So there my mom and I are, meeting for a cheery little lunch at a well-known chain restaurant, when the server asks, “What can I get for you Darlin’?” as she placed a coaster in front of my 82-year-old mother. She then proceeded to use just about every term of endearment you can think of — “Honey”, “Sweetie”, “Dear”, “Babe” — just about every time she came to our table. My mother rolled her eyes. I inwardly sighed. This was going to be a long lunch.
Oh sure, there are worse things a server could say or do — not being attentive, getting the orders wrong, etc., (and for the record I didn’t tip this person less because of the whole “Honey/Babe/ Sweetie” thing), but I have a particular aversion to terms of endearment directed my way from someone I don’t even know. My husband, my mother, and close friends can “Honey” and “Sweetie” me all they want, but when those words come from cashiers in the checkout line at the grocery, clerks at the department store, and worse yet, men I don’t even know, the words feel more demeaning that endearing. You might as well call me “little lady” and pat me on the head while you’re saying it.
I want to give these “Honey/Sweetie/Darlin’/Dear/Babe” throwers the benefit of the doubt and assume this is simply a bad habit they picked up thinking it was actually a good one. Maybe someone called them “Honey” or “Darlin'” when they were feeling down, and they liked it so much, they decided to adopt the habit themselves. Or maybe they think it’s a way of establishing instant familiarity and mistakenly use it as a way of making people feel included. The problem is, it doesn’t.
Having someone who doesn’t know me call me any of the aforementioned terms of endearment is belittling, sometimes condescending, and — in cases where the server who was in her 20’s used them while talking to my mother who is in her 80’s — downright disrespectful. It sends the signal that you’re perceived as being helpless, inexperienced, and not quite on the same level as the person throwing out the affectionate utterance.
And, unfortunately, I’ve found that pointing out the offensive habit doesn’t usually fare well. More often than not it results in them switching from their psuedo-affectionate “I call all women ‘Honey’,” demeanor, to a “How dare you call me out on my bad habit?” attitude. Case in point: I took a call from a prospective male client who was interested in placing advertising at the TV station where I work. I introduced myself, yet he proceeded to call me “Honey” throughout our conversation. When I politely mentioned to him that my name was April, and not Honey, he became instantly defensive, telling me he didn’t mean anything by it, that I had a bad attitude, and he was going to report me to the manager. He probably talked about this with his “Honey” calling friends for days — except not using the word “Honey” to describe me — if you know what I mean.
So I throw this out to others. Does the “Honey/Sweetie/Darlin’/Dear/Babe” thing bother anyone else? Do you have any successful methods of dealing with the situation when it arises? I’d love to hear stories and suggestions. Pretty sure some well-meaning or condescending individual is out there, waiting, ready to throw a Honey/Sweetie/Darlin’/Dear/Babe” right at me — probably within the week.