Bring Back Good Day!
Americans are generally seen as being open and friendly. At the same time, we’re often viewed as rude and uncouth. How can that be? The explanation dawned on me when I was studying Hungarian. Our Hungarian teacher remarked at how off-putting she found it that she was greeted by total strangers with, “How are you?” Not only that, but after making such a presumptuous inquiry of someone they didn’t know at all, it was quite obvious that they were not listening to the answer! “We would have been severely reprimanded by our parents if we had done such a thing!” she said. “What do you say, then, in Hungarian?” We asked.
The answer, of course, was “Good day.” It almost always is. In fact, even in America the custom survives with, “Good morning,” and sometimes even “Good afternoon,” or “Good Evening”. And of course we still wish people “Good night.” But for some reason we have lost “Good day.” I wonder if people realize just how much of a loss this really is? It strips us of the ability to wish strangers well without prying into their private life. It renders that most basic of social glues, the inquiry that invites the sharing of feelings and experiences, an empty formulaic phrase, requiring an equally empty response: “Fine, thanks.”
Anyone who has ever suffered loss or severe illness knows that it can be a wrenching response to make. Our European friends are right: it is rude to make such an inquiry and then obviously not listen to the response– and to evoke such an automatic response in someone who has just lost a mother– or worse yet, a child– is downright cruel. Of course thoughtful, kind people will find ways of dealing with the dissonance– perhaps by making a point of actually listening– but this, too, involves an unnecessary burden: who really has the time or emotional energy to deal with the feelings and experiences of every single person they see in the course of a day?
Perhaps the problem does not seem big enough to some to waste time on, but when the answer is so simple, why suffer even a minor problem? Bring back “Good day”! If that’s too formal for our simple American tastes, we can borrow “G’day” from the Aussies.
However you say it, I wish you all a very good one. I won’t ask you how you are.