“Have a nice day.”
How often have you heard that?
If you live in England, probably not very often. But if you live in the US (and Israel, it turns out), particularly in an urban area, you probably hear it daily.
From the grocery store checkout clerk? A waitress? Your fare collector? Is it only folks who are taking our money who say it? Folks who don’t know us very well?
Actually, that’s true. Have a nice day has become a modern-day substitute for good-bye and is used mostly by American or Israeli customer service personal (retail) to end a transaction. Folks in Europe actually disdain its usage, finding it offensive or artificial.
I didn’t know this a month ago.
In August, Shirley Showalter, in one of her Magical Memoir Moments, challenged her readers to think about whether or not they use the term Have a nice day, and why. She linked back to a post she’d done in 2014, which you can find here. I commented on that post just last month and promised to explain in a future post why it was I never say, “Have a nice day.”
And here we are.
I love the challenge of chewing on something
I’ve taken for granted for a long time.
For those of you who’ve been reading this blog over the years, you know it is this idea — this revisiting of a belief or a behavior that we’ve always done — that undergirds my advocacy of cross-cultural curiosity. Being confronted with another culture, another way of doing something, forces us (if we are lucky) to understand anew why we do it “our” way. It gives us a chance to chew on something we’ve previously “swallowed whole.” Much better digestion that way, at least.
That the phrase is trite, superficial, or meaningless (the reasons Europeans give for their disdain for the term) is, for me, not enough of a reason. There are lots of filler words and phrases we use that fit that criteria — You know, being only the most irritating of the bunch.
In thinking it over, I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me, Have a nice day comes a bit too close to “Eat your lima beans,” or “Brush your teeth” for comfort. Sure, I’d be telling someone to do something that is good for them. Is that enough? Do they ever listen?
Besides, isn’t there an implied “or else” close behind?
In this sense, “Have a nice day” is not far removed from saying, Be a good girl. Stop crying. Go to sleep. Grow up.
These are commands. Imperatives.
Who am I to be telling you what to do?
Wikipedia has an interesting essay on the history, culture, and the geographic reach of the term. (bold emphasis below is mine)
Since it is often uttered by service employees to customers at the end of a transaction, particularly in Israel and the United States, its repetitious and dutiful usage has resulted in the phrase developing, according to some journalists and scholars, especially outside of these two countries, a cultural connotation of impersonality, lack of interest, passive–aggressive behavior, or sarcasm. The phrase is generally not used in Europe, as some find it artificial or even offensive. Critics of the phrase characterize it as an imperative, obliging the person to have a nice day. Other critics argue that it is a parting platitude that comes across as pretended.
While defenders of the phrase agree that “Have a nice day” can be used insincerely, they consider the phrase to be comforting, in that it improves interactions among people. Others favor the phrase because it does not require a response.
I love Wikipedia, which also gave me this gem from the late George Carlin:
In 1982, comedian George Carlin joked at Carnegie Hall, “That’s the trouble with ‘Have a nice day’; it puts all the pressure on you. Now you’ve got to go out and somehow manage to have a good time, all because of some loose-lipped cashier. ‘Have a nice day …’ Maybe I don’t feel like having a nice day. Maybe, just maybe, I’ve had 116 nice days in a row and I’m ready, by God, for a crappy day.”
I loved George Carlin too.
Don’t get me wrong. If you say “Have a nice day” to me, I’m sure I’d smile and thank you. I might even add, “You too.” But up here in Vermont where the pace of life is slow enough that we take time to hear that shaggy dog story, the phrase just doesn’t seem to come up that often.
As I ponder this oh-so-common farewell, I realize it’s as simple as using “I statements” instead of “you statements.” (You is the unspoken subject of Have a nice day.)
Isn’t that one nice? I DO wish you lots of happy moments all day long.
How about you? Might you think differently about the phrase the next time it comes up?
Next week, Sasha will be back to talk about her current dilemma and a solution we’re considering.