Bob vs. Well-Wishers
Bust Bob's Chops

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© 1999 Brian F. Schreurs
Even we have a disclaimer.

Bobsled: take one Bob, add snow, four children; push downhill hard.
On March 24, 1999, Bob Levey said:

"What's wrong with 'have a nice day'? Lots."

You are expected to say something. It must be pleasant but not gushy. It must express that this particular crossing of paths has ended, but also that another is welcome in the future. Socially, a very delicate situation. Easy to botch it up.

Luckily we have a canned response always at the ready. "Have a nice day!" we say. The speaker, of course, does not expect the listener to change his day's plans based on this directive. Likewise, the listener is not deluded into thinking that the speaker has dedicated one iota of thought to what kind of day he might have. This is implicitly understood by both sides, because more than likely the roles will be reversed in about an hour.

As broadly useful as the "day" greeting is, it does have limits. You don't use it with someone who has just suffered some sort of calamity. And... uhhh... well, that's about it. "Day" is about as universal as they get.

The popularity of the "day" greeting is largely because of what it achieves. It allows you to lie. Lie like a dog. Big-time lie. And it's totally socially acceptable, even though the recipient of your kind words knows full well that you're a big fat liar. Who says "have a nice day" to their friends, family, or anyone they actually might want to have a nice day? No, to such people we generally say something else like "see ya" or "later" or even "see ya later." We wish a nice day on those we least care about, as if to say, "Have a nice day, because I'm certainly not going to help you with it."

There is nothing wrong with this! Imagine a world where we all spoke our minds instead of using the "day" greeting:

A cashier at a mom-n-pop store: "Please please buy more stuff! I'm barely breaking even!"

A cashier at a chain store: "Don't let the door smack you on the way out."

A business call: "And if you forget to call back, I'm going to double the price out of spite."

A casual acquaintance: "I can't remember your name. Please go away before you say something to make me feel even more awkward. Next time I see you coming, I intend to hide."

A recorded message: "I don't want to talk to you. If by some unfortunate chance you actually reach me, I will fabricate a pitiful excuse for you to call me back later. When my recorded message will be waiting for you."

It would be nice if people weren't thinking these things. But they are. Far better to have some socially acceptable throwaway greeting like "day" than to actually express our sentiments. With our social structure the way it is, the world just works better this way.

One possibility is to come up with other similarly disposable greetings. This already exists to some degree with things like "have a nice drive" or "please call again." But if it's going to have the same subliminal message, what's the point? There is no need to play games. They know what you really mean. Stick with what works.

Have a nice day.