Why does my mother get called "dear" in restaurants, stores, etc?
November 27, 2013 9:11 PM   Subscribe

My mother gets called "dear" in restaurants, stores and coffee shops. It started about two years ago and drives her nuts. She thinks that it's an overly-familiar term of endearment and it feels weird (and even patronizing) coming from a stranger.

Both women and men call her dear, she estimates they're in the 25-35 year old range.

My mom is 64 and doesn't look elderly. She's wondering if there's been some cultural shift that has made it normal to call people dear.

What's going on here? Why has she noticed this in the past couple years?
posted by reeddavid to Human Relations (34 answers total)
 
Did she move to the south recently?
posted by empath at 9:19 PM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's because she's 64 and people can be patronizing and weird.
posted by heyjude at 9:21 PM on November 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


These are people who do not get it and are clueless. There is nothing much your mother can do; the only thing to do is to ignore them and interact with them as little as possible.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:26 PM on November 27, 2013


I've noticed people (by which I mean young women) have started calling me dear and I'm not even 50 yet.
posted by interplanetjanet at 9:32 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did she get called "hon" before? "Dear" may be taking over...
posted by serena15221 at 9:34 PM on November 27, 2013


[Folks, I know it's fun to complain about other words you don't like but question is sort of narrow and please answer it, thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:45 PM on November 27, 2013


FWIW I'm 38, live in the Pacific Northwest, and have also gotten this a few times lately. It totally weirds me out.
posted by ezrainch at 9:59 PM on November 27, 2013


Kind of what empath said - I spend a week in Mississippi every spring where I think "Darlin'", "Honey" and "Dear" pretty much replaces"you" as the common second person singular pronoun. Assuming your mother hasn't moved in that direction, is there something in popular culture, like a TV show, where someone has this sort of speech pattern that people are cuing off of?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:28 PM on November 27, 2013


Hurm. As a part time waiter, I get strange looks when I call clearly elderly women miss. I can't help it, and sometimes I think the woman in question thinks I am mocking her age, which I am not. Perhaps something like that is going on in this case?
posted by vrakatar at 10:32 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder if it's that people are trying to avoid "ma'am," on the basis that "ma'am" is known to make some women feel self-conscious about their age. Addressing an adult woman as "miss" (as vrakatar says) can be received as sarcastic, and of course you can't address someone as "lady." So maybe "dear" is left as an (imperfect) fallback?
posted by scody at 10:38 PM on November 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


I wonder if it's that people are trying to avoid "ma'am

Which they shouldn't. The only polite way to address someone one doesn't know is ma'am or sir.
posted by brujita at 11:23 PM on November 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


of course you can't address someone as "lady."

I challenge this assertion! I use "Hey lady" regularly, a delightful construction that mixes casual, friendly, and elegant greeting sentiments in a respectful yet modern way. It works great in food or customer service settings. (I should say I hope, perhaps?) It's also age-neutral. 'Lady' may not be technically appropriate for all women, but I believe that in this day and age respect for the title of titled people has waned, and rightly so.

I suppose Dear makes a similar (mis-) appropriation of a vintage form of address, but I agree with your mother that it's overly-familiar and patronizing enough to raise eyebrows and mutter about kids these days, no respect. Working in food/customer service with a lot of young adults, I'm regularly aghast at how many times I have to shush them about how they address their customers. Whether that's a function of the city I live in or the times we all live in or the general, inevitable decline of civility I can't say.

Funny, the difference in judgement and execution between a middle-aged person like me (oh god) and, well, kids these days.
posted by carsonb at 11:24 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I believe that in this day and age respect for the title of titled people has waned, and rightly so.

Let me rephrase this: I believe all people are deserving of the respect that a title like 'Lady' imparts on its subject, and that it should not be reserved for official Titled People.
posted by carsonb at 11:27 PM on November 27, 2013


I live in Los Angeles, and I'm a 42 year old male who looks younger...and in the last few months, I've been called "dear" by younger service employees a couple of times, out of nowhere. I didn't think much of it (although it stood out as odd), but now I'm wondering if there is a television show or something with a young character who calls older people "dear" that's appeared recently.
posted by davejay at 12:00 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've noticed people (by which I mean young women

Yes, young women specifically. I can't shake the feeling that it'll turn out some character in the Hunger Games does it and kids are adopting it...
posted by davejay at 12:02 AM on November 28, 2013


I challenge this assertion! I use "Hey lady" regularly, a delightful construction that mixes casual, friendly, and elegant greeting sentiments in a respectful yet modern way. It works great in food or customer service settings.

