How to answer when someone asks how you are

How to answer when someone asks how you are

Today I’m going to show you some more creative ways to ask and answer “How are you?” in English. You’ll also like 28 Phrases to Feel Comfortable in English Conversations.

“How are you?”

“I’m fine, thank you.”

Do you find yourself saying these phrases again and again?

  1. How to ask “How are you?” in different ways
  2. How to answer “How are you?” in a creative way

How to ask “How are you?”

There are a lot of different ways of asking “How are you?”

But be careful! Some of these phrases don’t work if you’re in a formal situation, like talking to your boss or the Queen of Sweden.

So we’re going to look at two situations: informal and formal.

How to ask “How are you?” (informal)

  • How’s everything?
  • How’s it going?
  • How are things?
  • What’s up? — Around the year 2001, everyone, everywhere was saying this — thanks to this ad.
  • How are you doing?
  • What’s new? — This one is more common in American English, but because the whole world is becoming more and more Americanised, you’ll hear this in the UK, too.
  • You all right? — This one is very, very British. In fact, if you say this to someone outside the UK, they might just look at you strangely. It’s also shortened to “All right?

How to answer when someone asks how you are

How to ask “How are you?” (formal or informal)

What about if you’re talking to your boss or the queen of Sweden?

In these situations, you might want to keep it relatively formal.

(These phrases are also OK in informal situations.)

  • How have you been?
  • How are things going?
  • Are you well?

How to answer when someone asks how you are

How to answer “How are you?”

Now, when someone asks “How are you?” (or “How’s it going?” or “Wassup?”), the classic response is “I’m fine, thanks.”

That was, like, our first ever English lesson, right?

But this can sound a little boring and dry.

So let’s mix it up a little!

Alternatives to “I’m fine”

  • I’m good. — You can shorten this to “good” if you’re feeling relaxed. Or lazy. Although it’s used a lot in modern English, some people still consider this phrase (as an answer to “How are you?”) grammatically incorrect.
  • Pretty good — This was actually the catchphrase of a popular American comedian. You can hear him say it in this clip. A lot. (Warning: you might want to hit him by the end of the clip. Prepare yourself.)
  • I’m well. — Like with “I’m good,” you can shorten this to “well.”

How to answer when someone asks how you are

Alternatives to “So-so”

But sometimes you don’t feel fine. Or well, or good. Sometimes you want to say that things are just … OK.

There’s also a classic response in this situation: “So-so.”

But again, it can sound a little boring or unimaginative.

So let’s look at some other responses:

  • I’m OK.
  • Not too bad.
  • Same old, same old.
  • Yeah, all right.
  • I’m alive! — This one is a bit of a joke but can be fun in the right situation.

How to answer when someone asks how you are

OK, so now you know some more interesting ways to ask and answer “How are you?”

For more useful English phrases you can use right away, check out 28 Phrases to Feel Comfortable in English Conversations.

Table of Contents

How do you politely answer someone?

Well, there are lots of things you could say but one of the most common is: My pleasure. It’s been a pleasure….

  1. You’re welcome.
  2. Go ahead. Be my guest.
  3. My pleasure.
  4. That’s very kind of you.
  5. You shouldn’t have.

How do you respond when someone answers your question?

Good manners says to say thank you when somebody answers your question. E-mail load control suggests not replying “thanks” because it’s too much e-mail and people would rather have less. I’m not sure what StackOverflow expects. I got an e-mail notification today “3 Questions Have 1 Answer – Stack Overflow”.

What is it called when someone answers your question with a question?

The word is maieutics, also known as the Socratic method, answering a question with a question, often to invoke more thought into the questioner, to answer the questions they ask themselves.

How do you politely ask someone a question?

Key Words That Make Direct Questions More Polite

  1. Excuse me, could you help me pick this up?
  2. Pardon me, could you help me?
  3. Pardon me, could you give me a hand?
  4. Could you explain this to me?

Can I ask you or may I ask you?

