When I buy a newspaper at the airport the clerk always asks, "Would you like some candy or gum with that?" although I don't in any way look like a man who chews gum. At the movies the kid behind the counter says, "You can have the extra large for another dollar," as if I appeared to be in any doubt about whether I wanted a medium.
And when I go to my local branch of Wells Fargo Bank the teller asks, "How is your Friday going?" On Tuesdays she asks, "How is your Tuesday going?" It doesn't mater which teller, or which day of the week it is. They all ask the same question. I don't know anyone else in the world who asks, "How is your Tuesday going?" Would you ask you husband or wife, "How is your Tuesday going?"
Those same bank tellers finish the transaction saying, "I really want to give you excellent service today. Is there anything else I can do for you?" Well, actually, yes. You can please never say that to me or anyone else ever again.
When they say, "I want to give you excellent service" I know that excellent service is the last thing I'm going to get because I'm dealing with people who are not allowed to even decide what words they use.
Whether it's a sales agent on the phone or the complaint department at the phone company, the people we are dealing with every day are delivering a script written by their bosses. The idea seems to be that business is too important to be left to the people actually conducting it. The bosses at the bank think their tellers are not smart enough to just say hello, so they give them something to say. But if the bank bosses are so smart, where did all that mortgage money go? I would have loved to have been there the day the money disappeared and asked, "How is your Tuesday going?"
After every transaction at my local post office the clerk asks, "Will you be needing any other stamps, retail products or mail orders?" It's the postal equivalent of "Would you like to supersize that?" And that bit about "retail products". What are "retail products"? Has anyone ever gone to the counter in the post office and said, "I'd like some retail products"?
But the postal clerks have to make that pitch to every customer. Can you imagine having to say that all day long for 30 years? And we wonder why every once in a while a postal worker goes ballistic. The other day I was on the phone with the Postal Service trying to solve a problem. The woman was perfectly nice, but unable to do anything for me. Then before hanging up she said, "Thank you for choosing the United States Postal Service. I hope you have a great day."
My kids like to go to the yogurt shop a few blocks from home. You buy your yogurt and then the clerk says, "Have a smiley day." One customer after the other, "Have a smiley day, have a smiley day, have a smiley day." I'm not going to smile. I want to choke him with yogurt.
Corporatized speech eliminates from conversation the most important part, the part that is human. It removes the accidents of question and answer that lead to connection and discovery, even during those brief encounters over a cash register. I might just buy a bigger bag of popcorn if they didn't ask me to. I might smile if they didn't tell me to. My bank has me cringing every time I go in there. "Please, please, don't say anything, just take the deposit." But no, the teller cheerfully asks, "How is your Friday going?"
American business has homogenized conversation just as it has food and clothing. They are the same everywhere. "Have a nice day," is to conversation what a Big Mac is to food. It's junk.
Thank you for reading this, and have a smiley day.
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