Mmm, maybe in certain casual contexts, among people of similar age groups. But I think someone in their 20s or 30s addressing a woman in her 60s as "lady" in the circumstances that the OP is talking about could come off as flip or rude. In professional settings, "lady" seems more polite as a way to refer to an adult woman to a third party ("could you bring this lady her order when it's ready") rather than to address an adult woman directly ("I'll bring your order to your table, lady").
posted by scody at 12:04 AM on November 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is it possible that it's a perception issue? I get called Dear now and again (almost always by women a fair bit older than me), and I rather like it. When I get past 50, maybe I'll be more sensitive about it. I hope not. It's a shade more affectionate than "ma'am".
posted by greenish at 3:23 AM on November 28, 2013


I'm a 51 year old male. There are several register operators at shops I frequent who have in the last few years taken to calling everybody, including me, "Darl".

I think this kind of thing is just a fad. If your mother just grits her teeth and waits, it will likely go away.
posted by flabdablet at 3:36 AM on November 28, 2013


This could well be a confirmation bias issue. She notices it when it happens, and doesn't when it doesn't.
posted by megatherium at 4:11 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not noticed any cultural shift and my guess is it's some detail of her appearance that has changed. When I wear my glasses out and about it makes a marked difference to how strangers treat me. With the glasses people talk to me much more and seem to perceive me as older - including people who are in fact significantly older than me, who talk to me as if I were their contemporary. These are not special grandpa glasses, either.
posted by Segundus at 4:52 AM on November 28, 2013


Seemingly out of nowhere, I've been called dear several times in the last few months by women in their twenties. I haven't changed my demeanor or worn glasses. I guess it's become a Thing. Short of finding a service-corporation memo dictating its use, I suspect we'll never know why.

I wonder if it's that people are trying to avoid "ma'am," on the basis that "ma'am" is known to make some women feel self-conscious about their age

I think this is it. Using Ma'am implies an age distinction. Sir can be used across all ages, but there doesn't seem to be the equivalent for women. Dear is an alternative, but still cringe-inducing.

I don't mind being called "hon", because I mentally substitute its homonym "Hun", as in Attila, which is badass.
posted by Banish Misfortune at 6:18 AM on November 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


It was fairly common where I grew (New England, US) for people to call you "dear" at stores. "Find everything you need, dear?"

But your mother may be right, it may be her age. Rona Maynard has an article about it and it's called "elderspeak."
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:35 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my 50s and get called hon or dear in stores from time to time. I don't like it, I do think it's a belittling thing done to older people by well intended and usually much younger people. I don't think there's a way to stop it. I would not care for being called Lady instead and inwardly giggle when people call me miss.
posted by leslies at 6:57 AM on November 28, 2013


This happened to me at a Target here in Houston. I'm 43, and the checker was in the 16-20 range. She said something like "Did you find everything you needed, dear?" Startling! I said something like, "When you say it like that, I expect you to pat my head while I totter off." She turned red.

I take her embarrassment as a confirmation that it's one of those "I think you are old and I am clever" things. Which is awesome, because I remember being young and cocky, and I also now know that if she's lucky she'll see 43 herself someday.

I think the respective ages have a lot to do with it. If the speaker was my age, I'd think "Southern." If the speaker was really quite a bit older than me, I'd think "Great-grandma!" But when the speaker is quite a bit younger, I think "Rude."
posted by Houstonian at 7:08 AM on November 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


My mom and I were talking about this recently (she's 65). There seems to be an awful lot of younger women addressing older folks with terms of endearment like this. We also live in a place where people are often overly friendly and chatty so it's nothing to be called "My love" or "My darling," "My duckie" or even "My trout" and I adore hearing this from older women. But I still find it weird coming from someone who is 15 years younger than I am.

I'm with the others here who are curious whether or not this has shown up on television or movies recently. It could also be a way for a young person to assert that they're a grownup too, on equal footing with the person to whom they're speaking.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:23 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a young woman in her 20s who calls people dear. Other people in my age group also call people dear. But, really, its not at all an age thing. I didn't even notice I was doing it, or that other people in my peer group were doing it, until it was pointed out to me by an older lady. I think a lot of people think it's an age thing because the only people who seem to talk about it/remark on it are in a generation (or two) above mine. And that's probably because people who are in my generation see it as normal, so they don't talk about it.

Also, I use ma'am for everyone regardless of age. I use lady as a descriptor (that lady over there in the pink, the lady who sold me those cookies).
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:04 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, most of us have been starting off our written correspondences with the word "Dear" for ages now. No controversy there.