May I ask you a question? Asking for permission. In addition, “may” version is more polite than the “can” version. Realistically speaking, both ask for permission and neither is offensive, but yes, “may” is still more polite than “can.”…

How do you ask politely?

Here are some better phrases to make polite requests in English:

  1. “Do you mind…?.”
  2. “Would you mind…?
  3. “Could I…?”
  4. “Would it be ok if…?”
  5. “Would it be possible…?”
  6. “Would you be willing to…?”

What can I say instead of ask?

Synonyms & Antonyms of ask

  • catechize,
  • grill,
  • inquire (of),
  • interrogate,
  • query,
  • question,
  • quiz.

Is Would you mind polite?

You can use the phrases “Would you mind” and “Do you mind” + -ing form to ask someone politely to do things. Hiwever, the phrase “Would you mind” is more polite and common (Cambridge).

How do you request someone?

Here are the primary action steps to take:

  1. Act as if you expect to get it.
  2. Ask someone who can give it to you.
  3. Get the other person’s full attention.
  4. Be clear and specific.
  5. Ask from the heart.
  6. Ask with humor and creativity.
  7. Give something to get something.
  8. Ask repeatedly.

How do you ask for someone’s time?

I personally like to use something like that if I care about the person. I was wondering if you have some time to meet this week. I would like to discuss (or talk about) Clearly state the reason you want to meet….

How do you ask a question without being pushy?

6 Ways to Persuade Without Being Pushy

  1. Show them what they want and need. Often, talking through a point gets lost.
  2. Share positives and negatives. Sharing an opposing viewpoint or two is more persuasive than sticking solely to your argument.
  3. Be inquisitive.
  4. Find a good reason.
  5. Be helpful.

How do you ask for a favor example?

Instead of saying, “I know you’re busy, but would you mind doing this for me?” say something like, “I just finished building a new bookshelf, and since you’re such a good carpenter, would you mind taking a look at it before I put it in the library?” The first example makes it seem like you’re asking the person to stop ……

How do you ask for help when you want?

How to Ask for Help When You Need It

  1. Demonstrate you’ve tried.
  2. Seek collaboration.
  3. Be specific.
  4. Stay engaged.
  5. Know that most people enjoy helping.
  6. Ask privately, praise publicly.
  7. Give help to get help.
  8. Lead from within: Asking for help isn’t easy, but it is necessary if you want to be as effective and productive as you know you can be.

Could you please can you please?

“Could” is the polite form of “can”—so both are correct, but we use them in different situations. We use “can” when we are telling someone to do something. We use “could” when we are making a request. Teacher to students: “Can you please be quiet!”

Would you or could you please?

What is the difference between Could you please and Would You please ? Which one is more polite ? Both are commonly used to ask someone to do something, so there is not a big difference between them in the meaning. Would you please may be considered as slightly more polite than Could you please….

Is send me correct?

“Send it to me” is correct and more commonly used. Although “send me it” is grammatically correct, it’s not commonly used in formal writing….

Will you or would you?

Would: How They’re Different (and How to Use Each) The main difference between will and would is that would can be used in the past tense but will cannot. Also, would is commonly used to refer to a future event that may occur under specific conditions, while will is used more generally to refer to future events….

Should I send or can I send?

The word “send” is the present perfect tense of the verb while the word “sent” is the past tense and past participle tense of the verb. Both have progressive forms with the word “send” being used in its present form and the word “sent” in its past form.

Did not send or sent?

When you negate a sentence by using do or did, you should use the whole verb. Since to send is the whole verb, you should use It didn’t send the messages.

Has already sent or send?

They are both correct in the right circumstances. Examples: Question “When are you going to send me the goods?” Answer “I have already sent the goods.” Just a normal past tense. The other words “I had already sent” means that time had gone by after the goods were sent (or something occurred after the goods were sent).

When someone asks, “How are you?” do you answer honestly?

This question is often thrown around as a casual greeting, so much so that we default to “I’m good!” or “I’m fine!” — even with our closest friends and family. And while we’re maybe less hesitant to open up about a stomach ache or that we’ve come down with the flu, our true emotional state can feel like a dirty secret — we don’t want to give it up.

