When you part from someone, do you have a favorite farewell blessing to utter?

Wikipedia CC image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Have_a_nice_day#mediaviewer/File:Smile_have_a_nice_day_sign.jpg

Wikipedia CC image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Have_a_nice_day#mediaviewer/File:Smile_have_a_nice_day_sign.jpg

Other languages, French, German, and Spanish, for example, have much more graceful words than the English “Good-Bye” or “So long!”

Witness this song written for English speakers about a famous multi-lingual Austrian family:

In America, in the decade that followed The Sound of Music, a new phrase came into popular parlance: “Have a nice day.”

I remember when the president of Eastern Mennonite College began ending his chapel talks in the late 1960’s with that phrase. I rather liked it. It seemed to personalize his magisterial presence in the pulpit.

But then came the backlash. Social critics found it easy to bash the superficiality of what became the ubiquitous end of a clerk-customer exchange in stores.

George Carlin became famous for his anti- “Have a Nice Day” routine laced with four-letter words. Just Google his name and the phrase and you can hear him.

Wikipedia has an amazingly detailed entry on this phrase, including arguments pro and con.

Why am I writing about this phrase today?

This will be my last post in the seven-part series about A Good Day. I’ve decided on an action step based on all this reflection and conversation at the end of 2014. I will look for ways to use this phrase, “Have a GOOD day” when it seems appropriate. I further resolve not to use the phrase flippantly, to look the other person in the eye, and to make a real Presence connection when I do so.

I’d love your thoughts. What is your history with this phrase? Hate it? Use it sparingly. Love it? When you switch from “nice” to “good” what difference does that make? Even if you don’t comment, I hope you have a GOOD day. 🙂

Shirley Showalter

49 Comments

  1. Audrey Metz on December 17, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    I’ve never understood why anybody would object to being wished “a nice day”! They’re rather be pointedly ignored or maybe wished something else by a Grumpy Grinch?

    Have a good/better/best day, Shirley!

    • shirleyhs on December 17, 2014 at 3:19 pm

      Audrey, I love your positive spirit. If you scroll through the amazing Wikipedia article, you’ll find support for your position here:

      Long ago I would have mocked “Have a nice day” as an international gold standard of American insincerity. But alone, ill-slept and, most of all, charmed by its contrast with my own country’s default mode of public aggression, I found it soothing, even kind. So what if it isn’t truly meant or is parroted 1,000 times a day? It oils the squeaky old cogs of social interaction, makes it more pleasant for millions of hard-packed people to coexist in an often brutal, unnaturally vertical city. Manners keep public space clean and neutral; provide a little much-needed mental distance between us.


      Janice Turner of The Times[62]

  2. Elfrieda Schroeder on December 17, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    I think the English “goodbye” is short for “God be with you” and that’s a good way to say farewell to a loved one.
    The Kikongo (An African trade language) has a double greeting in which the person who leaves says “bika mbote” (stay well) to the person who stays, and the person who stays says “kwenda mbote” (go well) to the person who leaves. They wish each other well in the leaving and in the staying.

    • shirleyhs on December 17, 2014 at 3:22 pm

      Yes, Elfrieda, you are right about the derivation of “good-bye” and thanks for adding the Kikongo language to our list. “kwenda mbote” sounds so elegant. Many African languages have words for “go well” and “stay well.”

      People who have lived in Africa for an extended period often use these English words of parting. Do you find yourself doing that?

  3. Saloma Furlong on December 17, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    I tend to say, “Take care,” or “See you later,” depending on whether I plan to see that person again soon. I don’t have any particular reason for these phrases, other than trying to avoid the “Have a nice day” platitude that grates on my nerves. First of all “nice” doesn’t really say anything. It’s a filler word. What happens on a “nice” day?

    Then comes my other problem… someone is wishing me well for TODAY. What about tomorrow, next week, or next year? Changing the word “nice to “good” doesn’t change this aspect of the phrase.

    I think whatever words we use to say our good-byes need to be mindful. I think many people have a hard time saying good-bye in this culture, and so we tend to do it to get it overwith and thus mindfulness is not part of the process.

    When I think about the meaningful good-byes I’ve said, they include telling people (or being told) how much I enjoyed my time with them. Or the old fashioned “Come again,” or “Come visit us,” or “I look forward to seeing you again,” are other ways to convey a mindful good-bye. And still another is to simply say, “Good-bye.”

