“How are you today?” seems to be the standard opening gambit here in the USA. Whether it be the local shopkeeper, Alvin at Starbucks, or the unnamed lady in magenta trying to sell me tour tickets.
I have already learned the expected response. It is, “I’m good thank you, how are you?” The ‘good’ in “I’m good…” is presumably a veiled message to Father Christmas, should he be hiding in the bushes? An overly keen attempt to get on to the right list; the list that provides a full stocking, not a sparsely filled alternative in just a few months time?
I, of course, have much to learn colloquially. I have made the apparent mistake of responding, “Cheers!” when given my purchases. I did it to the lady who served me cinnamon scone for breakfast and she looked a little bewildered. I’m told that “cheers” isn’t used in that way here.
Some words have raised importance. Some reduced. I hadn’t expected, for example, my ‘Peachy Pistachio Greek Yogurt’ to contain chocolate chips. But it does. More chocolate chips in fact than peachiness. Sure enough though, a browse of the ingredient list confirms their right to be. Odd not to mention them?
Thankfully, I am yet to be offered a “have a nice day…” as a departing command. Surely, after all, it’s my choice if I wish my day to be nice or not?
I don’t wish to knock America. Merely to point out how language use is very local. The patterns and rituals of language are different. The same words mean different things. Some words are common, some important, some tossed away like chocolate chips at a yogurt factory.
This isn’t just about geography though. Each of us has our own dialect. Favourite words or phrases for us. Words and phrases which cause a shudder, or recoil, when used freely by someone else. Or, words which draw us in, because they resonate with our own sense making and thereby connect us.
Language has personality. It takes on the persona of unique individuals. The persona of family histories. The persona of local dialects. The persona of nation states. The persona of tribes, of cultures, of religions.
We speak who we are.