Daniel Menaker

Have Whatever Kind of Day You Want

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Now that the New year is approaching, I think for some reason that it’s a good time for me to tell you some of the many things that are wrong with saying to anyone “Have a good day” at the end of a conversation.

1. It is an order, not different in its language classification from “Go jump in the lake” and “Don’t go near the water.”
2. It is worse than “Have a nice day” (which is bad enough), because “good” seems more undeservedly complex and falsely sincere, partly because it’s newer. “Nice” can get away with just being an old-fashioned pleasantry. But don’t say either, is my advice.
3. It indicates on the part of the speaker a sincere hope for the happiness of the spoken-to. Most of the time, it’s really not sincere at all.
4. It is so American, in the worst way. This vapid neighborliness is usually a symptom of the kind of empty cheer that we all too often engage in.
5. People very frequently utter it under commercial circumstances–store clerks, waiters, receptionists and so on. Money has almost always changed hands.  There is a terrible tendency on our part to try to hide buying and selling under a social veneer.  This is why salespeople dare to use customers’ first names, in stores and in telemarketing. It is egregiously insulting, but very few people seem to realize it.
6. The person to whom it is said maybe be on his or her way to a first chemotherapy.

There are other reasons, but those will do for now. If a good friend is leaving on a trip, of course it’s fine to say “Have a wonderful time”–less an order than a wish. And there are other circumstances under which a well-meaning imperative is acceptable. But not–I would actually say never–“Have a good day.”

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

For the last few years, my wife and I very much enjoyed your interviewing at BAM’s Eat, Drink, and Be Literary series.  In fact, if we had to decide between writers appearing there to round out our annual choice of five programs, we would favor whomever you were interviewing.  I was disappointed to see that you will no longer be participating there in 2011.  Have you lost interest in interviewing, or had that particular gig just played itself out for you?

Harry Kaplan

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Kaplan,

Thank you for the kind note. It seems that BAM and the National Book Foundation have a policy of rotating interviewers out every two years, and I’ve had my two. I have to admit that I was disappointed myself, as I really love that audience, that venue, and that occasion. It seemed to me I got better and better at the job and enjoyed it more and more, but I guess policy is policy–unless there is an UPRISING OF THE MASSES demanding that I be returned to the podium.

In the meantime, I’ll be content with this wonderful compliment–it is very kind of you to have written.

My best,
Dan Menaker

“Ask Dan” was a public online Q&A series that ran on this site from 2010 to 2012.

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Official Lies

The other night at a dinner party–which sometimes can seem like a prison sentence, though this one was delightful–I got into an argument with  a prominent historian about government lies. My friend was being very judgmental about Presidential lying. He pointed his finger and declaimed against the lies he believes Obama has told us, Bush before him, Clinton before him, etc.  I always get a little nervous about blanket statements like this so I asked him, “If you were God and could see to it that no President would ever lie or even misrepresent things to the American people, would you do it?” And he said, without hesitation, “Yes.”

I wouldn’t ever want such a President in office, for reasons that I believe should be obvious, and I’m wondering how others may react to this same question.

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Talking the Dog

Monday, December 06, 2010

If you own a dog, especially if you own a dog in a city where he or she has to be walked, then you know all about dog talk. Everyone compliments everyone else’s dog: “So cute,” “So handsome,” “So adorable.” Even if the dog is a hideous, scrunched up, smush-face, nylon gray in color, you have to say something nice if you meet in the dog run or even just on the sidewalk. You can dodge around a little–“Fascinating dog” or “One of a kind” or something like that, but you have to be complimentary.

I don’t think this is purely politeness. For one thing, a dog can be truly remarkable looking–handsome, adorable, cute. Of course, my dog is all three. (See below.) And that’s the point. I mean, as with children, dogs are generally precious and beautiful to their owners. His, over there, is to him. Hers, on the other end of the run, is to her. Mine is to me. They are not like works of art or movies or furniture or clothes, about which we can generally come at least somewhat closer to conversational objectivity. They are perfect to us, and so when we compliment other peoples’ dogs, we are basically saying, I know how you feel about your dog, because I feel the same way about mine. I will say it for you, and you will say it for me.

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