Here’s a question of vernacular from Alex:

I’m from Sweden but I’ve lived in the UK for 10 years – which is is about a third of my life.

I have adjusted well and feel like I understand the British sense of humour, culture and got to grips with you poor dental care and MRSA-ridden hospitals, your crazy ass parliament (a bunch of posh old men shouting at each other?!), binge drinking, TOWIE etc.

One thing I still haven’t got to grips with is this:

When someone greets me by saying “alright?”

Do they mean “Hi!” or do they mean “How are you?”
I never know how to respond; do I say, “I’m good thanks, how are you?” do I say “hi” back, or do I say “alright”?

Also, my boss always says “you ok?” to me, rather than saying “hi” or even “alright?”. Does this mean the same thing i.e. a greeting, or is he genuinely concerned about my wellbeing?

So, in conclusion, how do I respond to “alright?” or “you ok?”

You’re right to suspect, Alex, that these people aren’t really too interested in your health. Think of these as greetings which are slightly more elaborate than “Hi”, in that they’re inviting you to respond, even if you’re responding in kind with meaningless small talk. “Fine thanks, how are you?” is always an appropriate response, regardless of whether you’re actually fine and interested in how the other person is.

The next step in the dance is more difficult to predict. Ideally, you’ll either move on to actual conversation rather than filler, or part company, but sometimes you can be trapped in a small talk volley for several minutes or even hours. So always have an exit strategy, because you don’t want to die from a ruptured bladder after being too polite to end a week-long exchange of casual greetings.


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2 Responses to “alright?”

  1. Noomi Says:

    Hi Alex!
    I was searching for the same answer. Funnily enough I’m also Swedish and have lived here over 10 years, (I actually had to check it wasn’t me that had written the question and forgotten it, haha!) and despite knowing pretty much everything else about everyday British culture (except crude banter which I suspect I’ll never get the hang of even if I understand the concept) I still never knew what to say to “Alright?” as a greeting. I’m usually not quick enough to blurt out “Alright” back cos it doesn’t sit right with me so in the end I just settled on “I’m fine thanks, How are you?” as my English husband says that’s a totally acceptable answer and I feel comfortable with it cos I’ve turned the question back at them and if they don’t like it they’ll most likely greet me with a different greeting (like good old trusty “Hello”) next time.

    Or you could just say “Alright” back if you know that person is likely to use it as a greeting so yr prepared to do it. Replying with the same thing always works cos it makes them have to answer first is it IS a question 🙂

    I think this “Alright” greeting is like a modern version of the old greeting “How do you do” to which one used to reply “How do you do” (which eventually got shortened to “Howdy” in the US.) But it’s just a theory.

    I personally immensely dislike “Alright” as greeting. I wish they said “Howdy” instead 🙂 But who am I to say? I am a forigner after all…

    My other pet peeve involving the word alright is when people (mainly women!) ask “You alright?” in a tone of voice that implies you clearly don’t seem/look alright, because whether you are ok or not (but trying to hide it because the situation requires you to), it is IMPOSSIBLE to answer yes so it sounds true even if you really ARE perfectly ok.

    Oh the woes of being a Swede in Britain! Haha! 🙂

  2. Andrew F Says:

    I’ve found this depends where you are in the country. In Sussex, where I’m from, the correct response to ‘alright?’ is definitely ‘alright?’. It functions as ‘hello’, not as a question. In fact, the question mark is barely present in the intonation. Respond with an answer and you’ll get a funny look. However, in the Midlands, where I’ve spent some years living, the opposite is true, and not taking ‘alright?’ as a cue for small talk seems to surprise and confuse the other person.

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