GUEST COLUMN: Pet names a form of ageism

Sheila Kozmin

Oh, dear, did you just call me honey? Knock it off, sweetheart!

Can we talk? (Joan Rivers wouldn’t have minded me using her catch phrase, I’m sure.)

I’m retired, which means I’m of a certain mature age. I take pride in my appearance, especially when I go out to dine or shop. I am frequently startled and very annoyed when a restaurant server or sales clerk addresses me as Hon, Dear, Sweetie or Sweetheart.

This practice is not only patronizing and condescending, it is downright disrespectful. Plying older adults with cloying pet names is a form of ageism.

These inappropriate terms of endearment relegate me to the ranks of persons easily dismissed as irrelevant. I recently made a purchase at a big box electronics store; the salesman (younger than my own son) had the audacity to ask: How would you like to pay for that, dear?

I promptly reminded him that I am not his dear and that he would find my correct name on my credit card. Would he address his dentist or lawyer or bank manager in that manner? Most probably not.

This past summer I attended a dinner event. The young waitress asked me, “What would you like to order, Hon?” This was not a lunch-box social in a church basement; it was a formal dinner event in a higher-end Sarnia restaurant.

Once again I felt challenged to speak up and requested that she not refer to me as her hon; shockingly, a stranger at a close-by table chimed in and advised the waitress to call me bitch instead. So, that was it; I either had to accept the pet name or be prepared to be scorned by a total stranger.  If I was truly this woman’s honey or sweetheart she should have come to my defence against the bully. So, where’s the logic?

Persons who work in the service sector should be trained to avoid all those condescending terms of endearment when dealing with the public. The language of hospitality and retail should be egalitarian and respectful regardless of a customer’s age, gender or social status.

Most of us are not seeking affection in the marketplace.  Endearments in the workplace could actually be construed as passive-aggressive attempts to mask genuine dislike or disdain. False or insincere personal interactions cause discomfort.

I know I certainly bristle under those circumstances.

Sheila Kozmin is a former high school English teacher pursuing a second career as a copy editor with her small business “Edit on Demand.”