So we asked our Mighty community — people who experience disability, disease, mental illness, parent children with special needs and more — how they’re really doing. What we got was a collection of honest, inspiring and heartbreaking answers.

How are you?

1. “I’m worried. All the time. It never ends. That’s not to say I don’t feel joy. I do all the time. But that undercurrent of worry is omnipresent.” — Cheryl Soltero Egher

How to answer when someone asks how you are

2. “Life raising two disabled children is hard. Sometimes I get discouraged.” — Nicki Barnes Scott

3. “I’d love to say I’m rock solid, calm, hopeful and confident at all times. More often, I’m tired, anxious and swayed by the slightest changes. And s ometimes — well, usually, actually — I’m all of the above.” — Ali Foley Shenk

4. “I always say ‘good.’ The truth? Most often hanging by a thread.” — Tricia Klein

How to answer when someone asks how you are

5. “I miss my mom and I can’t imagine spending decades without her.” — Carrie Giesinger

6. “I’m struggling. I’m letting anxiety and fear get the better of me. I’m letting people’s negative words and emotions affect me to a point where I had a meltdown. I am not trusting the positive words of people who matter, yet am trusting the negative words of people who don’t. So I’m struggling.” — Julianne Leow

7. “Exhausted and happy.” — Melissa Ellen

8. “If there is a word that means more than exhausted, that is the word to describe how I am.” — Leslie Da Lie

How to answer when someone asks how you are

9. “Today I feel guilty.” — Erika Woolfolk-Wiley

10. “I have many great moments in the day, but my mind is a whirlpool of anixety that I constantly try to keep at bay.” — Jessica Ann Hardy

11. “‘Fine’ is my normal answer. The truth? I can’t hear what you are saying. My mind is moving too fast with all my obsessive thoughts. I am trying to hear you and have a conversation but I can’t. Too many what ifs floating around in my brain.” — Kerri Lewis Brock

12. “I am becoming well. I am fighting. I am slowly winning the war against my own mind. I am stronger than I was before. How are you?” — Harmony Rose Rogers

How to answer when someone asks how you are

13. “Still alive, tired and proud. My son just turned 21 today. I never imagined we would’ve made it this far.” — Jennifer Sue Bourbon

14. “I’m 25. But I don’t feel 25.” — Brittani June B

15. “Truthfully, I’m happy to be alive. I could be tired and grumpy later, but I’m alive.” — Astrid Pianto

How to answer when someone asks how you are

16. “Trying not to think about what it’s going to be like when my son is too big for me to take care of, or when I’m too old to do it.” — Anita Soto Russell

17. “I’m different than I ever thought I’d be. I’m more patient than is humanly possible. I’m more hopeful than the younger me would have dared to feel, looking on from afar. I’m new.” — Maxine Sinda Napal

18. “Good! I try to see the blessings in each day. Some days are harder than others. Tomorrow might be totally different. But today when I say ‘good’ I mean it.” — Justine Peets

19. “Drained. That’s all I can say.” — Sarah Anne Robinson

How to answer when someone asks how you are

20. “I have pain, both physical and emotional, every day. More often than not, getting out of bed is a tremendous struggle.” — Julie Gault

21. “Actually, I’m feeling kinda yucky today.” — Lindsay Ballard

22. “Scared.” — Laura Reed

23. “Worn. I’m worn out with happiness, worry, sleeplessness and pride.” — Tatiana Tran

How to answer when someone asks how you are

24. “ Surviving. Putting in all the energy and effort I have to do the things I have to do, so I can do some of the things I want to do.” — Irina Greenman

25. “Grateful the intrusive thoughts that give me anxiety haven’t started yet this morning. I got going late and that’s usually a trigger, but I’m feeling comfortable in my skin so far today.” — KeriAnn Hollerud

