Please Don't Call Me Hon
....and I won't call you Sweetie
As I waited in the check-out line at a local department store, I heard the young sales clerk concluding a transaction with, "Thanks, Hon."
"That's it," I thought, "The last straw."
For a long time, I had bristled but kept my mouth shut each time anyone referred to a total stranger as "Hon," or "Sweetie," or "Dear," or.... you get my drift. That was about to change.
As I handed the clerk the items I wanted to purchase, she greeted me with, "Hi,Hon." The ball, as they say, was in my court. I requested that she not address me as "Hon", adding that many people, particularly those of us not-so-delicately referred to as Senior Citizens, are offended by this former term of endearment from a total stranger. The clerk visibly bristled. Oh, my; had I offended her? I tried to explain. "Look, I'm a former teacher. Did you address your teachers like that?"
"Yes, I did," she curtly replied.
I'll admit I was surprised. Make that shocked. "Where did you go to school?" I asked.
When she replied, "I went to Catholic school," I knew that her claim to have addressed her teachers as "Hon" was particularly ludicrous, and that my attempt to educate her in basic manners was futile. She quickly ended the transaction with, "Thank-you, M'am," with sarcastic emphasis on the "M'am."
"That's much better," I noted. Her expression made it obvious that she didn't agree, and that if she had been my student, there might have been a big problem. (Thinking back on it, none of my public school students, even the ones with parole officers, ever called me "Hon". Years ago, a few kids addressed me and everyone else they met as "Yo," but that didn't last long and actually was pretty generic.)
That started my informal poll, of sorts. My first respondent was my husband, who was waiting in the car. I opened the door and fumed, "I can not believe that kid (the clerk had appeared to be in her late teens) thought it was perfectly all right to call me 'Hon'."
"What's wrong with that?" my husband replied.
Now my anger was focused on him. "Are you kidding?" I said. "It's okay with you when some kid addresses you as 'Hon'?"
"Yeah, why not?" he calmly answered, which annoyed me even more,
"Why not?!" I repeated incredulously, "Because it's disrespectful and condescending, that's why. And patronizing."
"What's she supposed to call you?"
By this time, I could tell that he was enjoying his role of devil's advocate.
" 'M'am' would be nice."
"Okay," he conceded. "I guess I can see your point."
I was on a mission. Shortly after that discussion,I bumped into the next respondent, one of the nicest, most sincere people in my high school graduating class of yore. I knew that I could count on her, of all people, to be honest. Since we were in a clothing store, our conversation eventually turned to shopping. I mentioned my recent exercise in futility with The Girl Who Called Me 'Hon'.
"Oh, don't you hate that?!" she responded. "That's one thing that really bothers me. It's so condescending. I know that some people don't realize how rude it is, so I try, in the nicest way possible so as not to hurt their feelings, to explain why it's just not polite."
Whew. What a relief to learn that I wasn't alone in my crusade. In fact, I began to think that it might just be a "woman thing" until I opened the local paper to the Editorial Page. There was a letter to the editor written by none other than a male who unabashedly claimed that he was a senior citizen who hated being condescendingly referred to by total strangers as 'Hon'. He went on to explain exactly why he resented this increasingly common practice. "Yes!" I thought. I felt vindicated as I read the letter aloud to my husband.
On another level, a thirty-something male related how his Significant Other had taken to referring to everyone as 'Hon' or something equally ambiguous. "I told her," he explained, "never to refer to me as 'Hon' again, since her universal usage cancelled its classification as a Term of Endearment." Well said.
Don't misunderstand. I've heard some obviously sincere nurses, people working in retirement homes, and even waitresses use 'Hon,' 'Sweetie,' and 'Dear' in a way that clearly indicated they meant no disrespect. The bottom line, though, is this: the basic respect a person deserves (including the manner in which he or she is addressed) should not decline with increasing age. The aging process is challenging enough in and of itself. Ask yourself this: "How would I feel if my mother or father were referred to by a stranger as 'Hon' or 'Sweetie'?" and, ultimately, "How would I feel if the 'Dear' being addressed was me?" If your answer is, "It wouldn't bother me a bit," I envy you. Just don't call me 'Hon'.
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