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This Lady Needs Help

Updated on July 20, 2011

How Not To Treat A Senior Citizen

The ranks of the senior citizen rapidly have been increasing, particuarly this year, when the first of the Baby Boomers turn 65. The communities labeled “over 55” are filling up rapidly, and education, volunteer, and entertainment options abound for those who have chosen to retire. Even some of our “older” actors and actresses, well over the bridge to Social Security, have made a comeback, to the delight of many. (I’m not referring only to the remarkable Betty White; several of the original actors from Dallas will be returning next year in an updated version of the classic prime-time soap.) Why, then, do some people (certainly not all) persist in treating those who appear to be older than 55 like a puzzle minus a few pieces?

From my experience, at least, that seems to be the case. Some time ago, I vented about those who addess older people with terms of endearment such as “Hon” or “Sweetie.” (Of course, there are some who address everyone they meet that way. That’s a whole other issue.) In most cases, I see that as disrespectful. “Really?” you might respond, like that TV commercial. Yes, really. It would never have occurred to me... at 15, 23, 34, whenever, to address a total stranger in that way.

So what's the problem?

There are many other examples of treating older people with disrespect; I’m sure that anyone over the age of 55 could come up with at least one personal example. (Let me also add that I realize that most people don’t intend their behavior to be perceived that way.) Just today, for example, I visited a local convenience store to purchase a semi-decadent coffee drink, as I do quite often. (It dosn’t take much to keep us Old Geezers happy, though some might prefer a tumbler of scotch.) Anyway, I had decided to order a special treat today: a frozen cappuccino. (This was “special” because I've have lactose intolerance since I was a teen-ager and usually try to avoid dairy products. When I do allow myself the occasional Dairy Delight, I always oder it made with skim milk.) So.... I approached the user-friendly, computerized order screen and hit the “beverage” key, then touched the “frozen cappuccino” icon, followed by “12 oz.” and finally, “whipped cream.” The “place my order” image appeared. I realized that there were no choices of milk types , so I asked the woman behind the deli counter,” Is it possible to get a frozen cappuccino with skim milk?”

“You can get them with skim, 2%, or whole milk,” she replied.

“How do I let someone know I’d like skim milk?” I asked.

“It comes up on the screen. Just hit it,” she said.

“No, it doesn’t. After I hit ‘no whipped cream,’ ‘place your order’ popped up.”

Though she didn’t appear to be too terribly busy, the clerk suddenly looked extremely annoyed. With a sigh, she called over her shoulder,” This lady needs help.”

“No, I don’t need help. There is no choice of milk anywhere on the screen.”

She ignored me, and The Helper appeared. I repeated my previous two sentences and then showed her the entire ordering ritual that I had completed.

She was far more accommodating (without being patronizing) than the first clerk. She explained that the milk choices only showed up if you were orderng an iced latte.

I asked her to please relay that info to the clerk, to which The Helper replied, “She probably thought you wanted an iced latte.”

I expalined that, no, my request very clearly had been for a frozen cappuccino. She (not the clerk) apologized, which certainly was not necessary (at least, not from her). She said that she, personally, would make my drink, I was thrilled.... until I learned that the drink was not available in decaf. I thanked her profusely (I hope; she had been very nice) and began to make my old standby: a cup of ice filled three quarters of the way with decaf cofee and the rest of the way from the iced coffee machine (whose iced coffee bears little resemblance to a Decadent Drink of any kind).

By that time, of course, I felt that everyone in the store was staring at the Crazy Old Lady Who Needed Help Ordering a Beverage.

Karma by Cummings

Feeling a little paranoid and a lot humiliated, I quickly paid for my coffee and left the store, wondering: has our society become so enamored with the Myths of Aging that we assume everyone over a certain age has some form of dementia or, at the very least , an inability to perform even the most mundane tasks? What has happened to the Doctrine of Sensitivity Training?

This conjured up images of one of my favorite ee cummings poems, which begins something like this:

old age

sticks up Keep Off


& youth yanks them


and ends

&) youth

goes right on


owing old.

At least no one called me “Hon.”


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    • PatriciaTL profile image

      PatriciaTL 6 years ago from Lehigh Valley

      Just discovered your insightful comments, Lisa. I certainly do agree with everything you said. Thanks for the feedback.

    • PatriciaTL profile image

      PatriciaTL 6 years ago from Lehigh Valley

      Amen! Ghost 32, I'm with you on the "Men are from Mars" vibe; my husband doesn't seem to mind being called "Hon" by female strangers, either.

      Lisa, I certainly can identify with your fear of revealing just how old you are. It's sad that age is more than just a number to many people. One consolation is that, eventually, those who claim youth as the ultimate one-upmanship eventually will be.... well, old!

    • Lisa HW profile image

      Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts

      I'm among several people I know (50 and over) who don't want to tell people their age - not because their age bothers them, but because they know that once they share that "shocking number" there's a good chance the person they're dealing with/talking with will begin seeing them differently than if they were just left assuming the middle-aged person is "just some non-descript middle age".

      Personally, I don't want anyone in coffee shops assuming I should get the senior discount (and I'm not 60 quite yet anyway). To me, it either says I look old or else am assumed not to be able to afford a cup of coffee - neither of which is very flattering. LOL

      On here, I've readily admitted that I've seen my 50th birthday and have grown kids, because I want readers to know I'm not twenty-five and writing stuff off the top of my "inexperienced head". Still, I've yet to muster up the courage to admit to how many years ago it was I saw that 50th birthday. Guess I've just learned that people will relate differently to me if they assume I'm "just out of my forties" than if they assume I'm "not far from sixty". :/ (What they say about all that confidence and sureness we get once we're in our fifties isn't correct in a lot of cases. I'm still the same insecure-ish person I was at 14, 29, and - oh, let's admit to - 55. (..and I don't care what my age is, I refuse to accept the label "senior citizen" any time in the near future).

    • profile image

      Ghost32 6 years ago

      That sort of thing is definitely frustrating, but (despite being of the "aged" sort myself) I'm not sure it's always inspired by the maturity of the customer. Some clerks are just plain generically dense.

      Nobody ever openly attempts to patronize me--either because I'm too slow to noice, or because I come across as ornery enough to be a problem--but I do see the Stupid Goes Clear to the Bone approach in action often. Just one example (of many possible):

      In our area, and on our budget (or lack of same), Burger King is a key food provider. A while back, say a month or so, I discovered that their 10% Senior Discount was no longer available except in the form of "senior drinks"--a downgrade which puts them on the same platform with Senior Coffee from McDonald's.

      However, when I informed the (young) clerk that this was a new store policy (I'd been getting the overall Senior Discount from them for years), she went into fullblown denial. Which was interesting, especially considering the fact that I know she's been working there for at least a year.

      The discount went away maybe six months back, eight at the most. Long term memory retention is, apparently, not her strong suit.

      I do love it when they call me Hon, but that's no doubt because I'm a guy. When they call ME that, my nostrils flare with interest, my eyes sparkle, and I start thinking youthful thoughts. Could be a "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" thing....:)