Someone trying to make bigtalk out of smalltalk. Maybe it's just my sensibilities which are irritated by this question. It normally gets asked when you are cornered by someone who you don't really want knowing how you really are. And in reality, said questioner probably could not handle how you really are, so you end up just answering, "Fine! Really!", only louder, and with more open eyes and a slightly shaking head --not nodding, shaking, as if to say, subconsciously, "No! Stop asking me that! Are you a complete twit, or what? If you really cared how I am, you would know without having to ask this twit like question!"
Ok, maybe I'm over reacting. I just find it annoying.
In Germany, if you have the gumption to say to someone, "How are you?", prepare yourself. You are going to hear the truth. Germans accuse Americans all the time of being superficial and throwing around the how are you question and never sticking around to hear the answer.
Well, try asking a German this question. Here is a sample answer you might get (note: circulatory issues - kreislauf - from seasonal weather change is a malady in Germany which will get you out of work for at least a week, if not two, fully paid. Everybody's got circulatory issues in the Vaterland):
"I'm having kreislauf which give me headaches and make me tired, and the dog had to go to the vet twice because of a skin allergy. We can't go to Istanbul for our normal four weeks vacation this year because Detlef's boss will only give him three weeks off in a row. Can you imagine that? It should be illegal!"
And you might wait a very long time, in vein, in fact, for said conversant to ask how you are. Why? Well, she doesn't really want to know. And if a German doesn't want to know something, they don't ask about it. That's why Americans and how are you questions annoy them to death.
And no German would ask how you are really doing -- seriously -- they would assume that if you said you are fine, that you are fine. Point made. Discussion closed. There is something terribly comforting in that, like you know where you stand. Ok, I am fine, and you have kreislauf. Now that we have that behind us, we can go on living.
Cultural differences, the small, seemingly insignificant ones, never cease to amaze me. Sometimes they make me feel dizzy, as if I myself have kreislauf. And I see, through writing this, that my annoyance at this question means I have become, slowly, a little bit German.
But no, seriously, how are you really?