“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.
In full agreement here. I get a similar reaction when you ask a person “How are you?” and they reply “I’m good”. Does this imply that I am the spawn of the devil?
I do believe it may, Carolyn. (smiley face, here). Though with some, when they ask how I am, I know I can actually tell them. You must know those people too. That’s always nice. And I know that when I ask it, I am indeed interested. If I don’t have time, I usually say instead, “I hope you’re well.” If they scrunch up their nose at that, I know we must set some time in the future to talk. It’s simple. Thanks for starting us off this morning. You are in Europe, yes?
We get this a lot in Britain now as, like so many other speech patterns, the younger generation have imported it from America.
Whenever anyone says it to me I invariably respond with “Why? What would ‘nice’ be?” As you say, it has become a trite, meaningless way of ending an interaction and it sounds patronising to many of us, so a caustic response often feels appropriate. At the same time, I have no wish to offend, so occasionally I button my lip and just say “Thank you”.
I hope you’re going to let Sasha complain freely about being tied up to stop her chasing your chookies when she posts next week. I’ll be looking out for that! 🙂
I hope you caught George Carlin when he was alive. I do believe you are kindred souls. In doing my exhaustive (Wikipedia) research, I understood how the phrase is often used as sarcasm; I’d not been privy to that before. (thankfully).
The chicken bravado is a mere byproduct of the fact that Sasha has a torn ACL. We’re currently in a holding pattern. You will learn more next week. (as will I).
ACL is Acute Chicken Licker syndrome, right? Poor Sasha. 🙁
Acute Chicken Lover
So acute she loves to eat them? And I thought she just wanted to lick their feathers clean. Oh dear! 🙂
It is a trite, meaningless phrase, and of course, I’ve thought about how it is a bit of a command–“You have a good day or else.” But honestly, does anyone mean it that way? If people say, “Have a good day” to me, I simply say, “you, too.”
This is not something that upsets or offend me.
I just don’t think we’ve thought much about it, Merril. Increasing awareness can be so exhausting… Have a great day!
Wow, Janet, I say this all the time, probably out of habit but I mean it. I don’t think of it as offensive but as usual, you get me thinking about cultural differences. Thanks for enlightening me.
That’s so interesting, Kathy. In the many times I’ve now spent with you, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say it. I wonder if I just tune it out? I was surprised too at the cultural distinctions with the phrase. Why Israel, after all? And, it looks likes there’ll be a generational divide with it in Australia. All fascinating stuff for the mill (grist, as it were). Take care (that’s another one! Oh dear. I do mean it though).
I say it especially to someone who looks like they aren’t having a nice day and need someone to say something nice and positive to them. Some people work so,hard and customers can be nasty–also I find when I go to the Sr. At the VA–the people thatman the desks don’t look very happy and I have seen patients acting horrible–so if I can be nice I will
Shoudl say Dr not Sr
I’m curious about the reactions you’ve gotten. It’s such a nice gesture, and certainly a great intention. I’m wondering how it’s received. ?? I’m reminded of a story I heard during my extensive (ahem: Wikipedia) research about the judge who handed down the sentence to the convicted criminal and then ended with, “Have a nice day.”
I’ll admit it – I say it. But I also switch it up sometimes and wish people a lovely, stupendous, fantabulous, or even just a better day. And when people ask me “How are you?” in greeting, I’m just as apt to tell them that I’m MEAN & ORNERY & HARD TO GET ALONG WITH! (Mogaw for short) The insincerity comes when we act without intention, without thinking. If I wish you a nice day, it’s because I mean it, and I do “Hope you have a lovely day!”
You’ve never let your MOHGAW side come out that I can see. I’m feeling like I’m missing something quite spectacular. Is she kin to my inner bitch? I’m glad you stopped in, Cynthia.
I think it’s a habit phrase-one I don’t use…but then I’m about to get used to hearing, “No problem.” when I thank a young person.
Hi Terry. “No problem” is very similar to the Spanish “de nada” as a response to Thank you. (It translates to “for nothing”). Reminds me of the guests on NPR. I would love it if just one of them would, when thanked for being on the show, would respond with, “You’re welcome.” Instead, they all seem to be programmed to respond, “Thank you.” Always gives me a start. Thanks for joining our little band.
Shirley Hershey Showalter
Janet, you’ve proved again how much response this little phrase can evoke, especially when the biggest complaint about it is mindlessness. Evidently, most people have an opinion when forced to examine their minds. 🙂 Thanks for linking back to my post.
The cultural twist on this is very interesting, and one that is a natural fit for this blog. But even with that lens, one can see different things, depending on prior perceptions. If you love Americans, you can see optimism and vigor in the phrase. If you think Americans are thoughtless, shallow, and uninformed, well then, here you go. No wonder comedians riff on this theme.
Hi Shirley. Thanks for taking time from your semester in Minnesota to weigh in here. I’m still curious though: did my explanation jive with your expectation?
Shirley Hershey Showalter
I can’t remember what I thought a few weeks ago, but I did expect that you would be influenced by your time abroad and that your response would be humorous. Always a good bet when you are the writer!
I consider it a bit trite. Not inviting a response. When I lived in Israel I never once heard an Israeli use the expression. Instead they said, “Have a good day.”
Hi Susan, I’m not sure I see much difference in Have a good day and Have a nice day. Just yesterday, I got “Have a great weekend.” I liked that, actually. I thought, “By golly; I think I will.” I guess I’m taking it less and less seriously as time goes on. I just don’t initiate it. Is there a similar expression in Spanish?
Interesting . . . for whatever reasons, I’ve never found this phrase the least bit offensive, nor has it occurred to me when I’ve used it myself that it might be perceived that way by others. I’ve always viewed it as a simple (albeit shallow) pleasantry, perhaps akin to “take care!” I will undoubtedly think of it differently after reading this.
For what it’s worth, I think I actually prefer “have a nice day” to certain other things, precisely because it demands so little of me. I know it obligates me to nothing other than perhaps a simple “you as well.” This is infinitely preferable to the cashier who puts me on the spot by asking more open-ended questions, like “how’s your day going?” or “you having a nice Sunday so far?” Then, I feel obliged to do one of two things I don’t feel like doing — either (a) giving a shallow, meaningless, obligatory response, such as “great!”, or (b) explaining how my day is actually going, which isn’t always “great,” and which I seldom feel like doing with complete strangers at checkout stands. (Yes, I know that sounds curmudgeonly, lol)
You’ve raised a very interesting angle here, Tim. I’d not thought of the responsibility angle in this before (and that’s usually the first thing I clang to). I think, actually, I’d welcome a sales clerk asking a more open ended question of me. I think. Maybe I’d just welcome the creativity of it. Cheers.