26. “Today I am great! The sun is shining, my children were happy, loving and excited to go to school. A week ago, I was not great.” — Nicole Schultz-Kass

27. “I am surviving. Little by little. Good days and bad blur together in an endless haze. I’m too tired to really process the question anyway, so the truth is I am surviving — one day at a time.” — Pamela Zesotarski

How to answer when someone asks how you are

28. “I’m holding on!” — Kathy Fett Schulz

29. “I’m not doing well, but not many people know it.” — Emma Wozny

30. “So many feelings, all at once. I’m worried. I’m thankful. I feel fortunate.” — Michelle A Schwindler

31. “I’m not fine. But I will be.” — Marie Rossi

How to answer when someone asks how you are

*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity.

Table of Contents

How do you politely answer someone?

Well, there are lots of things you could say but one of the most common is: My pleasure. It’s been a pleasure….

  1. You’re welcome.
  2. Go ahead. Be my guest.
  3. My pleasure.
  4. That’s very kind of you.
  5. You shouldn’t have.

How do you respond when someone answers your question?

Good manners says to say thank you when somebody answers your question. E-mail load control suggests not replying “thanks” because it’s too much e-mail and people would rather have less. I’m not sure what StackOverflow expects. I got an e-mail notification today “3 Questions Have 1 Answer – Stack Overflow”.

What is it called when someone answers your question with a question?

The word is maieutics, also known as the Socratic method, answering a question with a question, often to invoke more thought into the questioner, to answer the questions they ask themselves.

How do you politely ask someone a question?

Key Words That Make Direct Questions More Polite

  1. Excuse me, could you help me pick this up?
  2. Pardon me, could you help me?
  3. Pardon me, could you give me a hand?
  4. Could you explain this to me?

Can I ask you or may I ask you?

May I ask you a question? Asking for permission. In addition, “may” version is more polite than the “can” version. Realistically speaking, both ask for permission and neither is offensive, but yes, “may” is still more polite than “can.”…

How do you ask politely?

Here are some better phrases to make polite requests in English:

  1. “Do you mind…?.”
  2. “Would you mind…?
  3. “Could I…?”
  4. “Would it be ok if…?”
  5. “Would it be possible…?”
  6. “Would you be willing to…?”

What can I say instead of ask?

Synonyms & Antonyms of ask

  • catechize,
  • grill,
  • inquire (of),
  • interrogate,
  • query,
  • question,
  • quiz.

Is Would you mind polite?

You can use the phrases “Would you mind” and “Do you mind” + -ing form to ask someone politely to do things. Hiwever, the phrase “Would you mind” is more polite and common (Cambridge).

How do you request someone?

Here are the primary action steps to take:

  1. Act as if you expect to get it.
  2. Ask someone who can give it to you.
  3. Get the other person’s full attention.
  4. Be clear and specific.
  5. Ask from the heart.
  6. Ask with humor and creativity.
  7. Give something to get something.
  8. Ask repeatedly.

How do you ask for someone’s time?

I personally like to use something like that if I care about the person. I was wondering if you have some time to meet this week. I would like to discuss (or talk about) Clearly state the reason you want to meet….

How do you ask a question without being pushy?

6 Ways to Persuade Without Being Pushy

  1. Show them what they want and need. Often, talking through a point gets lost.
  2. Share positives and negatives. Sharing an opposing viewpoint or two is more persuasive than sticking solely to your argument.
  3. Be inquisitive.
  4. Find a good reason.
  5. Be helpful.

How do you ask for a favor example?

Instead of saying, “I know you’re busy, but would you mind doing this for me?” say something like, “I just finished building a new bookshelf, and since you’re such a good carpenter, would you mind taking a look at it before I put it in the library?” The first example makes it seem like you’re asking the person to stop ……

How do you ask for help when you want?

How to Ask for Help When You Need It

  1. Demonstrate you’ve tried.
  2. Seek collaboration.
  3. Be specific.
  4. Stay engaged.
  5. Know that most people enjoy helping.
  6. Ask privately, praise publicly.
  7. Give help to get help.
  8. Lead from within: Asking for help isn’t easy, but it is necessary if you want to be as effective and productive as you know you can be.

