Ask Amy: Elder Men Tired of Getting "Sweetied"

By Amy Dickinson | May 12th, 2021

Being older does not include an invitation to be patronized

Older man getting "sweetied" by waitress

Dear Amy: I am an octogenarian man, still in good physical and mental health.

I try to keep abreast of the latest news, including the #MeToo movement and the concerns over the proper and earned respect owed to women, especially regarding unwelcome and minimizing nouns of address.

My peers and I are puzzled, however, that so many women in positions of public engagement (waitpersons, receptionists, sales personnel, cashiers, hygienists, nurses, etc.) feel free to belittle and degrade us by referring to us as “honey,” “sweetie,” “dearie,” “sweetheart,” ad nauseam.

These strangers do not speak to young or middle-aged persons in this overly familiar way. Why do they feel free to embarrass and devalue seniors with this childish gibberish? Do they think we have all entered a “second childhood’?

Some neighbors of similar age and I gathered for what we call “Driveway Drinks” one evening last week and this topic came up. Everyone had a story about their disgust at being referred to in this manner.

When one salesclerk asked, “May I have your credit card, sweetie?” I replied that my name was “indeed — not ‘Sweetie.'” I didn’t like my own terse response and am asking you and your readers how best to handle these unpleasant, demeaning, and disrespectful situations.

– Indeed, Not Sweetie

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Dear Indeed: I confess to defending this practice as a friendly, “folksy” and benign greeting from women who deal with a high-volume of strangers during the course of their workday.

Then, just last week I got “Sweetied” by a woman considerably younger than I, and … suddenly it didn’t seem so friendly and folksy, but like a patronizing commentary on my own age and stage in life.

I’m not at all comfortable declaring that this is an offensive or deliberately degrading practice, however. In fact, I assume the intention is to offer a warm and comforting greeting that is gender-neutral and … easy.

If the greeting is from a health care worker or a clerk with whom you might have extended contact, it would behoove you to offer a gentle correction: “I’d prefer it if you called me ‘John’.”

Otherwise, I think you should acknowledge to yourself that this is an annoyance, but that it also provides an opportunity. Every time you are “Honey-ed,” say to yourself: “I sincerely hope that this is the worst thing I have to deal with today.”

(And … “Driveway Drinks?” Count me in!)

I’ll happily run suggestions from readers.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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