Impolite Society


When I was young, adults didn’t have first names.  My teachers were all “Mr.” and “Mrs.” with an occasional “Professor” or “Dr.” thrown in when I was in college.  Every grown-up I knew, even ones that were close family friends, were addressed this way.  It was a gesture of respect.  While I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it, I assumed – one day – I would join this rank and become “Mr. Francis” like my dad and his dad before him.

When I worked at a movie theatre the summer I was 19, my manager Jeff asked me to address him as “Mr. Steinkeller”.  I couldn’t quite bring myself to do that.  He was only five years older than me, so we compromised and I called him “Mr. Jeff-Sir-Dude”.  Soon, I got my first credit card and immediately noticed an increase in formal junk mail.  Later on I got married, had a son, and now I have a mortgage and a car payment.  I pay taxes and I teach Sunday School.  However, somewhere along the way, I seem to have lost my membership in the ranks of Mister.

I signed up to block telemarketers calling the house and put a stop to a lot of my junk mail.  The ones that run the gauntlet seem to think this makes us friends.  They often address me by my first name rather than the head of the household or RESIDENT.  Our church is pretty liberal, so I wasn’t too surprised my class calls me Bob.  But at home, Daniel’s friends don’t have problem calling me Bob either. 

Let me put this into perspective.  A friend I have known since we were five years old had us over for a birthday party.  His parents were there and I got to talking with his dad.  After a few minutes of conversation, he laughed and said I could call him Don.

Actually, no, I don’t think I could.

This informality doesn’t bother me too much except when I go to the store.  I wait in line for what seems to be hours, pay way too much for everything and suddenly the cashier feels we are on a first name basis.

“Thanks for shopping with us, Robert!  As you can see, Robert, you saved $1.80 today!  Hope to see you again, Robert!”

I’d like to give the Wal Marts of the world a little bit of advice.  My name is Robert, but the only person who called me that was my grandfather.  This is probably an issue for other Roberts in the world; probably a few Williams and Jonathans and the occasional Elizabeth.  In any case, I feel it is impolite to use someone’s first name unless it has been offered.  Until then, you can use Mister.  Failing that, try the “old reliable” that I used when I worked in the retail sector: Sir.

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