Answering “How was your summer?” when your summer was unpleasant

filosoraptor said to realsocialskills:
I go back to school soon and I’ve been trying to prepare for when someone inevitably asks me how my summer was. My first response would be that it was quite lonely because almost all of my plans ended up being cancelled. Would answering like that make someone uncomfortable?

Realsocialskills said:

That response would make most people uncomfortable.

Generally speaking, “How was your summer?” isn’t something people ask because they literally want information about how your summer was.

That kind of question is usually either just a greeting, or a way of opening conversation.

When it’s a greeting, it really just means something along the lines of “Hello, I haven’t seen you for a while.” The usual answer is something like, “It was good. How was yours?”. Answering that way doesn’t mean you’re literally saying you had a good summer. It really just means hello. It’s not a lie, it’s non-literal language.

When “How was your summer?” is a way of opening conversation, it’s an attempt to find something to talk about. The point is to find something that both people can comfortably discuss. The polite way to do this is to ask questions about what the other person said until you find a topic you’re both interested in. It’s considered a bit rude to just change the subject.

Here’s an example of how that can work (the people’s names are randomly generated):

  • Jacob: Hey, how was your summer?
  • Maxine: Pretty good. I was mostly working. How was yours?
  • Jacob: Pretty good — I decided to take a summer school class about color theory and painting.
  • Maxine: That’s cool — I’ve always wanted to try something like that, but I haven’t had the time.
  • Jacob: It wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be, but I did learn a lot of things that are surprisingly applicable to my other classes.
  • Maxine: That’s something anyway. Did the credits count towards anything?
  • (And so on).

If Maxine’s summer actually sucked a lot, mentioning it could end up being really awkward:

  • Jacob: How was your summer?
  • Maxine: It was really lonely. All of my plans fell through.

In this example:

  • Maxine only mentioned two topics: summer being lonely, and plans falling through. 
  • These are both uncomfortable topics.
  • In social situations oriented towards making pleasant conversation, most people won’t want to talk about loneliness or plans falling through 
  • Since Maxine didn’t mention about anything potentially comfortable to discuss, it could be hard for Jacob to keep looking for a mutually comfortable subject without feeling rude. 
  • He might also feel like he’s supposed to comfort Maxine or that there’s no good response to what she just said.
  • This is likely to feel awkward to both of them

There are ways to mention the unpleasantness of summer that are less likely to make the I-haven’t-seen-you-in-a-while conversation unpleasant. It helps if:

  • You avoid giving the impression that you’re upset that they asked, and:
  • You make it clear that you’re not trying to start a conversation about the unpleasantness of summer, and:
  • You include an opening to talk about something else.

For instance:

  • Jacob: How was your summer?
  • Maxine: Eh, kind of sucked. I’m glad to be back — now that I’m past the intro classes things are getting a lot more interesting. 
  • Jacob: What are you majoring in?
  • Maxine: I’m still deciding between history, political science, and pre-law. But a lot of interesting second-year classes count towards both, so I’m keeping both options open.
  • Jacob: I considered that too, but ended up deciding on theater. 
  • Maxine: What are you planning to do with that?
  • Jacob: Hopefully acting or set design. I figure that in any case speaking, acting, and logistical skills will be useful in any job.
  • (And so on).

You can also just say that your summer was ok and then ask how theirs was. That gives them an opening to mention things they did, which might work as a topic of conversation. Eg:

  • Jacob: How was your summer?
  • Maxine: It was ok. How was yours?
  • Jacob: It was pretty good. I took a summer school class on painting and color theory.
  • (And so on).

Again, even if your summer was awful, saying “It was ok” isn’t a lie, it’s just non-literal language:

  • “How was your summer?” isn’t usually meant literally.
  • Your answers to that question don’t have to be literal either.
  • The question usually means something like “Hello. Nice to see you again. Let’s talk about something. Is your summer a good topic of conversation?”
  • Saying “It was ok, how was yours?” usually means something like, “Hello. Nice to see you again too. Let’s talk about something other than my summer. Is your summer a good topic of conversation?”

