When we were in Kerry during the summer, my mother-in-law asked me whether I was particularly fond of 1960s songs as I seemed to know a lot of them. I found myself mulling on this and reflected that I knew far more songs from the 1960s than from the last 10 years. I asked Mr. Waffle to hum one hit song from the last year and he couldn’t do it. I knew precisely one song, something about God by pink and I couldn’t hum it either. We are without it.
Furthermore, I am getting quite testy about this business of complete strangers addressing each other and, more particularly, me by their or my first names. In a hotel I stayed in for work, the 60 year old man on reception had a label with “John” on his chest. Not “John Bloggs” just “John”. Am I really supposed to call this older gentleman “John”?
I have had some exposure to hospitals recently through my parents whom the doctors and nurses treating my father felt completely free to address by their first names whether they knew them or not. In a context when you or your spouse is ill, poked, pulled and cut open, I can’t help feeling that it would be nice to have some vestiges of dignity retained. Neither of my parents complained, but my mother did mention it and I wondered who decreed that all patients should be addressed by their first names. In Belgium, I was “Madame Gaufre” to everyone when I was in hospital. Maybe it’s because they have “tu” and “vous” in French and this encourages formality. Whatever the reason, I like it. You can always tell people to be a little less formal but it’s much harder to ask people to be more formal. I remember when a friend of my parents’ was very ill (possibly dying) in hospital, he was addressed by his first name. As it happened, he was always known by his middle name, so that wasn’t even his name, really, if you see what I mean, and I, who had known him all my life, only every addressed him as Professor C. A little courtesy might be welcome.
I was pleasantly surprised the other day when I got an email from an academic beginning “Dear Anne (if I may)”. Yes, you may, how nice to be asked. When I started my working life, which is not that long ago, 1990, in fact (if this was before you were born, please don’t comment), it was quite standard to address the senior partners in the office as Mr. (there were no senior women, so the question of Ms, Mrs or Miss did not arise – ah, progress, not all bad then), though my own boss did get his secretary to tell me to stop calling him Mr. because it made him feel very old.
As a child, I addressed grown-ups as Mr. or Mrs. or, good friends of my parents as aunty or uncle. This latter, I concede, carried its own difficulties. As a sullen adolescent, I wasn’t going to call unrelated people “uncle” or “aunty”, so I ended up having to address them as “you” or point. I don’t, however, like to see the Princess imperiously addressing my friends by their first names and telling them to do things. Imperious is her usual mode of interaction and, it might, I suppose be softened, if she were using some form of title. I am not entirely sure how to deal with this, but perhaps inspiration will come.
Oh, and also, the policemen appear to be getting younger.
Hello – I’ve been lurking, thought I’d finally comment. I found your blog after searching for expats in Belgium. Anyway…
I still call all my school friends’ parents by their correct titles – Mr Morgan, Mrs Smith, etc. I think they secretly like that there are still some people left in the world, younger than them, who use Mr or Mrs. (I was born in 1971). None of my two daughters’ friends call me “Mrs”; they all call me Trish. Which is fine, but a small part of me would like it. When I call him Mr Morgan, I feel as though I’m paying him some respect. It’s a little old fashioned but there you go.
I’m going to use “if I may” from now on whenever I address a new client by email. I usually meet new contacts first by email and I do feel a little uncomfortable going straight to John or Linda. Especially when they are very senior in their organisation.
I need to trawl through your archives, but I’d LOVE a summing-up for your time in Belgium, if you can direct me to it. I’m an Australian wife and mother of two girls, I’m 35 years old and my husband is considering a job in Belgium in 2007. He works in IT. Thanks very much. PS Clever name for a blog 🙂
I seem to remember I addressed all my schoolfriends’ parents as ‘so and so’s mum’ (or dad). In retrospect, this may have been why they all insisted on us using their first names …
Yes, about the informality in hospital I agree absolutely. My Grandmother spent her last few days alive being prodded about by well meaning nurses; “Gertie, it’s time for your pills” “Gertie, do you want to lie down?” No one, but no one, ever called her Gertie. She was ‘Mother’ to her children, ‘Granny’ to her grandchildren and extended family, and Mrs Smith to everyone else.
My father recently stayed in hospital and within a few hours of getting there had informed the nurses (most of them a third his age) that no, they may not call him Charlie, his name was Mr Smith, thank you. Unfortunately not everyone is as cantankerous an old bugger as my dad.
Oh, and as a child living outside of the united kingdom, it was perfectly normal to call friends of my parents and parents of my friends Mr or Mrs X. When we moved back to UK, my parents quite reasonably expected my brother and I do continue the same. Unfortunately it made us utter toadying lickspittals in the eyes of our new contemporaries. We ended up going to any lengths to avoid ever having to call an adult anything, ever.
i like the “If i may” very much. i have a quite annoying predilection toward imbuing respect where perhaps none is due, and have tried to offset it by boldly addressing people by their first names when every atom of my being wanted to use a courtesy title. now, a solution to satisfy me!
and hospitals, dear God. i think ESPECIALLY in cases of elderly patients, why not address them formally and if they want a more casual relationship, then they can say so.
I called a call-centre recently about a credit card query on my UK card and after it was sorted out I asked the person I was speaking to what their name was – they’d already announced themselves as Mary and they told me this again and when I asked for their surname I was made to feel as if I was a stalker. Why did I want to know?
One of my mother’s best friends, Janet, was always known to me as Auntie Janet and I remember being at her house when I was 17 and referred to her as Auntie Janet and she told me that I was probably old enough to start calling her Janet and it made me feel remarkably grown-up, although I have no problems with my friends’ children calling me Heather – I’ll usually go along with whatever the parents want.
Daddy's Little Demon says
I once spent two and a half years avoiding addressing my girlfriend’s parents because I didn’t know whether it was ok to call them by their first names. They must have thought I was incredibly distant. When in fact I was actually being incredibly polite.
In my local supermarket, the cashiers have to wear name badges that state their name and how long they’ve been a team member, so you’ll have ‘John – Team Member since 2005’. Having worked as a chashier, albeit for a Knightsbridge department store, I absolutely hated wearing my name badge. I feel that my name is absolutely and totally MY property and I wasn’t happy about strangers knowing it and using it. Even so – at least my name badge didn’t have just my forename and at least it didn’t display to the world how long I’d been incarcerated in that particular institution.
I do not like sales people just using my first name – I don’t care if they find my surname difficult to pronounce – just try. My maiden name was ‘Brown’ – so I used to be called by both – now I’m just ‘lilo’ for almost everyone, usually accompanied by ‘Sorry – can’t pronounce your surname’.
As for people of different generations, I just go on how I was introduced to them. I’m happy for my children’s friends to call me by my first name, as long as my children still call me ‘mummy’.
I agree totally. I grew up in California, aka The Land of Attempted Youth, and my parents’ friends were offended if I called them by anything but their first names–made them feel old, I guess. But I’ve since moved to the American South, where it’s either Mr./Ms. LastName, or Mr./Miss (whether married or not) FirstName, or Ma’am and Sir. And I love it. I’m definitely going to teach the Squid to follow those basic rules.
Oh, and my husband, who grew up in Africa, is all over the Uncle/Aunty thing, so I suppose we’ll incorporate that among more personal friends. It does seem to confuse some of our friends, though.
It’s when doctors start to appear younger that you need to be worried.
Katie, a terrifying prospect.