Have a nice day (not)

I’m currently reading a book in which the narrator moved to the UK from the US. One of her first observations in Britain was how ‘coolly’ people in shops treated the customers, compared to the US, and she especially missed being wished a nice day and wondered whether salespeople in the UK don’t care what kind of day their customers have.

That got me thinking about several things. First, it’s interesting that Americans coming to the UK notice a more reserved attitude to customer service. If there is already such a difference in American and British customer service, it shows what a deep culture shock Americans probably go through when confronted with German customer service.

The other thing the comment in that book make me think about was the “Have a nice day”-bit. I know that in the US this is a given. People are constantly wishing each other a nice day. I don’t think they are all terribly interested in what kind of day the other person is having, but it’s just one of these nice things to say to each other as a sign of being friendly. Unless it is said in the robotic obviously disinterested way I often heard it in the larger department stores in the US, I like hearing, “Have a nice day”. It has become much more popular in Germany as well and it has no more meaning than it has in the US (though when I still had my bookshop, I made a point of only saying it when I meant it).

However, there is another interesting development I noticed in Germany. I don’t know whether this is also done in other countries – feel free to let me know! The “have a nice day” phrase is sometimes being used in two additional and different ways.

One usually occurs when a beggar asks for small change or somebody is collecting donations etc. Often I noticed that when money is refused, the person who had asked for money quite pointedly says, “Have a nice day” or even “Have a nice day nevertheless.” It feels a bit like wanting to instill a spark of bad conscience, mainly due to the sound in which it is said as well as the pointedness. Though, that’s just my personal impression.

Another recent trend is using “have a nice day” as kind of an insult after an argument. Two people argue and then one turns and hisses “Schönen Tag noch!”, which obviously means quite a lot of things but not “have a nice day”, even though the words are there.

I had such an experience my shop once. There were quite a lot of people coming into shops asking for donations for either themselves or a charity. While I don’t at all mind giving to charity, I like to choose them myself. I have one charity I give to regularly and some I give to when I have money left or when there is a special reason. So when people came into the shop, I usually declined donating and had to go through a lengthy discussion each time. One day, a rather imposing woman came into the shop, asking for donations for a charity the purpose of which I don’t support much anyway. We went through the usual spiel and I patiently explained to her that the shop was anything but profitable at the time, that I made regular donations to charities and that she was the fourth person that week who wanted a donation. She was very insistent and after about 15 minutes I told her to please leave. “Dann eben nicht!” (kind of an annoyed “Well, fine then!”) she snarled and turned to leave. Before she left the shop, she turned around again and snapped, “Schönen Tag noch!”

I tell you, if “have a nice day” could kill, I would have been but a smoldering pile of bones on the floor.

So, why is it that this actually very nice phrase is being used in not-so-nice situations? And is it merely a German phenomenon?

Anyway. I hope you have a nice day. And I mean that. 🙂

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