Brian Edwards Media

You don’t give a damn, so why ask me?

how-can-i-brighten-your-day1It had been a long day at the studio and I couldn’t face the stove, so we popped into a restaurant on the way home. Brian and I were deep in conversation, half way through a sentence, in fact, when a voice chirped: ‘Hi! How’s your week been so far?’ 

A perky young waitress waited, clearly expecting an answer, perhaps even a happy little conversation. We forced a smile, mumbled something neutral and buried our heads in the menus.

It’s all part of a new and supremely irritating form of exchange where people you’ve never met in your life ask you personal questions, and apparently it’s not acceptable to tell them to mind their own business.

I’ve become inured to trainee hairdressers and shop assistants demanding to know about my day, when I just want them to wash my hair or let me find a pair of jeans in peace.

I’ve learned to keep my cool when telephone cold callers enquire about my health, ‘Hi Judy, it’s Brandi here from XYZ Services-how-are-you-today?’ There’s never a comma in this, by the way. The whole point of these questions is to get in before you ask what they want. After you’ve discussed the state of your day and/or health and moved on to lamenting the weather, it’s harder to tell them to naff off when they move on to the sales pitch.

What’s wrong with this?  Isn’t it all just part of the lubrication that smoothes social intercourse? It’s just a formal exchange:  How’s your day been?/Fine, how about yours? So why does it make me so irrationally annoyed?

Because it’s totally phony, that’s why, and I find it demeaning. A total stranger is demanding personal information, because some idiot’s instructed them to ‘make conversation’ with customers. And these questions demand an answer, an answer of equal phoniness. The truth is that they don’t give a damn – about you, your day, your health or your views on the weather. If you watch the trainee hair-washers, you’ll see the looks of vacant boredom as their clients chat away. Watch the shop assistants and you’ll see the veiled horror if a lonely client actually takes up the conversational offer.

None of this is as banal as a hairdresser I once had who always answered the phone carolling, ‘How can I brighten your day?’  I changed hairdressers, because I couldn’t bring myself to phone for appointments.

I think we should strike back.  When they ask, tell them – in excruciating detail. The monthly statistics meeting, the problems with getting people to pay their bills, the endless hassles with the HR manager, the interesting new stain on the ceiling of your office…

Then when you get a call from someone with a sales pitch and a ‘how-are-you-today?’ run them through your entire medical history. Embellish a little.  And if they’re still on the phone at the end of all that, give them the lowdown on your Uncle Harry’s piles and the details of his operation.  

It might bring their sales career to an abrupt halt, but I’ll guarantee that it’ll brighten your day!

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25 Comments:

  1. Bravo Judy. I know JUST what you mean. A personal bugbear of mine is when my racist Zimbabwen occasional hair dresser rants at me about how “the Somalian’s and the Samoan’s” (as if “they” are all the same) don’t have to have “criminal checks” when they move here “like she does”. Sigh.

    The desire to hold my tongue doesn’t generally last and I tend to respond with something like “i think you’ll find that’s incorrect” followed by “and plenty of Somali coming here are refugees, and you are not.”

    My mother on the other hand will leave a store the moment they ask her for more than three questions ;)

    • My mother on the other hand will leave a store the moment they ask her for more than three questions ;)

      Love it – may adopt that policy myself. But how does that work when they pursue you into the changing room? You could end up shocking the locals!

  2. Yay, Judy, you’ve nailed it there. I find banks to be among the worst culprits of this false bonhomie. If one more ASB teller asks me, “How’s your day been so far, anything interesting planned?” I swear I’ll wring someone’s neck.

    • If one more ASB teller asks me, “How’s your day been so far, anything interesting planned?” I swear I’ll wring someone’s neck.

      Oh yes, ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ That’s another one that drives me nuts.

      ‘Why? Were you planning on coming round, little stranger?’

