In the US, certain things are ritual greetings that follow a standard script. Deviating from it is considered a bit weird (but it’s also common, and possible to get away with. I deviate from it often).
“How are you?” is not usually intended as a real question. The expected answer is along the lines of “Fine, and you?“
The default answer to “what’s up?” is something like “nothing", or “Not too much; yourself?“. It’s considered slightly less weird to answer.
It took me so long to learn this script. It was only last year that I realized I should reply “Good, how are you?”, instead of just saying “I’m good" and then leaving an awkward silence. Whoops.
I usually don’t answer “Nothing" to “What’s up,“ though. When I ask it, I actually want to know, and I’m disappointed when people say “Nothing,” cause then the whole interaction feels like a waste of time and I have no idea what to say next. So I usually reply “Not much, just X, and maybe Y later, what about you?“ in a way that encourages people to actually say what they’re up to. Examples!
- Not much, just running errands right now, then rehearsal this evening. What are you up to?
- I’m just on my way to work, but I’m meeting [mutual friends] for sushi later, do you want to come?
- I have to finish this paper due tomorrow, but after that I’ll get to relax. You headed to class?
So it’s still brief and small-talky, but not meaningless either. Conversations are really confusing to me, so I try to give people easy exits and topics to latch onto. Like for that third one, if the person just said “What’s up” as a ritual greeting and they don’t actually want to interact they can say “Yeah, I have to run, good luck on your paper!“ or “No, I’m going to X. See ya!”. But if they do want to interact, they can say “Yeah, anatomy class. Today we’re learning about hand muscles, blah blah blah … “ or “Yeah, but not for another half hour. What’s your paper about?” or “No, I’m going to the library to write a paper too. Want to work together?“.
Sorry if all this sounds painfully obvious - but if I’d found a post like this two years ago, it would have changed my life. Yay for scripts!
Oh, it should be noted that sometimes these ritual questions are simply substitutions for greetings. Eg. Person 1: “Hello.” Person 2: “How’re ya doin’.“ The second person isn’t expecting an answer.
Also I hope it’s appropriate to add, as someone who is allistic but mentally ill and has to engage in these ritual greetings over and over again almost every day at work, I love people actually engaging me and telling me how they are instead of just the standard “I’m good” or “Nothing" etc. Personhood-erasure (for lack of what to call it?) is a huge problem for me at least in service positions, and asking customers these standard greetings and getting actual, genuine responses reminds me that I am being recognized as another person who is worthy of acknowledgment, and it actually goes a really really long way in helping me feel good in a job that otherwise can be very detrimental to my mental health.
I’m not trying to say that the OP is wrong, because scripts are wonderful and super useful, and any answer at all (even “Nothing,“ even just a smile, really any answer) is really helpful in maintaining some semblance of sanity. I also don’t want to push people into engaging other people in ways that are way more than they’re comfortable with. I guess I just wanted to extend some support for proudheron’s commentary from someone who has to deal with these ritual greetings way too often.
This. I didn’t mean to say that everyone has to use the scripts all the time. They’re worth knowing, but that doesn’t mean that you have to use them all the time.