My daughter made up some catchphrases for us when she was four and now I can’t remember what they are. She called them ‘catphrases.’ And we were not allowed to use one another’s catphrases, even by accident.

I will have to see if my husband remembers.

I was reading Mrs. Kennedy’s description of being asked ‘how are you?’ one or ten too many times and it reminded me of something that reveals the deeper lack of socialization that explains a whole lot about how my life turned out.

I had NO IDEA that when people asked ‘how are you’ they weren’t starting a conversation and you weren’t supposed to give a detailed answer. I didn’t realize this until I was about 30. When I did realize it, I was a bit mortified. All those years, boring people with specifics about how my car needed new tires or I’d run out of Advil or whatever.

Oh, the SHAME.

In any case, because I’d so entirely misunderstood the function of ‘how are you’ I came to regard ‘how are you?’ as a deeply intrusive question. Goddamn, why are you asking me that? And it also is something I trained myself never to ask anyone else.

The strange thing is that I’ve always known that in Spanish, when someone says ‘Como estas’ you just say ‘Bien, y tu?’ and leave it at that.

For years, my real catchphrase was ‘Que Pasa?’ This made sense around a bunch of people in California who knew what Spanish was but didn’t work so well when I moved East–people would always look confused and ask “What?”

I’m trying to both train myself to simply answer ‘Fine. And you?’ when people ask ‘how are you?’ and not respond with a squeak of terror like a cornered animal–something undoubtedly the leftover PTSD of writing a dissertation since every personal inquiry is read by the hapless dissertator as “how’s that dissertation coming?” who can respond only with the look of the relentlessly hunted. Writing a dissertation is a period I remember almost fondly due to the fact that it involved doing almost nothing, almost every single day but it essentially ruined me for all personal inquiries for the rest of my life.

Suggested catchphrases anyone?