Tl;dr “How was your summer?” usually isn’t literally intended to find out how your summer was. It’s usually a way of either saying hello or looking for something to talk about. Most people don’t want to have a conversation about how unpleasant your summer was. If your summer was bad, usually the best thing to do is to try steering the conversation to another topic.

Gender neutral greetings

Just wondering if you know of a gender neutral greeting for someone you don’t know? Like- costumer things. My ‘script’ my mom taught me has me saying things like “Excuse me, miss, but I can’t find ___,” or “excuse me, sir,” or ma'am or mister. is there a gender neutral version of this?
realsocialskills said:
The only thing I can think of is just leaving off miss/sir entirely. Eg “Excuse me, but I can’t find ____.”
I think that isn’t usually seen as rude.
Do any of y'all have another suggestion?

I’ve always been confused about how to handle this situation, and it happens mainly in relation to my family members. For example, I’ll be at a grocery store, and I’ll run into someone who knows me and my parents. After we exchange pleasantries, they’ll say something like “Tell you mom I say hello!” Should I take that literally and tell my mom that person says hello or is it one of those weird social things where people tell you do something, but you don’t really do it?
realsocialskills said:
I think that it’s the kind of thing where it’s ok if you do it, and ok if you don’t.
Like, for instance: "Oh, by the way, I ran into Sarah in the store. She says hi.“
I’ve found that it’s often difficult to pass on the greeting. Sometimes there’s no natural way to do it; sometimes there just isn’t a point in the conversation you have with the person where passing along the greeting would feel on-topic.
And the longer it’s been, the more weird it gets.
It’s ok not to pass on the greeting, and probably better not to if it’s been more than a day or so.
If you don’t pass on the greeting, no one is likely to mind.
The exception is if it’s someone you haven’t seen in a long time and seeing them was generally surprising or otherwise notable. Because then passing on the greeting gives the person you’re passing it to meaningful information. Eg:
"Guess who I saw in the store? Sarah! I haven’t seen her in ages! She says hi.”

Non-literal greetings




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.


Social skills for autonomous people: proudheron: realsocialskills: youneedacat: Social skills for…




Social skills for autonomous people: Non-literal greetings



In the US, certain things are ritual greetings that follow a standard script. Deviating from it is considered a bit weird (but it’s…

I think eye contact and posture plays into it. If they seem really focused, they want a more definitive answer. If not, it’s just a recognition that you are there.

I think I probably use different cues because I don’t generally look at faces very much. I wish I knew what mine were! I will have to pay more attention explicitly and see if I can figure it out.




Social skills for autonomous people: Non-literal greetings



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…

A lot of time the answer to what’s up, is what’s up. You don’t even answer, you just ask the question back.

Oh yeah, I forgot that sometimes you don’t even answer. I remember when that started to be the case - it really weirded me out.

But yes, sometimes the expected answer is just “What’s up" back. Does it bother people when you answer “not much, you?“ and they’re expecting “what’s up?” repeated?

Woah, I’ve never encountered that. Maybe it’s not common where I live, or maybe I just haven’t been paying attention. Sometimes I mix up the order of the ritual greeting & answer “How are you?“ with “How are you?” but that’s a mistake, not on purpose. So if anyone’s ever just said “what’s up" back to me I probably interpreted it as a mistake.

But yeah, context is important. I’m getting better at telling whether people want to just greet & move on, exchange 20 seconds of pleasantries, or actually talk for a couple minutes - and I don’t want to intrude, so I don’t actually answer the question unless they actually seem inquisitive.

I wish I knew how to explain what “seeming inquisitive” looks like. I can usually tell, but I don’t know how to explain it. Do you know how to tell?


RAD April Rachel!: Non-literal greetings



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…

Yeah, it’s really an Anglo thing, I think. My parents soon learnt not to ask “hi, how are you doing?” unless they actually wanted to know someone’s complete medical history, because not everywhere is as odd as the US and UK in not being literal, lol. 

Good to know.