But refer to a customer by the word "Dear" out loud, outside of the context of a business or personal letter - and some folks find that... offensive?

You can't please everyone. It's a sign of the times. "Dear" is in vogue now amongst 20+-somethings in the service industry, and it's not personal. They are not trying to offend you; they'd like to keep their jobs and earn decent tips.
posted by hush at 11:22 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm 69 and I think its sweet. Get over yourself. It warms up the cold, cruel world.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 12:37 PM on November 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


There is no universally safe term of address. The people being addressed are sometimes persnickety.

"Ma'am" wil insult some women [my landlady corrected me not a week ago when I said "Yes Ma'am"]. "Miss" will insult some women. "Dear" will insult some women. Ms. will insult some women.

There is no universally safe term of address.

"Mr." sometimes results in "My father is Mr., don't call me that". "Sir" results in "I'm not a fucking Knight." "Bro" I'm not your bro. "Dude" in "you don't fucking know me".

There is no universally safe term of address.

I'm from as North as north can be but I live in the South now where all the above are seen as nice. I - a man - am regularly called babe, baby, m'baby, dear, sweetheart, love, darling, honey, dear, and handsome [a blatant lie btw] -by both men and women. I do the same.

I like it. The world for me is a less cynical place when I get a smile and a "have a nice day m'baby".
posted by vapidave at 2:34 PM on November 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


Your mother can't really control what people call her. The easiest way is to control her own reactions to it; and given that these terms are of endearment and not of malice, it would probably be best for her stress levels to get a little zen about it and shrug it off. Because really, she's really only working herself up for nothing by taking it to heart, and the only person that cares is her, really. And maybe you, if you're fuelling her fire.

Alternatively, all she really needs to do is say kindly, "I don't really like being called dear. I'd prefer to be called, Mrs, Ma'am, Shazbot or 'Hey you?' If it's a place she frequents often, they'll soon get it. And if not, at least she'll feel better because she challenged it.

I think the key word there is kindly. There's no point being snarky or huffy about being called 'dear'. These people are being nice. It's not that they 'think they're being nice!' they're actually being nice. They don't realize it's something that really gets her goat, and is annoying her. So there's no point being super crabby about it.

I get called variations of, 'dear, love, sweetie,' a lot of the time. Sure, it's diminutive and it's partly because I'm a woman. That kind of sucks, sometimes. But I think it's nice, and I kind of like it. Also, it's mostly from women that I get it anyway. I think that if I got it from men, I'd feel talked down to a little, sure.

There are places that read my name from my credit card or store cards sometimes, and that I feel is invasive and overly-familiar. I'd prefer to be asked my name, or introduced, and compared to that, 'dear' is most welcome to me.

Personally, when I interact with clients, I actually don't call them anything, I realized. At most, I refer to them as 'lady' and 'gentleman' -- but generally when talking about them to a colleague. (Eg. 'this gentleman has this problem') I don't really call others anything (unless I ask their name) because as vapidave said, it's really lose-lose. Everyone has a preference and nobody really knows what that is.

I had colleague of mine who (she was 23 and from Eastern Europe) called everyone 'honey' -- older ladies, teens, young women -- which I personally found odd to hear from someone so young and who didn't have English as a first language. But it was cute, and she meant it in an endearing way. She easily established a rapport with people, and she kind of really meant these terms of endearment she dropped. To her, they really were a 'dear'. She absolutely never meant it in a patronizing manner, at all.

Tell her not to take it personally. Maybe the world would be a little kinder if people let each other take down the formal barriers a little.
posted by Dimes at 6:01 PM on November 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


These people are being nice. It's not that they 'think they're being nice!' they're actually being nice.

QFT
posted by General Tonic at 7:32 AM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a 26 year old female who works in a service position (I work in a retail bank). I call people of all ages and genders "dear" and "hon." I didn't get it from a tv show, I got it from waitressing in a greasy spoon as a teenager. SORRY NOT SORRY.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:42 AM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not trying to be fighty here but I do think that the assumption of someone being nice without taking into account the preferences of the person they are addressing is not necessarily nice. I do recognize that forms of address may well be chosen with the best possible intention but if the chosen wording offends the recipient one might be cognizant - and that said: you kids get off my lawn!
posted by leslies at 2:18 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think FirstMateKate has it -- when I read her post it reminded me of a twentysomething friend, who I've heard calling people "dear" on the phone. She never uses it with me, but I think that's deliberate, because I'm older and she's tactful. So I think it's a thing that young people are doing today.
posted by Susan PG at 12:18 AM on November 30, 2013


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