Could you please can you please?

“Could” is the polite form of “can”—so both are correct, but we use them in different situations. We use “can” when we are telling someone to do something. We use “could” when we are making a request. Teacher to students: “Can you please be quiet!”

Would you or could you please?

What is the difference between Could you please and Would You please ? Which one is more polite ? Both are commonly used to ask someone to do something, so there is not a big difference between them in the meaning. Would you please may be considered as slightly more polite than Could you please….

Is send me correct?

“Send it to me” is correct and more commonly used. Although “send me it” is grammatically correct, it’s not commonly used in formal writing….

Will you or would you?

Would: How They’re Different (and How to Use Each) The main difference between will and would is that would can be used in the past tense but will cannot. Also, would is commonly used to refer to a future event that may occur under specific conditions, while will is used more generally to refer to future events….

Should I send or can I send?

The word “send” is the present perfect tense of the verb while the word “sent” is the past tense and past participle tense of the verb. Both have progressive forms with the word “send” being used in its present form and the word “sent” in its past form.

Did not send or sent?

When you negate a sentence by using do or did, you should use the whole verb. Since to send is the whole verb, you should use It didn’t send the messages.

Has already sent or send?

They are both correct in the right circumstances. Examples: Question “When are you going to send me the goods?” Answer “I have already sent the goods.” Just a normal past tense. The other words “I had already sent” means that time had gone by after the goods were sent (or something occurred after the goods were sent).

How to answer when someone asks how you are

“What are your weaknesses?” is a common question asked by employers during an interview to determine if the interviewee has self-awareness and the ability to identify and overcome their weaknesses. In our guide, we advise you on how to prepare for this question, and provide examples to use in your next job interview.

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How to answer when someone asks how you are

List of Answers to “What are your weaknesses?”

Download a free list of answers to “What are your weaknesses?” in MS Word format.

List of Example Weaknesses:

Too critical of other people’s work.

Difficulty delegating tasks.

Need more experience in X.

Impatient with others.

Unfamiliar with X.

Quick to please others.

Struggle to give feedback.

Struggle with presenting / public speaking.

Difficulty maintaining work/life balance.

Take too many risks.

Lack of experience (for entry-level job).

Not creative enough.

Struggle to ask for help.

Lack of confidence.

Unable to multi-task / Multi-tasking too much.

Taking criticism too personally.

Poor writing skills.

Lack of computer skills.

Taking on too many projects at once.

How to Answer “What are Your Weaknesses?”

How to answer when someone asks how you are

A step-by-step guide to answering the question “what are your weaknesses?”

Prepare yourself for the interview.

Make a list of weaknesses.

How to answer when someone asks how you are

While preparing for your interview, make a list of your skills or qualities that are most important for the role you are interviewing for. These are the strengths that you want to convey to the interviewer. Secondly, think of one or two weaknesses that could be seen in a positive light.

Remember, that by asking the weakness question, the interviewer is trying to gain a deeper understanding of you as a person and whether you would make a good addition to the company.

State your weakness.

Answer strategically.

How to answer when someone asks how you are

In your answer to “What are your weaknesses?”, it’s important not to mention a real weakness. In other words, you want to mention a skill or trait that is not critical to the position you are interviewing for.

For example, if you’re applying for a job in customer service, you do not want to mention that you “don’t have great people skills.” Furthermore, you should not select a random weakness, e.g., “I’m a perfectionist,” which could come off as too scripted.

Give an example of how you have used this weakness to grow professionally.

How to answer when someone asks how you are

Your “weakness” should be an example or story of how you have struggled with an aspect of work, and how you corrected or overcame that weakness in your professional life. This tells your employer that you’re a good fit for the role by emphasizing your ability to find solutions to problems.

If you are actively working on overcoming a particular weakness, be sure to explain your plan-of-action during the interview.

