It must be tough for visitors from countries whose usage is a little more upbeat. Ask an American 'how are you?' and it's seen as a cue to deliver some advertising copy: 'You know what? I'm terrific. I'm awesome. I'm fantastic.' The person saying this is often slipping in and out of a near-fatal coma, or lying in the gutter having been bankrupted for the 14th time.
This is not a problem for the Yanks. They simply employ the National Linguistic Deflator to the sentence, dividing all positive sentiments by 230 per cent, multiplying all negative notions by the power of 10, thus working out that the person is 'as good as can be expected, considering'.
In Australia it's the opposite. The National Linguistic Inflator must be employed. Consider the following exchange:
'How are you?'
'Not bad. And you?'
As is exceedingly obvious, the first person has just, minutes ago, won the Noble prize for literature for his first experimental novel, while his friend has just made it into Who Weekly's Most Sexy Person Alive double issue, despite his work as a brain surgeon.
Sometimes Richard Glover is a bit less than average, but this time he's actuallu close to the mark.