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Lenore Hirsch

Lenore Hirsch

Fellow boomers, have you suffered the annoying experience of being in a diner or needing assistance at Target and the staff person says, “Be with you in a minute, hon,” or “Any seat you want, sweetie”? Does this bug you the way it does me? I don’t recall being addressed this way when I was in my 40s; it seems to be a relatively new phenomenon since my hair turned gray. Or does the waitress talk to everyone this way?

I’ve got nothing against terms of endearment. My husband was Sweetie Pie #1 and the dog was Sweetie Pie #2. As a teacher and principal, I often referred to students as “honey,” but never teachers. When the person you’re talking to isn’t a loved one, these terms often reveal a power relationship. The person using the term is in control, “honey” is an underling to be mollified. If I had called a staff member something so sugary, he or she would have had good reason to take offense—or even file a sexual harassment complaint.

With the waitress, it’s like she’s talking to one of her own children. She’s telling me Mommy is there for me. I’d like to know if she’d talk to her own parent or grandparent this way. Probably not, due to respect—or a long history of being in the less powerful end of the relationship.

Of course if the endearment comes when you’re complaining because you’ve been seated for 15 minutes and haven’t been waited on or your order was screwed up, that’s another matter. Then it’s the equivalent of “I’m in charge here and you’re going to have to accept that’s the way it is.” You might respond just as sweetly, “Darling, I’d like to speak to the manager.”

Most of us Boomer women remember when the male boss at work would refer to us as “sweetheart” while he squeezed our shoulders or—God forbid—laid his big hand on our butts. Those memories still sting.

Maybe these verbal snuggles don’t bother you. When I feel insulted, I consider if I’m ever going to see this waitress again. If it’s a place I visit often, I might just say, “You can call me Lenore.”

On the other hand, life is too short to get upset about small things. This is a small thing, right? They are terms of affection, even if we feel condescended to.

It reminds me of the guy who saw me at the shopping center wearing my jazzy yellow and black sunglasses with new short grey hair. “Nice glasses, Grandma.” He didn’t know I had been a brunette until the day before. So I responded, “Thanks, and don’t call me Grandma” to a big grin. It makes a good story.

Everything that could offend makes a good story if you look at it the right way. So take care of yourself first. Is telling off the waitress going to result in a better day for you? Then do it. Maybe she’ll think twice before she addresses another mature person this way. Otherwise, accept it as affection and enjoy your lunch.

Send your comments and stories to lenore@lenorehirsch.com.

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