How do I do?

Kate Fox, social anthropologist and chronicler – in her recently reissued book Watching The English – of the small, exquisite social agonies and anxieties with which our septic isle is stuffed, has called for a reinstatement of “How do you do?” as everyone’s introduction of choice. What balm to the fevered soul trapped in a roomful of strangers and even stranger canapés that would be.

“How do you do?” is the perfect instance of phatic speech, which is all the formally meaningless stuff you say that performs the far more vital function of greasing the social wheels. “How do you do?” as a genuine question is madness. How do I do what? Professionally? Personally? At specific tasks? Charades? Cor anglais? What it really means is, “I am non-aggressive, willing to engage and you may trust that I have both a basic grasp of contemporary mores and an ability to abide by them. Unless, of course, I come across an unsuspected dollop of horseradish in this canapé, in which case all bets are off. Let us proceed on this basis.”

via Lucy Mangan: how do I do? Much better without canapes and kisses, thanks | Life and style | The Guardian.


3 responses to “How do I do?

  1. Whilst I’m with John, I do think greasing the wheels is quite important. I once and a girl turn up for an interview for a role as PA in jeans and a scruffy t-shirt. I couldn’t fathom why I found it unacceptable – the way she dressed would make no difference to her ability to answer a phone and correspond with people, and it was only afterwards that my sister put her finger of it. If this girl wasn’t aware of the need to make a good first impression, what other social mores was she going to break? Being polite to customers? Honesty? Making a special effort for visiting clients? So as mad as it is, it does serve a purpose – even if unconsciously. (And in this case, it was right – when I fed back to her why she didn’t get the job -she asked – she was rude and abusive.)

  2. But John, nobody wants to actually be forced to think or feel in a social context, that’s why there are so many social formulae that consist of empty verbiage. (German has the perfect word for that, again: Floskel.) I used to resent that when I came here, because I could see the system is so intricate that an outsider will never learn it. But then that’s how the British built an empire isn’t it. And I get it more now (I still don’t know the system but I don’t resent it so much now.)

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