Related Stories:

The first words out of your mouth in an interview are to answer this cliché. Use this opportunity to be memorable — not just “fine,” or “good, thank you.”

Standing out from the (unemployed) crowd is simple.

All you have to do is ask yourself the following question throughout the day:“What could I do, in this moment, that would be the exact opposite of everyone else?”

I’ve dubbed this process “Making the Mundane Memorable,” and you’re presented with myriad opportunities to do so throughout your job search. Especially when interviewers, strangers and colleagues constantly ask you, “So, how are you today?”

Sure, it’s an overused and otherwise boring question. Not to mention, most people who ask it don’t actually care how you are. They’re either: 1) being nice, 2) breaking the ice, or 3) reverting into a predictable routine of psychological self-disclosure and cliché conversation.

But here’s the cool part: If you make the choice to leverage this mundane moment, you will instantly double your memorability.

I know this because I’ve been wearing a nametag 24/7 for 3,237 consecutive days. And strangers break the ice with me every day because of it. Some say hi, some introduce themselves, and some stop me in the middle of the aisle at Wal-Mart and ask me if I can tell them where to find the lime-green thongs they saw on sale in this week’s ad.

Either way, some encounter that otherwise wouldn’t have existed did occur, all because of approachability.

Here’s why: Curiosity is a natural motivator of human engagement. And there’s a certain sociological dissonance when people observe an unexpected or unexplained behavior. Especially when it’s inconsistent with their environment. (Like some random guy wearing a nametag.)

And that’s the secret: Because it’s that dissonance that increases the probability of a memorable encounter.

Your challenge as an unemployed professional is to stimulate curiosity, break patterns and attract interest when people ask you questions.

See, when someone asks you, “So, how are you?” you have a choice:

Be mundane or be memorable.
Be interesting or be unemployed.
Be unforgettable or be unemployable.

For example: You walk into a job interview. You’re prepared, well rested and hopped up on coffee, and you look like a hundred thousand bucks. Perfect.

When you extend your hand to greet your interviewer, she predictably asks, “So, how are you today?”

Stop right there. Don’t answer yet.

Remember the key question of approachability: “What could I do, in this moment, that would be the exact opposite of everyone else?

Let’s explore several potential answers to this question:

1. “Fine.”

Terrible. Fine is a lie. Nobody is fine. Fine is an acronym for “Feelings I’m Not Expressing.” Don’t say it.

2. “Great!”

Weak. Here’s why: First, good was good enough. Then great was good enough. Now, great isn’t that great anymore. Interviewers demand wow. So: You need to be amazing. Like, scary good. Everything else is your ante.

3. “Awesome.”

Getting better. Positive and energetic. A little unexpected, but still fairly common. Still, I think you can provide something more interesting.

4. “Ready to rock.”

Nice! Sounds confident yet playful. Not for everybody, but if it fits your personality and the personality of the company interviewing you, go for it.

5. “Perfect.”

My personal favorite. For years I’ve been answering the question, “So, Scott, how are you?” with this word. People notice it. People remember it. People ask follow-up questions about it. Because they’re curious. Works every time. Not to mention, the word perfect comes from the Latin perfectus, which means, “complete.” Which means it’s always the truth. Because all of us are always complete. Don’t forget that.

6. “Everything is beautiful!”

Now that’s what I’m talking about. When I first started my publishing and consulting company in 2002, I got a part-time job as a valet, crashing (I mean parking) cars nights and weekends. Interestingly, the overnight bellman was a guy named Henry who said, “Everything is beautiful!” daily. He was also voted Employee of the Year five years in a row. Coincidence? Maybe. Better than your answer? Absolutely.

7. Create your own answer.

None of these examples hit home? No problem. Make a list of 10 unique, memorable and unexpected answers to the boring question, “So, how are you today?” Experiment with words and expressions that are consistent with your personal brand and philosophy. Try a new one each day. Have some fun with it. You’ve got nothing to lose.

OK! Back to your job interview…

If you recall, you’re about to meet the person who very well could decide the fate of your very career.

