Responding to "How are you?"
In some countries (the United States, among others), the question "How are you?" is often asked as an alternative greeting. In these countries, the expected answer is usually "I'm fine/good, thanks. How are you?" Answering honestly, especially in any detail, may cause the other person to respond with surprise or confusion.
In other countries, this question may be a legitimate (albeit likely brief) inquiry into your health.
A similar question in the UK is "All right?" or "You all right?" Sometimes it basically just means "Hello" - I think the expected responses include something along the lines of "Hi, yes, you?" or a smile/nod combo or even repeating "All right?" back to them. You definitely aren't expected to describe your current state of being accurately or in detail.
The different parts of a response
Unfortunately, there's a lot of variation in how you can respond to the question that each come with different implied meanings in allistic conversation. This specific section is written from a midwestern USAmerican social perspective, and these statements may not hold true for other cultures or contexts.
The basic framework of a reply is as following: "[Status], ['(optional)' Appreciation]. ['(optional)' Return Question]"
Any words such as "good", "fine", "alright", "excellent", and similar indications of your emotional status. However, the implied emotional status is not the same as the literal meaning of the words used.
- "Good", "pretty good", "fine", and similar indicate a baseline or neutral status. These are the standard choices and have little significance attached socially.
- "Excellent" or "awesome" mean you're feeling really good.
- "Alright", "ehhh", and other literally neutral statements imply you're not doing well and feeling bad.
Allistics almost never actually state directly that they're doing poorly. Most allistics choose one or two that they use without thinking when asked, and only vary when they're feeling much better/worse than baseline.
You can also choose to avoid answering directly with phrases like "good enough" or "you know how it is". This implies to allistics that you're not doing very well, but you're not willing to talk about it. If acknowledged at all, strangers and acquaintances will typically nod and/or laugh politely. For responding to "Hows it going?", "Oh, it's going" is a good casual joke, but only works when the question is phrased in that specific way.
Some form of thanks for asking. Usually, it's only included in more formal situations or when you don't know the person asking very well. Just "thanks", "thank you", or "thanks for asking" is appropriate for nearly every situation. Going any further in length is considered odd. You usually drop the appreciation part after you've established talked with them a few times over several days.
Shorter choices: "What about you?", "How about you?", "And you?"
Longer choices: "How are you?", "How are you doing?", etc
If you want to signal that you'd like to engage in Small talk, you may want to ask another question after this general question. Good choices are broad topics with ongoing events (their partner, their work, the weather, media they've been consuming lately), as well as any subjects they brought up in your last few conversations with them.