It’s one of the most confusing questions I’ve ever been asked. Not because I didn’t understand it, but because I did.
There have been several instances in my albeit brief history on this earth where I have been asked that simple question only to be dumbfounded as to why I was being asked it. Usually it comes to the ears with an accent that makes most North Americans think only of Benedict Cumberbatch.
It’s no surprise that the English language, as with many others, has a certain order of conduct in conversation. There are questions to be asked before small talk, and if you aren’t on friendly enough terms or lack that precious comodity called time, then small talk is unceremoniously skipped altogether. Make no mistake, these introductory phrases are not digging for details if they present themselves in the form of a question. As any native speaker and even English language learners know all to well being asked, “How are you?” does not always mean the speaker wants details. Actually, let me just save you some time and clarify that most of the time they don’t. This is one of the finer points of English that students are quick to ask about.
It is rather an extended version of “hello.” A device created to fill the awkward space it takes you to swipe your card for groceries, or make your rounds with distant family at obscure holidays. There are a few variations of it that can be found all around the world: “What’s up?”, “How’s it going?”, “You alright?”. I’m sure there are more, but I want to focus on the last anyway, so no sense in dragging it out.
The first time I was asked if I was alright outside of the States I wasn’t sure how to respond. In my small part of the world you only ask if you know something is wrong with another person. Therefore, it is a question seeking details. Little did I know then that this rule does not always apply. So when I was asked by a (usually) British instructor or friend or even stranger I was taken aback. What did my face look like? Did I look upset? Was I upset?
Honestly, when I was in the UK studying for my TESOL certification the answer to the last question was probably yes…most of the time. It resulted in many catnaps on couches.
Then came China. The organization I went through was British and not surprisingly the majority of the interns were….you guessed it: British! The novelty of their accents faded pretty quickly, but the question that always got me was “You alright?”
In the halls. In class. Anywhere really.
I found myself answering the question honestly. Every. Time.
Afterwards I would remind myself that it wasn’t a detail question like it is back home, but there are just somethings that you can untrain your brain on.
Why is this relevant?
However, it does mark two years since I returned from my brief trip across the pond, and nearly six months since being back from my journey to the east. It’s also a good excuse for pictures!