Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Rectifications (16) – How’s your day been

Rectifications (16) – How's your day been…so far? Then, Have a nice day…

Torrey Orton– October 6, 2009

Many are the assaults of false connectedness, few so offensive as "How's your day been?", exceeded only by "How's your day been so far?" Both come almost solely from the mouths of casual retail workers* aged 15 to 20, often recent immigrants or more likely students of English speaking backgrounds who cannot possibly know what they are saying, socially. It can also be found in banks where staff are moderately more permanent, but still not real. Closing with 'Have a nice day' rounds out the insult.

False friendlies

What's the offense here? I've already attacked the false friendly – the would-be personal relationship ambit of contemporary retailing. In addition, there's the irritation of being asked a real question which solicits a real answer – an invasion I do not want when shopping in a place where almost none of the staff are recognisable from week to week (by contrast with my barber, barista and butcher!).

This particular phrase grates screechingly. I may get over it, but move on? I know I am not alone among my peer group (over 50's). The usage is widely despised. Maybe we will all deal with it and go forward…but then there will be another to replace it until we die because the roots of false friendly are deep in the dissimulations and pretensions of our culture.

So, what to do?

Here the immediate rectification is obvious and dubious at once. The obvious is to tell them its offensiveness to me. Dubious it is, however, that they will personally deserve the negative energy which will be attached, and also it is dubious that they could change it if they wanted to (assuming a successful instructional foray from me which was minimally offensive to them). They would probably be fired for ceasing and desisting as requested, since much cash and little intelligence has been devoted to training kids, and their elders masquerading as kids, to be customer friendly by uttering similar inanities with the pretence of making the experience personal.

Equally, they would probably be irritated in return, since there is nothing for them to understand about the language itself. It is a grammatically correct English expression. It is the language gifted to them by our times. And, if they are foreign students or immigrants, even from other English-speaking places, they will be trying to be local by speaking local, as one does. Should they be disturbed in their progress by irritating oldies? But more likely a source of their irritation would be this: by raising the issue of the inappropriateness of a certain verbal turn I would be shifting the relationship from false friendly into real, personal and possibly unfriendly. Not the engagement they had signed up for, nor intended by their irritating query, probably.

How to..?

Tactics is all once a strategy is in hand. My initial strategy is to test my assumptions about local usage of 'How's your day been..?' This will be precursor to designing a more broad-spectrum strategy for rectifying such usages. My tactics could be:

  • Check with myself that my emotional engagement level is moderate or less, so the performance anxiety of trying this tactic doesn't blow up my irritation into anger.
  • Ask if the service person has a second to talk.
  • If yes, then point out I'm going to raise an issue they might find challenging, and that I don't want them to be worried – it's not a complaint. Nothing for management.
  • Then, say I'm trying to understand certain language which is broadly used by service persons, as you just did, and is irritating to me
  • Viz – 'How's your day been…(so far)?
  • Can u tell me why you say this? Where did you learn it?
  • If I told you I find it very irritating what would you think/ feel?
  • Do you want to know why it is irritating?

My aim is to try this over the next week and see what comes of it. I should be able to report in 10 days or so. The next strategy step should be available then, too.

* If what's happening at Coles' checkout counters is any indicator, those kids will soon be working elsewhere anyway. There'll only be a couple of personally serviced lanes left for customers who can't be trusted with a credit card or like untraceable transactions.

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