Thursday, March 27, 2008

Soapbox Moment - Familiarity

Okay, I'm about to hop onto my soapbox here for a moment or two. See, on the way home from a playdate just now, I had to stop for gas and I went to the full-service station that is just up the road from the house. (Yes, it is $.03 a gallon more there than DeltaSonic, but it was right on the way home and I splurged on that extra $.54!) Well, when the perfectly pleasant gas station attendant was concluding our transaction, he said "Thank you, Heather, have a nice day" as he handed me back my card and took his pen and the signed slip back from me. Like I said, he was perfectly nice - we had exchanged the meaningless pleasantries that folks do in situations like these, about the weather and the cost of fuel, blah blah blah. But..... Heather? Really? I don't go to this gas station that often (I usually am frugal enough to pump my own gas over at DS instead) and I'm certainly not on a name basis, much less a first-name basis, with any of the employees there. I wondered whether it would've bothered me less or at all if he'd called me "Mrs. Smith" instead, and I'm not sure. It just seemed a bit too familiar, I guess, for someone who was essentially a stranger to call me by my first name.

In all honesty, being "Heathered" by the gas station attendant didn't bother me that much, except that familiarity, or rather over-familiarity, is a hot button issue for me when it pertains to the kiddo, which brings me to the focus of this rant. When I was growing up, we addressed our elders by the appropriate honorific and then their last name. Mr. Green. Mrs. White. Miss Peacock. Colonel Mustard. You get the idea. We never, ever, ever called an adult by their first name alone. If they were a close friend of the family, like my parents' friends with whom we socialized on a regular basis, then they might be "Uncle" or "Aunt" Firstname, and there were a few parents of my closest high school friends that I called "Mom" or "Dad" but overall, even my friends' parents were still Mr. or Mrs. Lastname, and certainly teachers or any other adults. (Oh actually, I did have one English teacher who had us call her by her first name when I was in high school, and I adored her - she was my advisor and taught me so much about writing, including gently but repeatedly pointing out my tendency to write very long, run-on sentences.... *whistling innocently* ... and there was one drama teacher who went by his first name, but they were definitely the small and only exceptions to the rule.) To this day (and I'm closer to 40 than I am to 30 now), I still have difficulty addressing my parents' friends or my friends' parents by their first names, even when they have indicated that they're cool with that.

Anyhow, it was meant to be a sign of showing respect for one's elders, I suppose, but mainly it was just the rule. The way it was. My friends all did the same thing - we never presumed to call any adult by their first name, it just wasn't done. But now today that all seems to have gone right out the window, and it drives me more than a tiny bit crazy! We've been teaching the kiddo to address adults the same way we did when we were little - honorific and last name. We seem to be in a rapidly shrinking minority with this, though, and that has me completely bemused. At the kiddo's preschool, all the teachers and staff are Mr. or Miss First Name, and while I've gotten used to hearing that on a daily basis now, I will jump all over her if I hear her drop the honorific and call a grown-up just by his/her first name only. Some of the kids in her class do this regularly, but I am quick to stress that the "Miss" or "Mr." need to be used by my kiddo at the very least. I'm not at all horribly offended if someone else's children call me by my first name, (though mostly I'm just "Kiddo's Mommy" to them, as in "Hi, Kiddo's Mommy!" "Kiddo's Mommy, will you help me zip my coat?" etc) but it does make me notice how we appear to be in the minority when it comes to teaching children to use the more formal way of addressing adults. There are a few friends who use the same "Honorific-First Name" combo that the preschool uses for their children, and I find myself using that back to them in those situations, but even doing that goes against my grain a bit. Again, I should stress (and I know it is at odds with the whole subject of my rant here) that I don't take it personally as a sign of a lack of respect when someone else's child addresses me by my first name instead of saying Mrs. Smith. It's more of a head-shaking type thing about the general overfamiliarity of society today than anything else, I suppose. While it is just the way things are these days, and I get that, I just don't quite get how we got to this point.

So, am I just crotchety or quaintly old-fashioned or positively Victorian in my thinking? Too uptight about something that is not that big a deal? Making mountains out of molehills? Possibly all of the above. I don't think it is wrong or démodé to learn respect for one's elders, though, and I'm going to persist in having the kiddo use the old-fashioned way of addressing adults. I don't know how it will be done when the kiddo starts kindergarten in the fall, but boy am I hoping that elementary school will require the use of last names like back in the day.

In closing, let me say this. When I was a kid, I never thought I'd grow up to be one of those adults who said "When I was a kid...." and then went on to complain about the way things are today, but whaddya know, here I am. Please tell me I'm not the only grown up who feels this way, at least about this subject, if not in general! Surely there are other Crotchety McGrumps out there with whom I can commiserate, eh?


Anonymous said...

We have always done the Miss or Mr + first name for adult friends.

In DP's culture, it would be auntie or uncle so and so even if you weren't related to that person.

Anyways, don't worry, Tita's school uses last names for teachers.

My name is Andy. said...

HEE HEE.... I love your rants!

Sorry to say that we are on the other side... we don't use Mr and Mrs for the grown ups in Liam's world. All the teachers/staff at his school go by first name only, and I don't think I could tell you his teachers last name without having to look it up.

For us, respect of his elders comes from Liam's actions more then his words. If he's jumping on your couch and demanding a cookie he's not respecting you any more by calling your Mrs Smith then if he was calling you Heather!