In the past couple of years, I have become increasingly annoyed by the way strangers and even some acquaintances address me. I’m talking about that annoying term young lady. An acquaintance recently elevated that greeting to a new level of irritation when he approached my husband and me with this line “Well, hello, young couple. How are you today?” The irony is that the person who uttered these words is pretty close to us in age and knows us well enough to call us by our first names. Not to be outdone in the equal-opportunity-age-insulting-comments arena, a smiling airline employee recently handed us boarding passes with these words “Here you go. You kids have a great time!” I know she meant to be friendly, but kids!? Really? Last time I checked, kids is a term for children and teens. It is sometimes used by parents referring to their young adult children. But the only other definition for kids is baby goats. I’m not a young person or a baby goat. I try to treat others, including strangers, with respect and I appreciate the same treatment.
When did condescending, sarcastic age related references become an acceptable way to greet people of a certain age? Granted, I’m no spring chicken, and some people may think of me as an old goat, but I don’t need to be reminded of that. I know how old I am. I don’t appreciate these identifiers any more than an overweight person enjoys being called “Tiny.” For most of my life, the term “young lady” had described female children or young teens. Occasionally, this tag may be used by an irate mom, as in “Young lady, if you don’t straighten up right now, you are going to spend time in your room—alone!” But addressing me, an adult woman with grown children of my own, as young lady or kid is insulting – and rude.
I have a name, and it is Carolyn or Mrs. Mustian. If those terms aren’t known, “Ma’am” will do nicely. Or just look me in the eye and say, “Good morning, How are you?” I don’t need to be addressed by title. The plane we boarded the morning we were called kids took us to Jamaica, our first trip to that beautiful country. Granted, we were staying in a nice resort, but the beautiful Jamaicans whom we met were people of refined manners with lovely accents that hinted of the British heritage in that region. Not once was I called “young lady” or “kid” during my time there. What was I called? “My lady,” as in “May I get you a drink, my lady?” or “Yes, my lady, I’m happy to call a taxi for you.” The first time I heard myself called my lady, I thought immediately of one of my favorite TV shows, Downton Abby, a show that depicts a refined era in history.
In Jamaica, my lady was not said in jest or sarcasm, nor with a condescending tone of voice. It was used the way we use Ma’am in the USA — or used to use it. It’s the respectful way Jamaicans addressed ladies whose names they do not know. And I loved them for letting me feel respected rather than insulted. Now I don’t want to be called my lady in the USA. That would be as frivolous as young lady. And I know that the majority of people who use these terms mean no harm. They are trying to be friendly, but it doesn’t feel friendly to me on the receiving end of such tags.
When we returned to the USA, I was reliving our trip with a friend. I told him how refreshing it was to be called my lady rather than young lady, kid or the almost equally irritating sweetie, or honey. “Yes,” he replied, “They are a very civilized culture down there.” I like that term – civilized. I wish we could recapture a bit of civility in this country, especially in regards to how older Americans are addressed. Is that too much to ask?