Curse of “How are you?”

In English conversation, the question Japanese fear the most is “How are you?” For Japanese who are unfamiliar with overseas, it is. The learning site explains that this is more of a conversation starter than a question. But, we feel obliged to answer this properly and get nervous. When I was in junior high, I was taught in English class that if someone asked me “How are you?” all I had to say was “I’m fine, thank you, And you?”

At my first English lesson after this New Year’s holidays, as expected, I was asked “How was your holiday?” This is another cliché that is very confusing to the Japanese. This is because we are “doing nothing special” in most cases. If I cleaned, read, played online games, and basically stayed home and didn’t interact with anyone, “What did you do on your vacation?” I would answer, “Nothing.” When I returned the same question to the tutor, she replied that she had fun at the bar all night with friends and got together with her families to give gifts to her nephews.

I have this exchange with over 100 English tutors a year from all countries, and I have never heard anything other than “dinner party with friends or family” or “hiking or traveling.” Has anyone else gone through the same daily life as yesterday? Are there no foreigners who stayed home alone gloomily?

Some Japanese feel having no friends. This is because when they enter the workforce, their living place changes, and their friends from school days become estranged. They may say hello to the clerk at the supermarket they always go to, or have dinner with co-workers, but the people are not “friends”. I think this is common in the world, but where are those people?

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