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Am I Overthinking This Routine Social Interaction?

Welcome to Survey Says, FiveThirtyEight’s advice column. In each installment, our two advice-givers will take a reader question, debate what he or she should do, and then survey a panel of people about what the best course of action is. Need our advice? Send us your quandary!


I pick my 7-month-old daughter up from day care, and every day all of the people that work there will say, “Bye, Anastasia,” to my daughter on our way out. So, considering my daughter is 7 months old and can’t say “bye” back, it puts me in a weird spot. I feel like it would be really impolite to ignore them, and they’re all really nice people, but I’m not sure how I should handle it. My usual response is turning her toward them and saying “bye” in a soft, high-pitched voice, but I always feel really stupid when I do that. Is there a correct way to handle this interaction? — Daniil

Walt: THIS QUESTION IS ADORABLE.

Morgan: I know! My gut response is that he’s thinking too hard about this one. He doesn’t need to do a high-pitched voice. All he can do is gently take his daughter’s hand, wave it, and be like, “Say bye, Anastasia.”

Walt: I could not be more opposed. I think he needs to meet their singsong and do a further, more elaborate singsong each time. These are folks who dealt with his 7-month-old all day, and a great opportunity to claim his turf as cool dad. It’s a social interaction where the consequences of coming off as fun are zilch. His biggest mistake is going for the soft high-pitch voice. He’s got to belt it out.

Morgan: LOL! I don’t think he needs to do all of that if he doesn’t want. He can be a cool dad without all the belting out, especially if it’s not coming from a genuine, organic place.

Walt: In all seriousness — and here is where I admit I know very little about children — it’s possibly a good time to do some more talking. Say, “Goodbye,” “Have a nice day,” use their names, all to kind of show all the different words that people use to say goodbye to each other. The reason they’re saying goodbye to her is so that she knows that she’s the subject, right? It’s a chance to show how to respond to someone yelling bye at you.

Morgan: I think that he doesn’t need to belt out a high-pitched “bye” if he’s going to feel stupid about it because if it seems contrived, it’s going to make the situation awkward. I do wonder though if he doesn’t want to do it because it seems too … feminine?

Walt: Oh, I think he’s just trying to do a spot-on impression of how his infant child would extend salutations if given the vocabulary to do so.

Morgan: I’m wondering if there is no “correct” way to do this besides not ignoring whoever speaks to the baby. He can take her hand and wave it. He can take her hand, wave it, and say, “Bye,” in a high-pitched voice or regular voice. I really think that as long as he’s teaching her to respond in some way, the baby will be fine. I mean come on, the baby is only 7 months old.

Walt: I think his normal response is perfectly in the right place. These folks have seen far weirder stuff working in a day care than a grown man from Queens saying farewell on behalf of his 7-month-old daughter in a singsongy voice. I think he’s fine just the way he is and doesn’t have to change a thing. If anything, I think he should go further. What’s your advice?

Morgan: My advice is to only say, “Bye,” in a singsong voice if he feels comfortable. Otherwise, just take her hand to say, “Bye,” and say it in a regular voice. It’ll be OK.

FiveThirtyEight commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll that ran on Oct. 25, 2016, and received 1,048 responses. We presented respondents with Daniil’s letter and asked them what the best advice is, given the situation. They were only allowed to choose one option.

  1. He should take her hand to say, “Bye,” and say it in a regular voice.

    37.5%

  2. He should do some more talking. Say “Goodbye,” “Have a nice day,” use their names, all to show the different words that people use to say goodbye in a normal voice.

    33.4%

  3. He should keep doing what he is doing.

    15.5%

  4. He should meet their singsong and do a further, more elaborate singsong each time.

    1.4%

  5. None of the above is good advice in this situation.

    12.2%

Walt: AND MORGAN WITH THE WIN! Only 15 people thought that he should up his singsong game, which I think speaks to a broader lack of vision in this country rather than me “being wrong” or “notoriously giving bad advice.”

Morgan: YES WOOP WOOP

Walt: Still, about a third of people also saw the potential to just having an adult conversation with the day care folks, so that has to be worth something, right? What do you make of it?

Morgan: Why does he need to have an adult conversation with the day care folks, though?

Walt: To show how adult conversations work! Actually, I have no idea how children are supposed to work. But a third of people agreed with me so I guess I’ve picked something up from television. Did gender make a difference here?

RESPONSE MEN WOMEN
Use regular voice 34%
41%
Talk more 32
34
Keep doing it 19
13
Be more elaborate 2
1
None of that works 14
11

Morgan: Oh wow, I’m surprised about the women — I thought more would’ve wanted him to say bye in a saccharine voice.

Walt: Guys: Let’s Not Change Anything That We’re Doing Because Who Gives A Crap®

Men seemed more likely to just want to stay the course here! But women on the whole seemed to be like “please stop doing what you’re doing, sir, you are making a scene,” so I’m going to defer to their judgment.

Morgan: More women advocated for him to do more talking, which … I don’t know how to say this without being shaky.

Walt: Go for it!

Morgan: There’s a belief that men are less talkative than women. They say what they want to say in the shortest amount of time possible. The breakdown sort of gets at that even if the percentages are close.

Walt: But still. We’re talking what, like 70 percent of people not down with the singsong here? I think we can come down on that part of the question pretty clearly. Do I regret that the crowd decided against my suggestion that he sing the entirety of “So Long, Farewell” from the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic “The Sound of Music” with full choreography and harmonies? Sure, I’m a bit miffed. But it’s apparently for the best.


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Walt Hickey is FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

Morgan Jerkins is a writer living in New York City.

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