  3. Earlier this year my partner and I were on our way home from the hospital where she had just been diagnosed with kidney cancer, a shop keeper asked her how her day had been so far. He was a bit startled when she told him! Maybe he learned something from it, but I doubt it!
    It used to be bad enough with “how are you?” but now that’s comparatively tame.

    • This is a perfect illustration of how intrusive and offensive these twee questions can be. The choice: smile falsely and say things are great, or do what your partner had the courage to do and be honest. I’m afraid most of us do the former.

      Hope things are going well for you both. It can be rough.

  4. Its all part of this strange new sales technique of “building relationships” some clever dick has sold to the industry.

    But, we only have ourselves to blame – if it didn’t work, they wouldn’t do it. You can register on the Marketing Association “Do Not Call” service, here, but you have to do it for everyone in your house, it takes a month before the registers are up dated, and there is no guarantee!

    After trying a variety of strategies, I’ve settled on one where I answer every single question with “Yes”. Drives them crazy. : >

  5. I like the response of someone (I can’t remember who – possibly Orsen Welles) when told to “Have a nice day”, replied, “Thank you I have other plans”.
    Rene, the playwright, wrote about a friend who feigned an orgasm when phoned by a telemarketer. She would tell them that their voice was really sexy and was turning them on, and just to keep talking as she was almost there! Personally I say “Just a minute please”, put the phone down and get on with whatever I was doing. When I go back about 10 minutes later sometimes they are still waiting! Not fair I know but neither is interrupting me when I am working.

    • I say “Just a minute please”, put the phone down and get on with whatever I was doing. When I go back about 10 minutes later sometimes they are still waiting! Not fair I know but neither is interrupting me when I am working.

      That’s another annoying thing about telemarketers, isn’t it? The total unawareness that you’ve got work to do, a business to run – and listening to them for half an hour isn’t going to aid production. I find that if I ask them to send information by mail (or even email) the chances of ever receiving anything are very remote. If they can’t nail you down on the phone, they don’t want to know.

  6. Aha! Phatic communion … when I was a postie, householders often asked: “How are you today postie” (note the absence of a question mark) as they walked away from me. One day I decided to reply to every ‘query’ with – “I’m terrible”. The usual response was: “That’s good”.

    I now try to turn the conversation on these empty gestures by questioning the ‘quester’ about how they are feeling, how their day has been, because people are fascinating and love to talk about themselves. Of course it can blow up in your face as when I asked a bored cud-chewing hairdresser when her baby was due and she snorted: “Baby? No way, that’s beer”.

    While sympathising (superficially) with your plight amidst the flood of empty gestures “Madam”, I urge you (without much conviction) to ponder the alternative of the bored surly shop assistant having a bad day and no inclination towards displaying good manners towards anyone, in fact, if they’re having a bad day then you’re certainly going to share that experience.

    Ah, the good old days of 1970′s NZ! In fact, move to South Canterbury, they’re a good 40 years behind the times … generally speaking, they won’t bother to feign interest in your existence or even acknowledge the concept of ‘quality service’. Around these parts there is the enduring story of the pensioner who went looking for whiteware (is it still white?) in a leading department store and was virtually ignored by the sales assistants. She went elsewhere with her shopping list and having just won Lotto it was quite an extensive list …

    “How are you today madam? Did you have a good weekend?”

    • …ponder the alternative of the bored surly shop assistant having a bad day and no inclination towards displaying good manners towards anyone, in fact, if they’re having a bad day then you’re certainly going to share that experience

      True – and that would probably set off another rave. But without wanting to incite violence towards cheerful clairvoyants, couldn’t we strike a happy medium and settle for a pleasant, ‘Good morning’?

  7. My 15 yr old daughter had just had a biopsy taken from her neck to see whether a tumour was malignant or not.
    When asked by a some stranger, ‘How’s your day been?’ I quite correctly replied, ‘Well not that great. I am now waiting to hear whether my girl is going to die or not.’ I still feel very slightly guilty for the affect that had on the poor shop assistant.

