Working in public service means I see people of all kinds: tall, short, black, white, fat, skinny, quiet, loud, obnoxious, wonderful, intelligent, not-so-intelligent, drunk, high, high on life, downtrodden, hopeful, etc.
(For the record, drunk and/or high people are not allowed in the library and are asked to please come back later when they are sober.)
Many of these people call me things like “dear,” “sweetie,” and “hon.” Some have even learned my name and have taken to calling me “Kel.”
The only person who can call me “dear” or “sweetie” without pissing me off is my father. Close family members and friends are welcome to call me “Kel.” (See the quiz below to see if you qualify. If you don’t, no worries—there’s still time to ride roller coasters and do slightly illegal and/or dangerous things together!)*
Everyone else: No.
And especially not people I meet while I’m standing behind the public service desk at my job. I recognize that for some, it’s a generational thing. For some, it’s a habit. I’m willing to give people a bit of slack in this department, but not much.
Because I am NOT your dear. I am paid to be nice to you. I am paid to help you set up an email account and request books for you and troubleshoot your ebook problems. Or, I am a complete stranger you happened to bump into on the street.
We are not friends, buddies, pals, or whatever. I am not your daughter or your sister** or your girlfriend or your wife***. It is, therefore, inappropriate for you to call me (or any other customer service rep or stranger you meet by happenstance) by any term of endearment, and especially inappropriate if you are a man speaking to a woman.
“But I’m just being nice,” all the “nice” guys are collectively saying.
No. You are not being nice. You are being condescending and paternalistic. Even if you don’t intend to be condescending and paternalistic, you are. And it’s your responsibility to change your behavior.
Call me by my name, or don’t call me anything. Just say, “Thank you!”
Thank you is enough. Thank you goes a long way. “Dear” and “sweetie” do not. “Dear” and “sweetie” make me cranky. Of course, I risk retaliative action from you and those in my organization if you complain that I’ve been a horrible mean person to you by telling you not to call me “dear.”
Oh, if only it were as easy as saying, “Please don’t call me that,” or “I am not your dear, thank you, please use my name.” Every. Single. Time. I say that, I get “I was only being nice” or “That’s not very nice of you.” I’ve even had people complain to my boss that I treated them poorly by telling them not to call me dear.
Reality check: My niceness isn’t the issue. Your condescending paternalism is.
So, guys: Don’t call your service reps “dear,” “sweetie,” or “hon.” Just. Don’t. Do. It.
*You can determine if you pass this test by asking yourself the following questions. If you can answer yes to two or more, congratulations! You can call me whatever the hell you want, and I’ll still love you.
- Have we ever lived in the same house?
- Have we ridden roller coasters together?
- Have we gone to nerdy conventions together?
- Have we ever stayed up all night watching anime or making costumes together?
- Have I cried in front of you?
- Have you cried in front of me?
- Did we meet as tweens or teens and continue to be friends?
- Do you know two or more characters from the Star Wars expanded universe because of me?
- Do we have at least one inside joke? (Leave your favorite one in the comments so I laugh and everyone else feels left out!)
- Have we done something slightly dangerous or illegal together? (Don’t worry Mom, I survived, and never got caught!)
**Unless you are my actual brother, which you aren’t, because my brother would never ever call me “dear.” Seriously. Never. If he did it would mean he was taken over by pod people.
***Unless you are my actual husband, which again, you aren’t, because he would also never call me “dear,” because he knows how much I hate it, and, surprise! he respects me.