She smiles, reaches out her hand and asks, “So, how are you today?”

Will you make the mundane memorable?

Will you leverage remarkability to trigger an emotional engagement?

Will you get noticed, get remembered and get the job that will save you from this horrible economy?

Or, will you respond like the other 37 (equally qualified) candidates she’s already met this week by predictably saying, “Fine”?

The choice is yours.

Either stand out from the crowd or stand in line at the unemployment office.

Let me ask ya this:

What could you do in this moment that would be the exact opposite of everyone else?

Is it easy for you to answer? Or does it feel more complicated than others might realize?

How to answer when someone asks how you are

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

When people ask you where you’re from, is it easy for you to answer? Have you moved around a lot or have you always lived in the same place?

Are people usually satisfied with your response, or do you find yourself having to explain further?

In “The Complexity in ‘Where Are You From?’” Vanessa Hua writes about asking her parents that question:

When I asked my father where he was born, I never got a straight answer. Wuhan, he’d say. In other moments, he’d claim Wuchang.

I didn’t understand why he couldn’t state a simple fact. My assumption reflected my privilege, that of a girl who’d known only the peace and stability of the suburbs east of San Francisco. Much later, I would realize that his birthplace had been absorbed into Wuhan, a provincial capital formed from the sprawl of Wuchang, Hankou and Hanyang.

My father is gone now, but I’ve wondered what he would make of the coronavirus. He surely would have worried about his family more than himself.

It would have pained him that relations have cratered between his ancestral and adopted homelands, causing a backlash against Asian-Americans. “Go back to where you came from!” we’re told.

But where did we come from, and why does it matter? Among other Chinese, the question is a conversation starter in which we can situate ourselves and our people, in every far-flung corner of the diaspora. Your ancestral province might stamp itself upon your character, in your traits — determining your height, your ambitions and your looks.

Born in China, my parents fled to the island of Taiwan at the close of World War II. Later on, they came to the United States for graduate school in science and engineering.

I used to think my parents were cagey about their past because they wanted to focus on the future. Perhaps, growing up in the shadow of Communism, or in making a life for themselves in this country, they’d also learned not to disclose too much, for who knew how it might get turned against them?

All that might have been true, though now I understand I may have missed another reason. Just as my father couldn’t readily tell me where he was born, neither of my parents could say exactly where they were from because they’d moved around so much during their childhood, amid conflicts with Japanese forces in the years before and during World War II.

She continues, reflecting on her own experience about trying to explain where she is from:

I never faced such perils. Before leaving for college, I lived at the same address all my life, in the airy, light-filled house designed by my father, a structural engineer. It’s the same house where I now live with my twin sons, my husband and my mother.

And yet the question “where are you from?” is just as complicated for me to answer. Or rather, my initial reply — “I’m from California”— never seems to satisfy the strangers asking. Their mouths twitch and silence lengthens between us.

“I’m from the Bay Area,” I’ll clarify, even though I know I’m delaying the inevitable. It’s clear what they want to know, which perversely makes me want to hold out on them.

“But …” they trail off.

I can tell they think I’m misleading them. Some can’t hide their irritation that I’m not revealing information they feel entitled to having.

At last I’ll say, “I was born in the United States, but my parents are from China.”

They nod, pleased to confirm their suspicion that my family isn’t from here, that Asian-Americans are perpetual foreigners. They don’t realize they’re asking a question even my father couldn’t have answered.

How do you respond when people ask you where you are from? To you, is where you are from the town you were born in? The house you grew up in? The place you’ve lived that has felt the most like home? The country your parents or ancestors are from? Or something else?

Ms. Hua asks, “But where did we come from, and why does it matter?” What do you think? How much does where you are from matter to you? Why do we ask people this question? What can the answer reveal about a person? What can’t it tell us?

How important is it to you to know where your parents and family come from? What do you think this information can tell you about them? About yourself? How freely do your parents and other relatives talk about their past?