    PS my girl is ok now and is probably binge drinking in London even as we speak(more worry)

  8. Actually I quite like the cheerful hello from our friendly supermarket checkout staff in small town shopping. It is interesting to see the range of friendliness. Some are grudging and almost sullen. Most make a moment seem bright especially if making eye contact. I think that, even though they are trained to be so, I would like those ones to be my daughters or daughters-in-law. I like ‘em.

    • Actually I quite like the cheerful hello from our friendly supermarket checkout staff in small town shopping.

      And so do I! It’s only the inane questions that get up my nose.

  9. Agree 100%. What I cannot understand is how those who are responsible for training staff (parrots) to utter these phrases do not realise how irritating these sales cliches are. The teller in the bank is no more interested in my personal well being than I am in his/hers and i resent the presumption implied by such questions. Some years ago I had to go to ED to have my nose packed following a very heavy nose bleed. When I returned to have the packing removed the nurse said “are you having a good day”, to which I responded “as well as could be expected with half a yard of towel up my hooter and not being able to breathe”, to which she replied “that’s nice, i am pleased”.

    However most of us have a modicum of in-built courtesy which precludes the response, “why don’t you mind your own business.” In the case of tele-marketers, I hit the dissconnect button the moment that phrase is uttered.

    • Ben, check out Little Toot’s experience as a postie. I suspect that 90% of time these people never listen to the reply – yet more proof that they don’t gve a damn.

  10. I feel so sorry for all you delicate little flowers – imagine having to deal with people who are paid minimum wage to say these horrible things to you.

    I don’t know how you cope. My prayers are with you all.

  11. 11

    Monosodium Glutton

    When a telemarketer calls me – usually at dinner time – and asks “Hows your day been?” I reply, very slowly, in my deep, creepy husky voice “I’m fine, can I ask if you are wearing anything revealing?” Makes no difference if it’s a guy or gal, the effect is instant.

    • When a telemarketer calls me – usually at dinner time – and asks “Hows your day been?” I reply, very slowly, in my deep, creepy husky voice “I’m fine, can I ask if you are wearing anything revealing?”

      I think this is brilliant. Just off to practise a deep, creepy voice!

  12. @Felix: Why is it OK for people annoy us just because they’re still at the bottom of the corporate ladder?

    Another thing that ticks me off is people who use really unsubtle sarcasm!

  13. I wonder if at times it’s also a generational phenomena. If a youngster is addressing a bunch of prattling younguns, a greeting of “Hi! How’s your week been so far?” may be seen as a friendly ‘bonding gesture’ and an opportunity to develop social skills, whereas for someone three times their age seeking a quiet interlude it’s a shallow intrusion.
    Perhaps the answer is to look straight into his/her eyes and ask: “Do you REALLY want to know?”
    Yes, a polite ‘good morning’ would suffice.

    Thanks to BLiP for the info, I know folk who are in desperate need of it! I love MonoGlut’s suggestion but doubt that it would play out quite the same for a woman, and there’s always the risk of some bright spark calling your bluff!

    Sigh.

  14. Sarah

    Most of these jobs are the type where you say things exactly the way you’re paid to, exactly when you’re paid to, or else you don’t get paid to anymore.

    And sorry about the awful sarcasm. I hope you don’t have to suffer it again.

  15. Just make it witty next time, Felix.

  16. See what happens when I make it a little more subtle, Sarah? Right over your wee headsy.

    Anyhoo, a suggestion: Next time a shop person annoys you, just say “I’d prefer we keep this a master/servant relationship, thank you.”

    They won’t bother you again.

  17. Hear, hear.
    When I go to the supermarket I either get a sullen checkout person ( a smile would be ok!) or one of the “How’s etc” variety. I can handle the former..at least they are being themselves. For the later I fix an expressionless stare which always seem to throw them a bit. They probably think I am thick or deaf which is probably partly true. I always walk away with a smile on my face!