Is Fake-Nice A Good Thing?

Status: Etiquette advice
Miss Manners recently tackled the question of whether it's better to be honest (and unpleasant) or to be fake-nice. A correspondent asked her: How can one deal (correct word?) with nice people, saying "all the right things," without meaning any of it? It's just been driving me crazy as it seems to be occurring more and more.

Miss Manners responded that it would be a disaster if people were always brutally honest:
This is not an affliction, Miss Manners assures you. It is a blessing. For the last several decades, people have been saying all the wrong things that they really mean, from "I can't use this" instead of "Thank you" for a present; "Only a moron would think that" instead of "I'm afraid we disagree" in a political discussion and "You've put on a lot of weight" instead of "How nice to see you" on seeing an acquaintance. If they are learning to say the right thing, good for them. In time, they will learn to say it more convincingly.
Along these same lines, in The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life, Ralph Keyes points out the extent to which being fake-nice is the socially accepted thing to do:
How often do we lie and get lied to? All sorts of figures get bandied about. I've seen estimates that range from two hundred times a day to once. One study concluded that we tell thirteen lies a week on the average. Another found that some form of deception occurs in nearly two-thirds of all conversations. If this sounds far-fetched, bear in mind that the most frequent lie of all is "Fine" (in response to the question "How are you?"). This fib is so ubiquitous that deception researcher Bella DePaulo excused subjects from recording it in records they kept of every lie they told in a week's time.
I definitely agree that most of the time it's better to be fake nice. If I ask someone how they're doing, I don't really want to hear about their bad back and ingrown toenail. But on the other hand, I think Miss Manners needs to provide some guidance for those cases in which fake happiness goes too far. For instance, my wife used to have a constantly upbeat co-worker whose favorite expression was "Yayyyyy!" She managed to use that word a couple times every hour: "That's Great! Yayyy!.... Awesome! Yayyyy!" My wife had to listen to this constant stream of peppiness all day. Not to be cynical, but surely there must come a point when it becomes socially acceptable to subject such people to various forms of medieval torture?

Related Posts:
March 17, 2006: Fake Smiles May Cause Depression


Posted on Sun Jul 23, 2006


Yes, but then what to we do with the instinctive desire just to tell everyone else to Fuck Off? And no torture needed.
Posted by stork  on  Sun Jul 23, 2006  at  09:23 PM
An ex- used to constantly overstate her interest and enjoyment. I could say, 'I did nothing but scratch myself heavily at work today,' and she would respond with a long, drawn-out wow!. I could say, 'let's go to the crappy cheap place down the road, because I can't be bothered to cook dinner tonight, and she'd exclaim 'YIPPEE!'. That got really, really tiresome, very quickly.
Posted by Edward  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  12:56 AM
I've read somewhere advice on how to let people know you don't like their presents.

When you genuinely like something, express YOUR feelings towards the present ("I love it!", "I really needed one of these!", "I'll probably use it every day!", etc).

When you don't like something, describe the PRESENT's qualities instead ("This is certainly useful in a household!", "It's carefully crafted!", "This must have costed a fortune!", etc).

I think it makes sense, it doesn't offend, and it's definitely driving the message home, especially when you say you "love it!" when opening the next present. 😊
Posted by Gutza  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  03:45 AM
Seems like what the "Yayyy" person has is not an overabundance of "nice" but a lack of vocabulary. It doesn't sound much different than folks who pepper their speech with F*CK, it's just a different choice of word.
Posted by cvirtue  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  03:57 AM
Great blog entry, Alex!

And great comments by all you guys!

I was, like "Wow, that's insightful!" all the time I was reading this!

Keep up the good work everyone!

Posted by David B.  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  07:44 AM
I am "honest" when people ask me questions like, "How do I look?" or "Do you like my hair cut?" If I don't like it, I wouldn't say I thought it looked crappy, but maybe - "I wouldn't have pegged you for a person who liked the color lime so much." or "It's different - I thought your hair looked fine before, but change is good."

I also don't answer "Fine" to all the "how are yous"...I will often just say "okay".
Posted by Maegan  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  08:13 AM
As one who has battles with depression, I can attest that giving a fake nice answer to "How are you?" can be a real drag. So I've developed a few responses like "I guess I'll live," "Semi-reasonable" or "Adequate" to cope with the situation. And if they ask, "How is everything?", I'll say something like, "In the Middle East, awful, here okay." People really need to think before they ask such questions.
Posted by Phred22  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  09:50 AM
Deal - real word.. Yes.

Common in Britain, one may deal with a person, a problem, situation, task etc..

As in; "I'll deal with it"

Not used in the US?
Posted by Peter  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  09:58 AM
Am I the only one who actually wants to hear a real answer to "how are you?" lol
Posted by Winona  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  10:21 AM
Frankly, I never ask people how they are unless I really want to hear. And if people ask me how I am, then I ask them if they really want to know. That way, they are warned.

However, if I do my genuine feelings towards something, I have found it can be labelled "inappropriate behaviour" by other people. So, I sometimes just put on a fake smile, swallow my real feelings and fantasise about abrading people's faces using a belt sander.
Posted by John  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  10:43 AM
If I ask someone how they are, I actually mean it. I almost never give a truthful answer to it when other people ask, though.

90% of the calls I receive each day involve the other party asking me how I am. Honestly, I don't know these people and they don't know me. Do they really care?

Fake politeness has become so commonplace that people don't even realize they're doing it any more. People just run on automatic and don't even think about what they're saying.

