Arts & Culture: Diversity Dialogue

Cultural Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts in New York State’s Southern Tier

Please Don’t Call Me Sweetie!

The other morning I went for a grocery run. Parked my car in the lot,, made a mental note of the aisle number, remembered to take in my shopping bags,  and although there was a “slight hitch in my git-a-long” as the old folks used to say, I was feeling pretty, pretty good.  Started my tour of the store, doing the usual meet and greet along the way:  commiserating, congratulating, admiring babies, sampling bits of cheese or crackers or pizza, resisting the temptations of candies and cookies, and , finally having accomplished my grocery fix for the day, still feeling pretty pretty good, got to the check out counter where a fresh faced youmg clerk competently stowed my purchases in shopping bags, totaled my order, handed me a receipt and then asked:  ”Sweetie, do you need any help with your groceries?”  My mood darkened, and in my mind I’m  transformed from a mature woman in possession of most of  her faculties into a harmless old biddy. “SWEETIE!!!”  I wanted to say:   “Listen, girlie, I’m not your sweetie. Furthermore if you knew me better you would realize I am basically not at all sweet.”

These virtual pats-on-the- head have  become more and more common in the past few years. Someone told me the other day that the worst offenders in the “sweetie department” are  nurses and waitresses.  I would add to that list, cashiers and nice  people who open doors for old ladies. I don’t know when I first started noticing the ubquitous  ’dears’ and ‘honeys’ and ’sweeties’.  Maybe it was when my husband and I were out for dinner in one of the down scale restaurants we frequent, and nice waitresses (never waiters) would ask one of us: “Is that all, honey?” or “Can I get you anything else, sweetie?” Srangely enough, my husband does not take offense but seems oblivious to the put downs that so annoy me.

I’ve heard men and women my age described as ‘cute” as in “what a cute old couple!”. Babies and puppies and kittens are cute, but most adults over 21 don’t qualify in the cute department. What’s going on here?? Why have the elderly (if you’ll pardon the expression) become regarded as ’sweet’ and ‘cute’ and why do well-meaning  strangers treat us as wrinkled children?  Many of my peers are  downright mean, crabby, quarrelsome, and decidely uncute.  Yet, our white, grey or missing hair seems to bring out the words usually reserved for tots and teeny tiny designer dogs.

Although I’ve been tempted, I’ve never expressed my feelings to the perpetrators of these put downs, generally taking a ‘what the heck’ attitude, but yesterday things got a little too much.  First the “sweetie” at the check out counter, then a “dear” at the door to the post office, and, finally from a phlebotomist who was drawing blood from my wrinkled arm:”Make a fist, honey.” I ignored the temptation to use that fist,but with a few qualifying remarks intended to soften my inquiry, I asked her why she called me ‘honey’.  She looked puzzled for a second and then said: “I call everybody honey, or sweetie, or dear.”  I pressed her further: “Not just because I’m old?” (there! I said it!).  She laughed and said “I call children and people in their thirties…..I call everyone “honey”,  I just do!”

An epiphany! One more source of annoyance erased from my list of pet peeves! These terms of endearment are vocal ‘tics’ that the speakers ‘just do”, as involuntary as eye blinks or sneezes and just as meaningless.  No longer will I misinterpret  harmless words as subtle insults to my state of mind or competency. Nevertheless, if by chance our paths cross and you have read this sour  blog:  PLEASE DON’T CALL ME SWEETIE! (or honey, dear, love,or sweetheart…..etc.etc.) unless you really mean it. In case you still don’t understand what all the fuss is about, follow the link below to hear a sentimental song, written long ago before the corruption of the old endearments.

4 comments on “Please Don’t Call Me Sweetie!

  1. Guenveur Burnell
    February 20, 2010

    You can add being called “you guys” to the list of annoying addresses to geezers. And I think they need to think before they use that term across the board. In fact, I did a blog post about it a while backl.
    And I told you you’re a writer! Botht hese posts are terrif and you should do more and do your own blog anyway.

  2. Mary Lu
    February 20, 2010

    thanks for the support! “You guys” is not prevalent here in outstate New York. I think it’s an Ohio thing.

  3. Connie Sullivan-Blum
    February 23, 2010

    I know that people do use the terms, “sweetie” and “honey” to talk to everyone. But, I have seen people treat the elderly as though they were children.

    Here are two examples that make me mad:

    1) Louise’s mother recently died at 92. She was a formidable woman. First of all, most of us don’t get to 92 without being seriously stubborn. She was smart – she took classes until the last year of her life. She was tough. She was well read. She was opinionated.

    When she was hospitalized after breaking her hip in a car accident, she was miserable. Yet, I actually witnessed a nurse – a stranger – pat her on the head. I am not kidding. If that woman hadn’t been is so much pain and on so many drugs, the nurse would have thought twice before patronizing her again.

    2) When Louise and I came out as lesbians, many people told us not to trouble Louise’s mother with the information. She was old. She was somehow emotionally fragile. And, she was expected to disapprove. The idea was that we could come out after she died. That was 19 years ago and she just died. And, she was one of our most staunch allies. She claimed me as a daughter. She voted for pro-gay candidates. She clipped newspaper articles for us. She was fabulous.

    I’m not saying it was easy for her because she struggled at first. But, that was not due to her age though it may have been due to her generation – if you see the distinction. We are all raised with mores and values that we basically hold onto unless they are challenged, but that is true of the young as well as the old.

    While I think terms of endearment may be commonly used, I do think that older people are often treated as if they were children.

  4. dches
    April 1, 2011

    If you ever visit the north of England you will be called things like “petal” or “hinney” which are terms of endearment for any age. I think they more reflect the person calling you the term, not you the recipient. And you can be called “love” by your taxi driver, even in London, as I was.

    But those are different than being patronized because you are old. Now I have another thing to add to my list of things to dread about getting older!

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This entry was posted on February 17, 2010 by .
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