    My absolute favorite way of saying good-bye is a German farewell. It is “Lebe woll” and literally translated it means “Live well” or “Fare well.” However, even the Germans use this only when people don’t know if they will ever see one another again. So it’s not used lightly. The more common phrase, “Auf Wiedersehen!” (See you again!) is another one of my favorites.

    Goodness, I had no idea I had this much to say on the subject. But there you have it.

    I look forward to seeing you again, Shirley!

    • shirleyhs on December 17, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      You make me chuckle, Saloma. I would have bet you would have a great distaste for this greeting.

      I agree completely with the need to be mindful.

      Thank you for offering “Lebe woll” into the mix. I don’t want to use it with you because I count on seeing you again!

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Oh, and readers here should know that your book Bonnet Strings is one being offered without shipping charges at Herald Press for a limited time. See the P.S. above.

  4. Laurie Buchanan on December 17, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Shirley — I’ve never been offended by someone wishing me a NICE or GOOD day. I think they’re both kind and friendly.

    Because of my background (holistic health practitioner), I am fond of saying BE WELL.

    • Audrey Metz on December 17, 2014 at 4:51 pm

      …and that reminds me of another I like hearing:

      “Stay safe”.

  5. shirleyhs on December 17, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    I think you would only be offended by UNkindness, Laurie, not by universal friendliness. And I like the expression BE WELL. I hope it applies to you tonight.

  6. marianbeaman on December 17, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    I appreciate your researching the evolution of the various phrases. It’s an enjoyable but time consuming business – right?

    Yes, I object to “Have a nice day” only if it seems insincere, said flippantly. But even then it “oils the squeaky cogs of social interaction.”

    Reviewing my own parting phrases, I rather like “God bless you” or “Safe travels” to my friends who are always darting about.

    I did click on the video because it reminded me of the Christmas Cliff and I saw Sound of Music three times. On the third time, we fell in love. No kidding!

    God bless you, my friend!

    • shirleyhs on December 18, 2014 at 9:16 am

      Yes, all of these little excursions of mind and heart take time. But when you are a curious person, they satisfy, too, as you well know.

      And then seeing how other people make connections you never thought of is the real fun.

      I think you need to tell your Sound of Music story in a blog post, or did you do that already? After a while, I can’t remember the origins of my friends’ stories. 🙂

      God bless you too, Marian!

  7. Leanne Dyck on December 17, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    I usually end conversations with friends with ‘take care’. And I always say, ‘I love you’, when ever my husband and I part. My parents have been dead now for many years and we always exchanged ‘I love you’ s. I can still hear them saying it and it helps, especially during this time of the year.
    Take care, Shirley. : )

    • shirleyhs on December 18, 2014 at 9:20 am

      Leanne, your story about “I love you” brought tears to my eyes. I always say that to my children and grandchildren, too. And to my husband every night of our 45-year marriage.

      What got to me? “I can still hear them saying it, especially this time of year.”

      You take care, too, Leanne. And may you hear those dear voices often this holiday season.

  8. Barbara McDowell Whitt on December 17, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    I tend to say, “Have a good day.” But as Saloma Furlong asks above, “What about tomorrow or next week or next year?” Her question reminds me of the way people end their annual Christmas letters that go to everyone on their lists (yes, I know, but…). I thought ours should end, “In this Christmas season we wish you a happy, healthy and hopeful 2015.” My husband wanted to change it to “We wish you a happy and healthy new year.” Sometimes a woman yields to her man.

    This is also the season where we used to hear “Merry Christmas” often. We don’t hear it so much any more. We say “Happy holidays” or “Have a Happy Holiday” so we don’t step on toes. I, for one, miss “Merry Christmas.”

    Merry Christmas, Shirley. And may 2015 for you and Stuart be filled with happiness.

    • shirleyhs on December 18, 2014 at 9:23 am

      Barbara, you made me smile. Yes, every once in a while it is good for a woman to yield to her man, especially when the stakes are low!

      I love saying “Merry Christmas” and when I am sure it will be understood, I say it often. Merry Christmas to you and all your lovely family.

  9. Linda Rush on December 19, 2014 at 12:39 am

    In sending emails to my colleagues, I truly want their day to go well so I often end with ‘Have a great day.’ Then I sometimes have the afterthought of, “I hope they aren’t offended by that phrase.”

    I hope you have a great day too, Shirley.

    • shirleyhs on December 19, 2014 at 7:17 am

      Well, Linda, we have no control over other people’s reactions. We only control our own intentions, if we are mindful of them. I have an abiding trust that all will be well, and I can tell you do also.