Not that I'm not guilty of it myself, of course.
Posted by Charybdis  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  11:00 AM
Fake niceness beats real rudeness, almost every time.
Posted by Tina  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  11:05 AM
What bugs me are all the fake, cheery "Have a Nice Day"s you hear here in the US. If they don't do that there in the UK, feel blessed. You can be finished with eye surgery, or hobbling out of a doctor's office, and sure enough, some chipper receptionist will chime in with "Have a Nice Day!" Yeah, same to you, bitch. Bad enough in the grocery or convenience store, but I really love it when you get cold food or lousy service in a restaurant, they won't apologize or take some of the bill off. Then you're leaving disgusted, and the stupid cashier says "Have a Nice Day!" Barffff!
Posted by stork  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  04:16 PM
At work, "Yayyy" people do get a little annoying after a while, but they are still better than the habitually gloomy person. Cheerfulness is always preferred, over someone who walks in and sucks all the air out of the room.
Posted by Grain  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  04:19 PM
In one of his books Robert Heinlein had a character (Lazarus Long) say that politeness was the oil that kept the engine of society running. There is normally no reason to be rude when dealing with other people. If you do run into an asshole, then being rude would be the right thing to do, but being polite is better than hurting someone's feelings for no reason.
Posted by Christopher Cole  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  09:51 PM
If someone bids you to "Have a nice day" politely inform them that you've made other plans thank you.

Posted by Peter  on  Tue Jul 25, 2006  at  03:00 AM
I say, "Thank you for calling." B/c most people I talk to, have just been devastated in some way. Their day is about as sucky as it gets. Sometimes I just remind them when their next contact will be. Thank you. Good-bye.

People get on the phone with me & do this: HiI'mJoePolicyholder. HowareyouIneedtoreportanaccident.

They say it - but I bet if I played the call back to them - they would be totally surprised they said it. I call claims office & say, "Hi, this is Maegan, in Tampa, I have an existing claim for you." Their reply: Hi, Maegan, great, I'm fine, what's the claim number? I'm not sure if they're pointing out that I didn't ask them how they were - or if they were simply talking without even realizing what they've said. Sometimes they'll answer the phone, "This is Brian, how are you doing today?" I ignore the question & move on. I'm not a customer - he doesn't have to pretend to be nice to me.
Posted by Maegan  on  Tue Jul 25, 2006  at  05:51 AM
Christopher, while I admire the sentiment I hesitate to take social advice from a character that not only had sex with his own mother, he also had sex with female clones of himself, as well as with a computer. 😉
Posted by Charybdis  on  Tue Jul 25, 2006  at  08:56 AM
Charybdis, just remember to avoid strong drink - and why. While Lazarus Long is no saint - by any stretch of the imagination - the idea is a good one. Being rude usually expends more energy in retaliation, playing the rudeness back in your mind, etc. than being nice, even if you really do not feel nice. And didn't that jerk Shakespear have one of his characters say something along the lines of: Practice a virture if you have it not? Besides, being nice to an asshole makes them miserable since they didn't get the responce they wanted.
Posted by Christopher Cole  on  Tue Jul 25, 2006  at  02:21 PM
This typicall bullshit is a quality of the Western culture. Of course most of you give too much of a shit what other people think of you, you whore yourselves on your physical appearance and be super nice before anyone. But pointless. Your being nice without even knowing what for... FAKE. Fake hair, fake vocabulary, fake 'energy' and 'confidence'. It is like everything is based on a persons appearance. Fakeness is the new religion you ****ing hipocrytes
and the only place you can practice it is around other members...
Posted by Arber  on  Sun Jun 17, 2007  at  10:33 AM
Arber, I realy hope that spouting that little bit of nastiness made you feel better. Because beyond that, I doubt it had any use whatsoever. That sort of argument never makes converts, indeed most people shut their minds off at such a direct attack and go into a defensive mode preparing to justify their actions, if only to themselves. If you want to argue that there is too much that is fake in Western culture (an argument I can agree with) direct attacks will not convince anyone. Nor get anyone to listen to you, except maybe those who agreed with you prior to your spouting off. Besides you left out fake boobs.
Posted by Christopher Cole  on  Sun Jun 17, 2007  at  02:49 PM
You've got it all wrong. Ok its one thing if you get a bit of fake politeness when you check out or something. In some stores you cant just walk around and shop in peace. I'm a grown ass man if I need help I will seek out someone in uniform and ask them.
Today I'm just walking through the store half zoned out and the silly bitch arranging the shelves shoots her fake niceness at me. Now I have this burden to be fake polite back. Which I refuse to do anymore. 'Are you finding everything ok today sir'. I just drolly roll out yeah fine.
Some of these people speak to you like they speak to a dog. Yes wag your tail for me because I'm speaking in an excited, friendly, tone for you.
I aint no dog and dont perform for these zipperheads.
Posted by Duderino  on  Wed Oct 21, 2009  at  02:35 PM
Arber, as it has been stated above, people are nice not for self gratification but because to make others feel bad simply because its an option is just vile. People are nice to others because we have a consideration for others feelings. and even if its out of a cultural obligation or contradicts what is privately thought, who cares if it has the same outcome: someone else feels a little better (after recieving a fake conpliment or being spared your life story)
and about personal appearances, its called having respect for yourself...
Posted by Morgan  on  Tue Jan 12, 2010  at  09:10 PM
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