What Comes After "Hello"?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A map of the United States. (Hamik/Shutterstock)

Do you say, "Where are you from?" or "Where do you live?" or "What's your church?" Deborah Fallows, correspondent for The Atlantic, talks about the regional differences in the greetings we give, and what they say about us.


We asked listeners: What conversational clues do you use to find out useful information about people you’ve just met? What do WNYC listeners ask a new acquaintance right after they say hello?

A Sampling of Those Second Questions 

Staten Island
Suggested by John
“Where’d your parents come from?”

Suggested by Leanne
“Are you from New York originally?”

Suggested by John
“What do you use, Mac or PC?”
John is a software programmer, and says that’s a trick question – you’re supposed to respond Linux!

San Diego
Suggested by Alba
“What do you do?”
This refers to your hobbies, not your profession.

And our own Anna Sale, who is from West Virginia, said the question for any outsider encountered in her home state was always a perplexed “why are you here?” 


Deborah Fallows

Comments [24]

Michelle from southern california

I love to ask "What are you passionate about?"

Feb. 22 2014 01:28 PM

Along these lines, I do laugh when callers to the Mike Francesca sports show start off by asking Mike, as a greeting, "What's up?" He's at work - what do you think is up?

Feb. 21 2014 12:43 PM
Judy Schneider from Hewlett

For me it is all about setting. I belong to a small Reconstructionist Temple. If I am meeting someone there , I would say, "How did you hear
about us"?
If I am meeting someone at a conference, I would say, "What brings you here"?

Feb. 20 2014 07:32 AM

Yet another map that omits Michigan's Upper Peninsula? That's over 16,000 square miles to forget -- more than two New Jerseys!

Feb. 19 2014 06:42 PM
Leah from UWS

Being a 20 something on the UWS it is frequently "what camp did you go to?"

Feb. 19 2014 05:41 PM
Betsy from Staten Island

Growing up on Staten Island, it was often "What's your parish?"
But my favorite one was when I took my son to a hand surgeon in Brooklyn with a large Hasidic clientele. Sitting in the waiting room, I kept hearing, "Hello! Who's your rebbe?"

Feb. 19 2014 05:03 PM
JD from NYC

In some cultures it's considered inappropriate to ask someone what they do for a living. A person's profession often indicates income, class, educational attainment, etc. Could be as invasive as asking a stranger what their salary is.

Feb. 19 2014 04:47 PM
Jeeves from Chicago

In Chicago, locals will ask:

"Where did you go to high school?"

Because that describes who you are and where you're *really* from--which neighborhood, religion, class background, etc.

Feb. 19 2014 02:06 PM
Dan from Park Slope

What's your drink?

Feb. 19 2014 02:03 PM
Bebe from Queens

The real reason the "what do you do" question has become rude is that so many of us have been laid off. If we're lucky, we've found some inadequate substitute to pay the bills, like bagging groceries at Trader Joe's. Or we're collecting unemployment and dreading the day when the benefits run out. Not exactly fascinating conversation material.

Feb. 19 2014 01:13 PM
MBNY1211 from Brooklyn

When I was a kid in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn the question was "what parish are you in?" As a Catholic, it was rare to have non-Catholic friends. The nuns discouraged it. LOL!

Feb. 19 2014 12:16 PM
Emm from Queens

I think it depends on the setting and age. Growing up in the Bronx and all through high school in southeastern PA, I got bewildered variations of "What are you?" from (Bronx) Latinos and (PA) African-Americans trying to figure out my racial makeup.

Now, as an adult who runs in mostly transplant 30-something circles in BK and Manhattan, I get "Where do you live?" or "What do you do?" in equal numbers.

Feb. 19 2014 12:08 PM
Ashley in Brooklyn

Fascinating discussion! Though I do find it odd that the guest -someone who studies linguistics- used the phrase "olden times" at one point during the segment. …maybe it's a regional thing?

Feb. 19 2014 11:34 AM
Deb from NJ

I grew up in Brooklyn, the question always was "what are you"?
The what, being your nationality(really what or where are your ancestors from)
Usually it would be Italian, Irish, Jewish.
I always hated that. My answer was I'm American. That usually stopped that conversation.

Feb. 19 2014 11:32 AM
Anne from Manhattan

I'm with Mike. I feel that if a fellow New Yorker is so unoriginal as to ask "What do you do?" as a second question, then they deserve a truly original answer. It's shocking how many NYers still DO ask that "fishing" question in the first minute of conversation - you can just tell that the asker is (typically)trying to quickly whether you are, at a minimum, on an even socioeconomic footing with him or her. For this reason - and I'm sure in the minority in NYC - this as a SECOND question is abrasive, obvious, and tasteless. It can be OK later in the conversation, after some other important information has been exchanged.

Despite the fact that I make a great living in a respectable field, my answer very rarely discloses my "line of work". Instead, I respond with a host of different answers that have little or nothing to do with my profession, but which in my own estimation are more important self-characterizations, such as "Well, I act as the backbone of a large and complicated family" or "Glad you asked! I coordinate all kinds of large social outings on a regular basis for all of my friends" or "Every other weekend, I travel out of town to care for my Mom, who has Alzheimer's".

By the way, it's only the people who DON"T ask "What do do you do?" or who do, but seem to enjoy my more free-form answers to that question, who end up getting more than another minute of my time in an introductory social situation.

Feb. 19 2014 11:31 AM
MaryAnn McCarra-Fitzpatrick from Peekskill, NY

If you're obviously might be asked what county your parents (or grandparents) are from, i.e., County Galway, County Monaghan, County Mayo, et cetera. I don't think you've mentioned this one yet.

MaryAnn McCarra-Fitzpatrick
Peekskill, NY

(Both parents from County Galway, Gaillimh Abu!!)

Feb. 19 2014 11:14 AM
oscar from ny

Ughh I can't stand these white yuppies from idk where talking loud on the trains ..they sound like chickens click click click...all you hear from them is omg so like where you from you have dog??..ooohh i love much you for rent? wanna pay 1000 $ for a room i cant smoke talk loud etc etc ...bah bah racist so fascist

Feb. 19 2014 11:12 AM
Shirlyn, NYC

What do you collect?

Feb. 19 2014 11:12 AM
Rog UES from nyc

Typically after the customary friendly smile and "Hello, welcome to the building!" I follow-up with a thoughtful pause and then this: "you mind if I share your wifi?"

Feb. 19 2014 11:11 AM
Marcy from Upper East Side

I work in a restaurant and people always ask the staff "what do you do?" Meaning...what do you do outside of here, like what are your pursuing. I appreciate that they recognize that I don't plan on waiting on tables my whole life. But my co worker is a bartender(who wants to open a bar someday) and he finds it offensive that people assume you are doing something if bartending is not good enough.

Feb. 19 2014 11:08 AM
Dan from Sleepy Hollow

How's your day going?

Feb. 19 2014 11:05 AM
Brian from Brooklyn

The Question I like to ask people is: 'What is your passion?' People come to NYC to do something. The job is not always what they came to do. A lot of times it is what they need to do to accomplish their dreams in NYC.
Always a good answer. ANother tip: When you hear a cabbie playing the radio low, ask them to turn it up. Always a great way to start a conversation.

Feb. 19 2014 11:04 AM
Mike from Brooklyn

If someone asked me "Where do you go to church?" I'd move back to the northeast right away.

When people ask me "what do you do?" I say "fester."

Feb. 19 2014 11:02 AM
Justine Blau from Manhattan

What line of work are you in?

Feb. 19 2014 11:02 AM

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