You have a nice day, ya hear!

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I'm never entirely sure what my reaction to the 'have a nice day' service culture is in the USA. On the one hand it's a million times better than than the semi-literate grunts and surly scowls you get over in the UK all too often.

On the other hand, being chased around Banana Republic by an over-zealous sales-assistant who wants you to know that his name is Todd, that he can open a dressing room for you and is there anything he can help you find, gets a tad irritating after a surprisingly short period of time.

But it's no surprise that call centre customers are hacked off by over-familiar operators using US chat techniques. That's according to a worldwide study by Kristina Hultgren, of Oxford University's English Faculty.

She looked into the language that call centre agents are trained to use and came to some interesting conclusions. One problem is that of over-familiarity. I totally sympathise: I don't want some faceless call centre operative using my first name and asking me how my day is going. My response these days is typically: "It's Mr Lauchlan and my day was fine until you started asking inane questions you have no interest in the answer to. Now what do you want?". Yes, that makes me a grumpy old sod, but you know what? - I don't care. Victor Meldrew is much misunderstood to my mind!

Hultgren found that call centre staff are told to use US pleasantries and small talk with customers - regardless of where they are in the world. You can imagine how well that goes down in Paris! Agents are also advised to create "rapport" with customers by a a process known in the industry as "synthetic personalisation". This apparently aims to make service transactions resemble "a conversation between friends".

You and I will know this better as disinterested insincerity.

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