      So wonderful to find you here. Have a great day!

  10. Donald Clymer on December 19, 2014 at 9:15 am

    I did not realize that the quote “have a good day” comes from the influence of THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Very interesting; especially if one considers the influence of the media and the evolution of language.

    When people ask me how many languages I speak, I often reply, “I’m still learning English.” I do this for two reasons. First, because as witnessed above, language is constantly evolving. Secondly, the more I deal with other languages, the more I realize how much of an amateur I am.

    Now to the phrase. As a linguist, I teach and approve of social convention for good intercultural communication, but I am always looking for ways to break with the banality of social convention as well. (The cynic?) For example, when asked “How are you?” the Q’eqchi’ people of Guatemala respond with “I’m happy in my heart,” when they are well. I like to use that when someone asks me how I am in other languages. Also, when someone asks me “How are you?” I sometimes respond, “I’m fine, but I’ll get over it.” This usually catches one up short. Generally speaking, I stick with social convention.

    I don’t mind the phrase “have a nice day.” I use it frequently. I also often say “have a good one,” whatever that means.

    • Audrey Metz on December 19, 2014 at 9:20 am

      I really like that! – “Have a good one”, in my mind, means “Whatever IS for you, I hope it’s good!”

  11. shirleyhs on December 19, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Welcome here (nice Canadian phrase :-), Don.

    First, the Sound of Music did not have a direct influence on the popularity of the term “have a nice day.” According to the Wikipedia article in the link above, truckers on CB radios used it extensively in the 70’s when it came into popular use, especially with your favorite shortcut: “have a good one.”

    Thanks for shedding light on our English phrases through the lens of other languages. I love “Happy in my heart.” I think I’ll teach it to my grandchildren, who will know exactly what that phrase means.

    Thanks for adding your perspective to the conversation today. And I hope a few people here check out your book with the free shipping today and tomorrow. http://store.mennomedia.org/The-Spacious-Heart-P4284.aspx

  12. Donald Clymer on December 19, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Hahahaha, had I known where the phrase came from (sorry I didn’t take time to read the link), I would never use it!!! Just kidding.

    When taking leave of someone, Spanish very often uses “que le(te) vaya bien” which means “may it go well with you.” I use this at the end of every Spanish class.

    German also has an interesting take on “Aufwiedersehen” when they finish a telephone conversation. They say “Aufwiederhören which literally means “till I hear you again.”

    Social conventions are necessary, and who among us hasn’t given a flippant or insincere wish or blessing to someone.

  13. Tina Fariss Barbour on December 21, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    I do tend to say “have a nice day” without really thinking about it. I also have gotten into the habit of saying “have a good one,” which really sounds even more flip!

    I don’t mind people wishing me a nice day. But I admit that I don’t necessarily believe they really mean it.

    I like your idea of using “have a good day” when you can look someone in the eye and be there. I think the other person will feel that sincerity.

    • shirleyhs on December 22, 2014 at 4:42 pm

      Dear Tina, thanks for offering up your thoughts again. It’s hard to be mindful, isn’t it? Sometimes I put these commitments in print just because I know I need help remembering.

      I look forward to the day when I can practice mindfulness in your presence. Until then, “Take care.” Take very good care.

      Happy holidays!

  14. Tina Fariss Barbour on December 21, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    I also use “take care” a lot.

  15. Elaine Mansfield on December 22, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    I’m not fussy about these things. If people wish me well in any way at all, I lap it up. (Even in the thick of grief, I didn’t feel irritated when people said things such as, “it’s all for the better.” I knew they were taking a positive stance and maybe a philosophic stance. I also knew they were trying to help.) If people love me, I’m so grateful to hear them say so and to say those three words back.

    I say all sorts of things in coming and going. Smile at me, shake my hand, look me in the eye with sincerity, and say something nice any way you like. I hope I can do the same to you. I may be saying this until people feel like wringing my neck….

    Blessed Solstice, Shirley.

    • Audrey Metz on December 22, 2014 at 4:43 pm

      I don’t know you, Elaine, but I really like your post – especially the last paragraph!

      I wish you a fun, meaningful, absolutely blest Christmas Season and a healthy, fun 2015!

      Audrey Metz

  16. shirleyhs on December 22, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    Elaine, I love the kindness in your voice and your willingness to go under the words themselves, always imperfect containers, and listen for the caring you know is there. You remind all of us to give each other the benefit of all doubts. And to rejoice at the Return of the Light in this season. May you have a blessed time with your family, Elaine, and thanks for sharing your wisdom here.

