RHYS BOWEN: The other day it happened—that thing I’d been dreading for quite a while. The worst, irrefutable sign that I am growing old. No, it wasn't creaking limbs, failing eyesight or hearing...far, far worse.
I was in a grocery store, and the clerk handed me the bag of groceries and said—and I quote—“Here you go, dear. Would you like some help out?”
Dear. Me. Jaunty, fashionable, lively and feisty Rhys Bowen. Reduced to dear.
It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him that I was not his dear. I would never be his dear and what’s more I could definitely hike more miles than him and whip him at tennis.
But I swallowed back the comments and walked out to my car, feeling crushed. I have to add that I was not looking my best—wearing sweats, no make-up, hair not styled. But all the same, that some young person thought I had reached the age to be spoken to with that gently patronizing tone was a wake up call. I will never leave the house without make-up again, not even if I have to be rushed to emergency at three in the morning.
It’s strange because I don’t mind at all when a shopkeeper or bus driver in England calls me ‘love’ or ‘ducks’ because it’s not age related. It's equal opportunity familiarity. I especially like it down in Cornwall where everyone is ‘my lovey’.
However, I’ve become increasingly annoyed recently at the lack of formality in matters of address these days. I suppose it’s because I write about the past when formality really mattered. But within my lifetime I have noticed huge changes. When I was at college our professors referred to us as Miss this and Mr. that. When I was at university in Germany we even called fellow students by their last names until we became friends. Even when my children were young we expected them to call our friends Mr and Mrs, not by the first names. It still feels strange when a three year old calls me by my given name.
And yet it’s the norm, isn’t it? The young doctor’s receptionist, the bank clerk, the barista in Starbucks all expect to use my first name. And it makes me very uncomfortable. First names are for friends and social equals. And while we’re on that subject, if my doctor calls me by my first name, I don’t see why I have to call him doctor. Hey, I have a graduate degree, just not in medicine.
One of the things I enjoyed most about living in Texas was that kids in school said “Yes, ma’am and no, sir,’ to their teachers. In California even teachers are called by their first name.
So am I becoming old and grouchy? Do you like a certain degree of respect and formality in society or are you happy that we’re all on a first name basis these days?