“How are you?” “Fine”

“How are you?” “Fine”

A colleague recently sent me an opinion piece from The New York Times. I really enjoyed reading this article and, in my opinion, it is very accurate. Now, do not get me wrong, I bet a lot of people (especially the younger generation) probably will disagree, but for me, and majority of my patients, this is very true. Though I must say that some Americans told me things I felt I did not want to know at all and some Russians guard their personal life and feelings as a top-secret.

I really do not think that Russians are unable to “fake fineness” due to some “opposition” to enthusiasm, proclamations of joy and optimism of the Soviet government.

I know that I can “fake fineness” almost perfectly after living in the US for almost 20 years. Most of the time, I do not feel like faking at all.

I actually think that traditionally Russian people are more open and direct and may be even more sincere and genuine than some Americans. Russians love to talk and some (but just some) of them are great at listening. And after all if there is a question mark at the end of the sentence that implies an answer (and not just a one word answer). If you ask old school Russians “How are you?” – you most likely will hear everything what happened to them, their family members, friends, neighbors, etc. for the last month (if not the last year or decade). There is a story I’ve told many times about having stiff facial muscles at the end of the day because of the constant smiling at strangers all day long. This is something I would never do in Russia, because people would think that I’m not well if I just smile without any specific reason for it.

And I suddenly realized, after reading this article, that I’m probably more depressed now, because I must smile and be fine all day long, while my patients are complaining non-stop and quite often angry and gloomy, but I do not get a chance air my own grievances!

Then, a couple of days after reading this article, I went to get some gas early in the morning. There was a wind chill warning that day (the wind chills to – 30F) there were just a few cars at the gas station. As soon as I got out of the car, I was frozen and almost blown away by an awful wind. An employee appeared in front of me. A shapeless, ageless female in her winter uniform and neon orange vest over that, and her face covered by a balaclava hat so I could see only her eyes behind the eyeglasses.

“How are you?” she asked.

“Cold,” I replied. “How are you?”

“Great!!!” she answered enthusiastically.

“Aren’t you cold???” I asked with disbelief.

“It is not too bad today,” she replied. “During the recent Polar Vortex we got wind chills to – 52F in here, so today is not bad at all.” She actually sounded happy. “And I’m almost done with my shift.”

“I’m happy for you,” I said, thinking that she is probably counting seconds to go home.

Instead, she replied, “I have less than 5 hours to go.” And with that, she moved on to cheer up the other drivers getting out of their cars.

When I got back into my car I could not feel my hands or feet, but I realized that this woman made my day, that I would take this small talk, this optimism, and this smile a hundred times over the angry, grim, murky, and gloomy outlook from my former fellow-countrymen.

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