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Erna Fex: What gives you the right to call me 'honey'?

Just because I'm old doesn't mean you can talk down to me
Some people condescend to older people by using terms of endearment to identify them, even if they're strangers. Let's not do that anymore, ok?

It happened again yesterday when I was having lunch with a group of retired women teachers. Sure enough our pleasant server called us “dears.” 

That’s just one of the names that have been ascribed to me — there's also “sweetheart" and "honey.” I don’t even know these people. I am not related to them, so they have no right to use those terms with me. 

Oh, I know they mean well, but it makes me feel diminished, unable somehow to walk away confidently after I pay the cashier, whether I am using my cane, Betsy, or not. Have they assisted me in some way besides serving me food or ringing in my purchases?

Perhaps they have prevented Betsy from having another adventure by telling me she stayed behind again. That’s useful information to me, as I grab Betsy by the handle and give her a good shake to scold her. But I am still not their “dear.”

I am an adult – a senior adult, an old lady. As such, I deserve to be addressed as an adult. Call me Mrs. Fex or Erna, but I am not your “sweety," "honey" or "dear.” My daughters call me, appropriately, Mom. My grandchildren use several different terms: Grandma, Grand’maman or Oma – all wonderful and acceptable names for me. 

I love each one of these names and the children who address me this way. No “honey” or “sweetheart” among them. That is reserved for my husband of 53 years, of course.

Now I have observed these terms of endearment are not used with my husband. Why is that? No one minimalizes him, ever. Is it because he’s a man?

I have had a very full life. Giving birth to my three girls, managing classrooms of 35 children, caring for my aged parents when they needed me, taking university courses (which I did while I was teaching, no less), being my husband’s campaign manager when he was running for office in Walden, co-ordinating 100 volunteers on election day, volunteering in various other ways — you get the idea. I have been busy!

Being talked down to by people I don’t know and who don’t know me is not acceptable. 

So there! That’s my rant for this month!

Erna de Burger-Fex is a writer and retired teacher who writes about aging and the funny side of getting older. Got a question for Erna? editor@sudbury.comEmail