It is not used as a greeting. You only use "как дела?" when talking to people you know well enough, and you expect to hear some answer, like "great, I've just passed that exam I was so worried about!" or "I'm sooo tired with all this work" or "I've finished painting that wall", etc. People actually tell how or what they've been doing since you last met them. Of course, sometimes they just say "нормально" (OK / I'm fine), and you go on with the conversation.
Normally, you don't say "Привет, как дела?" to someone you barely know. It's just weird. You have to know a person before you are able to be really interested in their current affairs.
Some native Russian speakers do say "как дела?" at the first contact (especially on the internet), but many others feel annoyed with this question from strangers - me included. We just don't see the point of inserting meaningless "Как дела? - Нормально, а у тебя? - Все хорошо" into the conversation, and prefer to get straight to the business.
Does this illustrate a difference between Russian and English speaking cultures? It seems Russians actually expect an honest answer when they ask как дела? whereas we English speakers might genuinely want to know but could also just be making polite 'small talk'. In English, if you answer honestly, you might find the other person glazing over!
Yes, such is the difference. We don't do "small talk" if we don't need to fill awkward pauses. We can talk on general topics like weather etc., but it is really uncommon to ask strangers how they are doing.
I ask "как дела?" when the point of conversation is just to keep in touch and have a chat without any haste. Like, I want to know how my mom is doing and expect to hear about her current health, work, etc. In return, I tell her about my son and what we've been doing recently.
This reminds me of my first encounter with my last Russian instructor. The school year had already started and when I discovered I could fit a Russian class into my schedule, I approached him to see if he would agree to let me get added to his class. Naturally I wanted to impress him with what little Russian I already knew and I am almost certain, I said, "Привет, как дела?" It had been a while since I had spoken any Russian to anyone, so I was probably pretty proud of myself for having remembered even that much. Now I know, I probably didn't impress him at all. Nevertheless, he agreed to let me join the class. Perhaps he recognized that I could use some help!
Привет, this is not an official appeal. Do not say hello to the boss, an unfamiliar adult, Queen of the United Kingdom.
You can say "привет" to a school friend, a colleague with whom a friendly relationship, a child, a grandmother and all family members. Forgive me for my mistakes, I am from Russia.
I am not surprised Russian has little tolerance for small talk and "fake niceties". All nine Central/Eastern European countries I have been to are the same. Plus, Germans also hate the answer "fine" (mir geht's gut). It was so wonderful to experience that I changed my behavior. Rejoice!
Oh, there are a lot of German people who just use this as a shallow phrase, not really being interested, and who just answer "fine". ;) But yes, there are other German people who hate this.
I also wish for an honest answer when I ask someone how they are. And I wish for someone asking me the same, that they are equally interested in my response. Otherwise it doesn't make any sense to me to ask in first place.
But sometimes I answer just "fine"/"okay", too, either when I think the person who asks doesn't want an honest or detailed answer, or when I don't trust the person enough (especially in times the honest answer would be "I'm not fine" and the reason would feel too personal to share with everybody).
You could also ask the seller at the little store you go to frequently, how they are, if you've seen and talked to each other often enough, so the question wouldn't sound creepy. But the answer and conversation will probably be more superficial and short, than with a friend. The question usually signals that one cares in some way for the other person, it shows respect and interest. At least how I use it. It can also be a conversation starter and help building trust/friendship.
first - how are you doing (business, affairs, success in life etc) second - how are you PERSONALLY (feelings, things that you are going through etc) BUT basally it doesn't matter, it's the same like in English you ask "what's up" "how are you" "what you been up to" . It doesn't make much difference. You can use both and not give any shirts about it if you know what i mean