  17. shirleyhs on December 22, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Audrey, do take time to click on Elaine’s name. You will find a kindred spirit. I’m quite sure of it!

    • Audrey Metz on December 23, 2014 at 10:20 pm

      I did, and you’re right, Shirley!

  18. Tracy Lee Karner on December 23, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    I’m not bothered by “have a nice day,” but, I do prefer “have a good day.”

    Nicety is, for me, a non-offensive pleasantry; (nothing wrong with that!) while goodness goes to a deeper level of, um, GOOD-ness, which incorporates blessedness, righteousness (not a self-congratulatory piety, but an authentic, compassionate, seeking after peace-on-earth) and beauty. In other words, it’s deeper, broader, higher.

    I like the phrase “Auf Wiedersehen” which, because I speak German, and often confers (thanks to the internet and FaceTime) with my friends in Europe, I actually say, mean, hear, and appreciate. A heartfelt “until we meet again,” encompasses a sense of sorrow in our parting, and the anticipation of our next coming together–in other words, a gratitude for sweet communion.

    • Shirley Hershey Showalter on December 24, 2014 at 9:12 am

      Tracy, your well-chosen words evoke a feeling of connection and deep love of friends and of BEING itself, which is made bittersweet by the knowledge that eventually our partings will be final, at least in this world. We are blessed today to be able to overcome time and distance to some extent by technology. And to find those others whose words have the power to make us sing.

      You are such a one, Tracy. Happy holidays.

  19. Richard Gilbert on December 24, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    I love my new dry cleaner’s. She beams and says, “Have a lucky day!” I’m all for willpower, but it’s hard to beat luck, all the same.

  20. Carol Bodensteiner on August 25, 2016 at 10:11 am

    On my recent trip to Ireland, I learned that the Irish say, “Safe Home” as they part, which I thought was a nice wish. For the person to be safe and that they arrive in their home, wherever that may be.

    I agree with the need to be mindful. Any phrase can be flipped over the shoulder and become a meaningless cliche.

    • Shirley Showalter on August 25, 2016 at 10:43 am

      As I read your words, Carol, Stuart and I are driving back home from the beach, so “safe home” is definitely a good greeting for our whole family going in three different directions. Thanks for those words.

      “A phrase flipped over the shoulder” is a good phrase to think about as we greet others on the way. We met a wonderful “breakfast associate” at a Hampton Inn who looked every single guest in the eye. She had an amazing impact on the whole room.

  21. joan Z. Rough on August 25, 2016 at 10:19 am

    This one of those arguments I have no patience for. I say have a good day all the time, along with take care, I love you to a family member, and I look forward to seeing you again soon. Too bad if someone is insulted by my trying to be friendly and kind. If those words are said with a smile and eye contact, what’s the harm. I haven’t experienced anyone using them flippantly. It bothers me that using words meant to be kind are going the way of political correctness.

  22. Shirley Showalter on August 25, 2016 at 10:47 am

    I doubt if anyone would be offended by any of those exchanges, Joan. And if they are, I’m on your side. 🙂 I know how much kindness is in your heart.

  23. Roveen Yoder on August 25, 2016 at 11:39 am

    I would send my children off to school with a “make it a good day,” wanting them to realize that they had a part in what kind of day they would have. I tend to still do that when I send birthday greetings on social media but I’m certainly not offended if someone wants to wish me a good day…I’m getting to the age when I’ll take all the good days I can get!

    • Shirley Hershey Showalter on August 25, 2016 at 5:50 pm

      What a good idea, Roveen! I’m going to remember that one with my grandchildren, since I wasn’t as wise as you when my own children were small. 🙂

      And you made me chuckle. Yes, let’s savor every day and make it a good one for ourselves and others. I appreciate your comments. Welcome!

  24. Audrey Denecke on August 25, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Saying ‘have a nice day’ or ‘take care’ are merely cultural customs. I am fine with them. The lack of other courtesies does often surprise me.

    In my family, we have our share of family sayings and customs. My paternal aunt married a Canadian. I always enjoy their accent and frequent end of sentence ‘eh?’ And, by the end of a visit, I’ve often picked it up.
    Our family has a tradition of very long good-bye practices following any family gathering. It often can take over a half hour. This practice is at the other end of the continuum of greetings and farewells. It is hard for us to say good-bye. A few years ago, one of those dear Canadian cousins started a new “tradition.” After an unusually long series of farewells following a reunion gatherings with lots of tears, one of my clever cousins, after another departure, popped up with “I thought they’d never leave.” Laughter followed. Now, everyone is in on the joke and pre-empts the joke by saying, “I know, you thought we would never leave.”

