There are a total of three people I know who respond to the question, “How are you?” correctly. They understand context and appropriateness.If I’m simply passing down the hall, “How are you?” can be answered in a variety of pre-composed phrases. It usually sounds something like this:“How are you?”“Fine, you?”“Fine.”Some people are more creative, interjecting a clever quip such as “Still alive”, “Doing what’s doing”, and the contra positive of the first, “Not dying” (This is, by the way, a lie). The constant here is immediately asking how it is that you are doing. It’s a sort of unwavering Americanism, a primary reflex. There is nothing wrong with this response in this context, but let’s continue.Now you and I are having dinner. You might have to use your imagination here, as a few of my readers despise me, or at least feel nauseated by my presence (Why do they still read this stuff? I’ll save that for another post). We’ve had a lovely pasta primavera, with lovely plump peas that I keep pointing out are really quite rare in these parts. You’re drinking a yummy but cheap chardonnay, picking at your corkscrew pasta, either having a great time or thinking about the many places you’d rather be. (I just realized I keep imagining women at the other end of the table, but it could just as easily be a man. In which case, you might be drinking beer or some sort of soft drink.) Then spontaneously, because that is how the subject comes up, I ask how you are.“So anyways, how are you?”The appropriate answer here is a bargain, struck between complete honesty and dismissal. A “Fine, and you”, will only convince me that I definitely should have asked somebody who was at least interesting to dinner. (Did I mention that you can ignore all this if you are an absolutely gorgeous brunette with an encyclopedic knowledge of massage techniques?) The answer should dwell on a few current events (“Have a test on Monday”, “Just bought a new car”, “Tired, worked late” not “Have a yeast infection”, “Got kicked out of the house”, “Contracted Ebola last night”) and your feelings on such. Just a few minutes of considerate summary. If I find something interesting, we might dwell on that a few extra minutes.Fianally, I’m going to really stretch the limits of your imagination. Let’s say I’m your friend. Not simply a “friend” but a card carrying member of your inner circle. Here I am, looking very debonair on your couch (am I pushing it?) and you’re juggling beanbags or something.“Alright, that’s enough. So you could have been a carnie. We all have hard choices to make.”“You know, you’re looking very debonair on that couch," you say.“Really? Hmm.”Silence. Here it comes.“So, anyways, Juls, how are you doing? You know, with life?”If you go to a stock answer here, I will walk up to you and slap your carnie ass. No, here is your chance to discharge. We’ve already established that I’m your friend. Your answer will still depend on your level of trust, but it won’t be a dismissal or a summary. It might be concentrated on a current event or just a general state of the union. Just talk to me.The whole point of these elaborate examples is this: learn a little tact. I don’t need to know your life story while having a mocha frappuccino on a Friday afternoon. At the same time, when I’m sitting on a bed with you at 3 a.m, dismissing my question without explanation is more than a little hurtful (there are exceptions to this, but knowing this is a part of the whole tact thing). There are a whole bunch of things in between here (your boyfriend can’t get it up? Phrase it delicately) but its all common sense. And common sense is something that a lot of people are lacking.