Ms. Hua writes that, for her, the question “Where are you from?” can sometimes carry extra weight; people aren’t satisfied until she answers in a way that confirms “their suspicion that my family isn’t from here, that Asian-Americans are perpetual foreigners.” Have you ever had an experience like hers? How did it make you feel? Have you ever doubted where someone is from because of how he or she looks? Does this essay make you think any differently about asking that question in the future?

Ms. Hua says of her grandmother’s necklace, which has been passed down in her family, “Where I’m from is everywhere it’s been.” Do you have an object that connects you to your home and to your family? What is it and what does it symbolize for you?

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How to answer when someone asks how you are

You know that asking someone what he or she does for a living is a surefire conversation starter. Unlike commiserating over the weather or complimenting someone on her necklace, “So, what do you do?” lends itself to follow-up questions that can keep a conversation going.

That is, of course, when both people are gainfully employed.

Responding to this common question can feel uncomfortable if you’ve recently quit or lost your job, and your response begins, “Well I used to…” or, “Well I’m looking…” But there’s no reason you should have to feel bad or give an awkward answer. Come prepared with a stellar response, and you’ll impress new professional and social contacts with your poise in light of an (unintentionally) tough question.

See below for three ways to gracefully answer, “What do you do?” (no matter what you’re really thinking).

You’re Thinking: “I lost my job, and I don’t want to talk about this.”

Say: “I’m transitioning—and what do you do?”

Sometimes you’re unemployed, and you really don’t want to talk about it. Maybe you recently got laid off, you left a bad situation, or you’re reconciling with passing up a great opportunity for personal reasons.

Intuitively, you may think a quick response (e.g., “My department was downsized”) signals that you’ve answered that question and are ready to change topics. However, your new acquaintance may—with truly the best of intentions—keep asking you questions in an attempt to avoid callously moving right along.

But “I’m transitioning” has a “never complain, never explain” air about it—there isn’t enough information for your contact to ask a follow-up question. Moreover, immediately adding, “and what do you do?” is a way of passing back the talking stick: Your turn is over, and it’s time for your new contact to discuss his or her career.

You’re Thinking: “I’m actively looking for a job in my field—know anyone?”

Say: “I’ve been an interior designer, both corporate and residential, for the past 10 years.”

When you first meet a great new contact, it can be tempting to immediately let him or her know you’re job-hunting—or even ask straight-out for connections or job leads. For many people, even if they’re incredibly shy about making such a bold ask of their networks, they’re not as concerned with someone new, because there is no fear associated with offending him or her.

First, this thinking is totally backward—you should be leaning on your established contacts! Second, you don’t want your first interaction (read: impression) to revolve around asking for a favor. Rather, your goal should be to genuinely connect with your new contact, because that’s the first step to building a professional relationship.

The best move here is to answer the question by referencing your field of work. This way you can highlight your experience and showcase your awesomeness—which is still there regardless of whether you’re working for a specific company. (Bonus: To keep with the flow of conversation, a new contact will often naturally respond with an indication of how connected he or she is to that field—“What is SEO? I’m still clueless about the web!” versus “You know, my cousin works in event planning too!”)

You’re Thinking: “I need a job—but I have no idea what I’m looking for.”

Say: “I love media and working with people, and I’m looking for something that’ll help me do both of those things.”

While you might think saying, “I’m open to anything,” makes you look flexible, it’s actually too much for a new contact to process. First, he’s not going to connect you to every single person he knows. Second, it can make you look unfocused or like you haven’t really thought your career through. Third, it can take the conversation off-track (or end it altogether).

Instead, always answer with something that frames your search—be it lab research, social impact, working with others, working independently, whatever. It will dramatically increase the odds of your new acquaintance suggesting something for which you might be a fit—and at the very least, spur a much more interesting talk.

When you’re unemployed, discussing your current professional situation with new people can be tough. But remember, “What do you do?” is meant as an innocuous way to get to know someone better. So don’t let it get you down, and do choose a smart answer from above: It might just help you gain a great new contact—and job opportunity.