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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Paging Dear Abby

A quick diversion from the usual bookery, as I turn to you, gentle reader, for some etiquette advice.

I'm a woman with a professional career, and here, and in many other jobs I've held previously, I've wound up spending a good portion of my workday on the phone. On a near-daily basis, people that I speak to on the phone will call me "honey," "sweetie," or "dear," despite the fact that my speaking voice is neither childlike nor particularly cute.

I am not easily offended, but these interactions tend to get my blood up.

It's not just men, and it's not just people who are a great deal older than I am (in fact, with the latter, I have no problem with letting it slide) -- this happens with men and women, young and old, and it happens a lot.

So, is there a polite and inoffensive way to advise people against this behavior when it occurs?

I once asked a co-worker of mine about this, and she sighed and said, "Well, I just tell myself, they could be calling me a lot worse." I'm afraid that this might be the only Miss Manners-approved way to deal with the situation, but I'm looking for suggestions.

And as a general PSA, gentle reader, please tell everyone you know that these terms of endearment are wonderful and warm and perfectly acceptable for use between family members, significant others, and close friends. But when you use them with strangers, it's condescending, uncomfortable, and rude.

And when you use them with me, it is taking every fiber of professionalism and will in my being not to hang up on you.

That is all.

Signed,

Not Your Sweetie

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

My opinion on this is directly opposite from you. While I never use these terms myself with strangers (just because it's not my personality type) I really find it endearing when people use these terms with me. I think it's very nice. People are so on edge dealing with strangers now-a-days because we're so "scared" of them because of everything we hear on the news. It's kind of nice to have some old-fashioned niceness and friendly banter with someone you just met.

Penny L. Richards said...

Well, you can pretend to believe that they misheard your name, as in "Oh, no, my name is Melanie, not Honey; you must have misheard me." Giving them the benefit of the doubt, even when you're not at all in doubt.

Or you can just pretend to assume it's a polite term to them, so begin using it right back at them, as in "Okay dear, I'll get those invoices sent off to you first thing in the morning. Good talking to you, sweetie. Bye." They'll probably get the hint and stop with the cuteness.

chez shoes said...

This irks me to no end. If it's someone I never have to interact with again, I just let it go. If it's someone I need to interact with regularly, I'll just be direct and say "I know you don't mean any offense, but I prefer to be addressed by (my name) rather than Sweetie."

Of course, directness has its hazards. On my last job, a new supervisor was hired, a good 10 years younger than me. She called all of us Sweetie, Hon, etc. and when I asked her to please exclude me from the terms of endearment, she responded by writing me up for having an "attitude."

Sigh.

mary_m said...

Thanks to all for your insights!

One reason the terms of endearment bother me is that, most of the time, they don't sound like old-fashioned niceness. They sound like fake nice.

A boss who calls you "sweetie," but then writes you up for having an attitude when you ask her not to is most likely not sincere when she calls ANYBODY "sweetie."

It's like when Southerners say "Oh, bless her heart," or that someone is "precious." And you know what they really mean by that.

And Penny, interesting idea... I may experiment with calling people "sug," and see how that goes.

Nathan said...

My first reaction to this post was "but you DO have such a cutie-pie voice". And then I saw who was posting. I just assumed this was a Brady post.

Gwen said...

I think I call people "sweetie" fairly regularly. I hope it's mostly people I know well and that they don't hate it.

I think part of the annoyance is when these terms are used exclusively by older people toward younger women in ways they wouldn't use them with anyone else. Then it comes off as condescending and/or patronizing.

I'm trying to pay attention and make sure I'm not using "sweetie" all the time now, though.

That said...anyone who hears your adorable laugh just can't be held accountable if they call you something endearing.

Anonymous said...

You put frost into your voice. If they dont respond to that, then call the cracker.