My advice? Don’t let “How are you” be
your Waterloo. Instead, take a vacation from fineness.
If you lack the Russian vocabulary to fully express your unquenchable
suffering, fear not — a lot of angst and ambivalence can be packed into
just a word or two. Try “taksebe” (soso) or “normalno” (the usual) or “eh”
(eh). Even “fine” is fine. Injecting a worldweary sigh before your
“khorosho” can neatly reverse its meaning, or render it shorthand for that
other, more satisfyingly nuanced, response: It’s complicated.
is a singer and the author of the novel “Note to Self.”
A version of this oped appears in print on January 20, 2014, on page A17 of the New York edition
with the headline: The ‘How Are You?’ Culture Clash.