    • Shirley Showalter on August 25, 2016 at 6:24 pm

      How touching that your extended family has long good-byes and even a satirical and endearing joke about that fact. In the Ivory Coast and Haiti, good-byes, even among recent acquaintances, were much longer and more gracious than most American partings. If someone left on a bus, for example, many family members might walk along to the station, carrying luggage and then embracing and blessing the departing guest in deeply sincere ways. You’re right. These are cultural customs. I enjoy the conversation because it helps me see what is cultural and what I might want to adapt so that it better fits my values. I feel blessed to have friends who have great ideas about that. Thanks, Audrey!

  25. Elaine Mansfield on August 25, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    I’m not fussy. I read body language and gazes. I’m glad when people try to be kind.

    After Vic’s death, I learned how awkward greetings and comments can feel from someone trying to help. I consciously decided to give the well wisher a little slack. OK, it didn’t help me to say, “He’s in a better place,” but it was true because his body was not habitable–even if not better for me to have him gone. Or “He’ll always be with you.” I wanted to scream, “I want his body and his voice and his loving hands.” I got it that this was comfort coming my way in the best way the person could give it. I could be offended or take it as a form of love. I was rarely offended. I’ve never cared what the words are when someone offers me good wishes. I’ll take all of them when given with a smile.

    • Shirley Showalter on August 26, 2016 at 2:10 pm

      My first response to you disappeared in the ether, Elaine. Sorry to take so long to get back.

      Not only have you searched for positive intent and well-meaning in the small exchanges of daily life, but you illustrate that the major times of transition require even more attention to feelings behind the words. I’m so glad you were able not to take offense even when you were screaming inside.

      By telling all of us how the “condolences” above affected you, perhaps you will save some other grieving person the pain of hearing poorly chosen clichés.

      A hug, a tear, a simple “so sorry,” go a long way. Here’s a hug for today!

  26. Shirley Showalter on August 25, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    There are words and then there is feeling and intention.You are extraordinarily generous in reading the latter if someone chooses clumsy words. Thank you, Elaine, for reminding us that the ability to be gracious to others goes much deeper than what greeting or good-bye to give a stranger!

    Your honesty here also helps those of us whose friends have lost spouses. The kinds of reassurances that we may have heard others say or may think are comforting can actually cause pain. Sometimes the best words are no words at all. Tears, hugs, and “I’m so sorry” communicate better than words that try to ease the ache by denying it. Here’s a hug at the hour of night that must be especially hard.

  27. Marylin Warner on August 25, 2016 at 9:17 pm

    This brings back so many memories, Shirley. My older cousin once asked our Brethren grandmother this very question. She answered that it never was wrong to be pleasant and encouraging, but it you really couldn’t do that because you didn’t really mean it, you should go to the next option. If you couldn’t say something nice, say nothing.
    I don’t think this means refusing to testify as a witness, etc., but I got the message. 🙂

    • Shirley Showalter on August 26, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      Your grandma sounds a lot like mine, Marylin. Her son, my dad, adopted the same mantra. “If you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all.” He was a man of few words, perhaps because he swallowed some of them. :-)I got the message too.

      My dad died in 1980. I doubt that he wished many people “have a good day.” He did have a nice smile, however.

  28. Janet Givens on August 28, 2016 at 7:22 am

    I’m loving your challenge, Shirley, to think about how I actually use this phrase. Here’s what I’ve come up with: I don’t think I’ve ever said it. I can’t recall a time or a situation in which I even might. And I’m struck by that. Really surprised. But I realize why and I think I’ll write a blog post about it myself. May I link back to this one? Serendipity. Thank you so much.

    • Shirley Showalter on August 28, 2016 at 8:00 am

      That IS interesting, Janet. But on second thought, it doesn’t surprise me. I even have a conjecture about it. But I’ll save it for the comments on your own post. ?

  29. “Have a Nice Day.” – Janet Givens on September 14, 2016 at 2:04 am

    […] use the term Have a nice day, and why.  She linked back to a post she’d done in 2014, which you can find here.  I commented on that post just last month and promised to explain in a future post why it was I […]

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