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I once read the book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System by Paul Fussell. There, he mentioned that saying “Have a nice day” was a faux pas, without elaborating why.

I’m not American, this is way too subtle for me and Google did not help. Therefore, I’ll ask here: what is wrong with this phrase, and what should I say instead in situations where I would use it (like for example parting with a person)?

I’m not making this up, either: look at the first paragraph.

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The sentence is perfect English. The question would be better suited for an etiquette site. –  MετάEd Feb 11 '12 at 0:44
    
@MetaEd Btw, which site(s) on SE are entertaining questions on etiquette at present? –  Kris Feb 12 '12 at 14:36
    
It depends on the site. I saw gun etiquette discussed in firearms.se and tipping etiquette in travel.se. An etiquette.se might be useful and would certainly provide a good place inside the .se communities to refer such questions. I was not thinking of just .se sites though when I made the comment. There are many etiquette sites out there. For example Yahoo Answers has an etiquette category. –  MετάEd Feb 13 '12 at 15:34
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There will always be a few jerks who condemn social niceties. These are probably the same dorks who respond to "How are you?" by telling us about their back pains. –  David Schwartz Dec 2 '12 at 1:03
    
There is now an Etiquette.SE proposal: area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/29783/etiquette –  MετάEd Dec 30 '12 at 11:08
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5 Answers

up vote 18 down vote accepted

There's nothing wrong with "Have a nice day" in itself.

Paul Fussell is simply engaging in a bit of elitist, curmudgeonly nose-holding about the hoi polloi, whose membership in the great unwashed is marked by their use of the phrase, "Have a nice day." This excerpt from the book is telling:

Dear Sir,

My banker embarrasses me terribly by saying at the end of the transaction, "Have a nice day." I don't know what I'm supposed to say back. Can you help?

Sincere

Dear Sincere:

The best response to "Have a nice day," I think, is one devised by a British friend of mine. He says: "Thank you, but I have other plans." Perfectly polite, and yet it leaves no doubt that you are not in that person's social class.

But to finish answering your question, the most generally applicable English phrase to use when parting is, "Good-bye."

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Geeze, he sounds like quite an ass. The correct response, just for reference, is "You too" or any number of reversals ("You as well", "Back at you", etc.) or some other well wishing valediction. –  Phoenix Feb 11 '12 at 1:26
    
@Phoenix How could 14 people not see the point that "Good-bye" is suggested as the 'phrase to use when parting,' not a response to 'Have a nice day'. –  Kris Feb 12 '12 at 14:40
    
@Kris I know that's what Gnawme was saying, but the excerpt didn't give a good response and neither did he. –  Phoenix Feb 12 '12 at 16:33
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@Phoenix The OP wasn't asking for a response; they were asking what they should use instead of "Have a nice day." "Good-bye" works in most cases. The excerpt was to illustrate Fussell's use of "Have a nice day" as a class marker. –  Gnawme Feb 13 '12 at 2:13
    
"...well then, have a miserable day if that's what you prefer." –  SF. Dec 1 '12 at 23:56
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The phrase "have a nice day" is commonly heard coming from the mouths of those in service positions (source: I work at a fast food restaurant). Since he makes note that the middle class is large and earns little, and is largely uneducated, he may assume that these uneducated folk will be filling large numbers of low-paying service jobs, which will increase the usage of "have a nice day," a phrase that he loathes.

Have a nice day, by the way.

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+1 for last sentence. I'm laughing out loud right now. –  Michel Kogan Oct 25 '13 at 10:18
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I think there are a great many people (including some who I believe should know better) who believe it is an order. Does anyone else remember the buttons you could buy which said "Don't tell me what kind of day to have?"

This is, of course, completely wrong. I would call it benedictive, if only English had such a case. I will say it is subjunctive, a wish that the person spoken to have a nice day, rather than imperative.

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The only thing wrong with it is that it quite frequently means "leave so the next customer can be served". OTOH, if his advice to Sincere had appeared in an etiquette column, I would have written in to say the teller should respond to his "classy" put down with something along the lines of "stuff it sideways, that'll help".

In short avoiding the phrase when dealing with friends and acquintances is probably good advice, but not for the reason he suggests. It might seem insincere. On either side of a business transaction, it is acceptable with the cavet that the implied insincerity will occasionally irritate people, probably because they are not having a nice day or are expecting it to get worse. Most will suffer it in silence.

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While talking to a nice secretary over the phone to change my college schedule, I told her to have a nice day before telling her good bye. I think she was a bit shocked, considering she hesitated before replying. I like telling others to have a nice day, especially when they are usually the ones to say it first. It's only polite.

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