Saturday, August 6, 2011

Can you correct this breach of etiquette without being, well, impolite?

I tend to leave the office latish on Fridays. After catching up calls, reviewing lengthy old records from patients' previous doctors, etc. I walk down to the MAX station, avoiding the rush that I imagine exists at 5:30 or 6. I was having an impromptu visit with a nice (previously unknown to me) lady who works at the Salvation Army youth center when a large pleasant man in a red T-shirt, longish hair, and a baseball cap asked us if we knew which train to take for North Interstate and Lombard. We told him that would be the yellow line and I told him that was my stop. He said, "Thanks, ladies," and walked off. Ten minutes later he came back and asked if he could go on with us and make sure he got off at the right place. The other lady said that wasn't her train, but I told him, sure, I could show him where to get off. He said, "Thanks, darlin'", and I said, almost reflexively, "Please call me 'Ma'am'". Don't misunderstand, I can't tell you how gentle and unthreatening this guy seemed, but I really, really don't like people who are not my friends calling me "Hon", "Sweetie", "Dear", "Darlin'", or any other term of endearment when I am not endeared. It feels disrespectful, and I used to not let it go by uncorrected when it came from a man, but I don't think I'm saying it well, because there is always a chill that descends. I follow it with "You can call me Kim, if you like", to try to communicate that I'm not trying to be snobbish, but I think I need a better line than, "Please don't call me __________", or "Please call me Ma'am".

It may be that "Please don't call me (Sweetie)" is better. One gas station attendant I remember saying that to said, seemingly sincerely, "What should I call you? Honey?" The episode that left me feeling saddest was when the really sweet resident oral surgeon who was taking the screws out of my mouth, seeing this was painful, said, "Oh, I'm sorry, hon!" and I said (yes, at such a moment I decide to be Ms. Manners), "Please don't call me hon. It doesn't feel respectful." After another screw or two came painfully out, I managed to commit my own faux pas--which maybe wouldn't have been one if I hadn't just corrected him--and patted him on the arm, so much as to say, "It's okay, I know you can't help how much it hurts", and felt the need to apologize for that. It just didn't feel we ended the visit as warmly and it had started and I wished I'd just taken the "hon" on the chin and kept quiet.

Anyway, suggestions welcome. I'm clearly in need of my own etiquette advisor.