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Published: Sunday, 5/28/2000

Hawaiians' hugs say more than empty words

"Have a good one."

I have come to detest that greeting; it is far too over-worked.

Have a good what?

"Have a good one."

I have come to detest that greeting; it is far too over-worked.

Have a good what?

Have a good time shopping for groceries? No way.

Have a good time in heavy traffic on a four-lane highway. Can anyone?

Have a good time paying your bills? I doubt it.

Have a good time waiting on voice mail? That would be a first.

Have a good time mowing the grass? There may be a few people who think that's a good time. Poor souls.

Have a good time going home from work? That's getting closer.

Have a good time watching TV? That's a tough order.

Such a vague comment with no meaning is best left unsaid and that's what I feel like responding when people off-handedly throw out the remark with little thought and less caring.

It's like the old joke about the two psychiatrists who meet on the street. One said, "How are you?" and the other commented, "Wonder what he meant by that."

I wonder, too, where the expression, How are you? began. It was probably in a doctor's office because, for the most part, they are the only ones, outside the family and close friends, who care how we really are - and I sometimes wonder if they do.

If you keep track of the responses from people who ask you how you are, I'm guessing that they don't really care because very few take the time to listen to your answer.

So you meet an old friend you are glad to see and tell your troubles to. When the question of how you are comes up, it's the signal to let loose. Trusting creatures that we are, we want to believe that the other guy really wants to know how we are. But, as we are telling him that it's been a rough year, that the kids have been sick, you just got out of the hospital, and the car broke down, the longtime best friend is either yawning or has slipped into the crowd.

One of my favorite stories, and I have a lot of them, was on opening night at a flashy new Toledo restaurant. In the new business rush, a plate of food was spilled into the lap of a customer, who attempted to wipe it up with the napkin.

When the young man who was employed as host to check the tables came to the one with the mishap, he asked the standard question; How is everything? At that the customer began to extol his unhappiness about the spaghetti sauce on his trousers and the meatball that got away under the table.

The host said, "Thank you for coming. Have a nice evening," and the meatball just kept on rolling.

I also hear thoughtless comments at places of business. You walk into a place soaking wet from the rain, sneezing, with a handful of Kleenex and out of breath, and what does the sales person say? "Have a nice day," what else?

Unfortunately, in our fast-paced, self-centered lifestyles, we don't take the time to personalize our greetings. We could ask how Johnny is doing in school or how the garden is doing. Or, if they have plans for a vacation this summer. Or even how the divorce is progressing. If we are greeting an old friend, remember whens can be a lot more personal than "How are you?" which Americans blurt out automatically without thinking.

George: How Are You?

Sophia: How Are You? It's like an appendage to given names.

Without question, the best greeting is a Hawaiian custom. Sure, everyone learns to say, "Aloha," and before they leave the islands, chances are they will receive floral leis as an expression of love and friendship.

But, what I like most and believe we should adopt is the practice of exchanging hugs. Hugs say it all without words.

Mary Alice Powell is a former Blade food editor.

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