Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Call me “Mister”

When I was young, just after The Flood, I was taught to not only respect my elders but to show them that respect.

Yes sir, no sir; yes mam, no mam.

Never, never presume to call an adult by their given name unless specifically invited to do so by the adult. Maybe Uncle Joe wanted to be called Uncle Joe, but unless the lady at the corner market asked to be called Carol, it was Miz Swartz.

In the pseudo-military of the U.S. Air Force, back when Wilber and Orville were taking to the air, peons – of which I was one – were obliged to salute shave tail second lieutenants who, as every sergeant knows, are lower than new recruits. We had to address them as sir or mam; in fact, everyone with more rank than E-1 – there was nothing lower – had to be shown respect; sir or mam.

We were told we didn’t have to like the person we were addressing; we had to show respect for the rank, and yes, Virginia, some of those people were pretty “rank.”

But, as Robert Allen Zimmerman told us, “Times they are a’changin.” (http://tinyurl.com/23xbawo). He should know; he and I are contemporaries if not contemporary.

I’m a grey beard; I look my age. Living this long certainly beats the alternative.

I take umbrage when some “whipper snapper” takes liberties and addresses me, a total stranger, by my given name. As I made an appointment for an eye exam the Sweet Young Thing at the desk, using my given name, told me my appointment was set. When she said my name I quietly corrected her: It’s Mister Glenn.

I don’t know the child – she looked to be in her 20s – and I don’t care if she wore a name tag with her given name on it – remember, I was scheduling an eye exam so maybe I just failed to see the name tag.

This buddy-buddy approach is fostered by management to make the customer – be the product spectacles or Cadillacs – think he or she is among friends. Nonsense! The customer is among people who are after the customer’s money.

Until I give someone leave to address me by my given name, don’t do it, unless, of course you either (a) are older than me or (b) wish me to address you in a similar manner. Rabbis, doctors, judges, and the like beware.

My “junior” surgeon is younger than me – my “senior” surgeon is my age; neither invites me to call them by their first names although I confess to taking liberties with the junior’s surname; it’s Hertz and I refer to him as “Painless” since I never needed even an aspirin following his work at the table.

I don’t normally call a rabbi by his given name, even if I am very much the youngster’s senior. (I often feel sorry for rabbis and doctors who lack “first name” friends. In some Latin countries, titles are prefixed to names of engineers, lawyers, and other professionals. )

I am a curmudgeon, no doubt about it. But I firmly believe this would be a better place if minimal courtesies were restored; start with addressing your elders by title, if only Mister, Miss, Misses, or even Miz; children should – gasp! – stand when a teacher enters the classroom. Let’s put hands over the heart during the U.S. National Anthem – ever watch the players at a sports event; maybe one in five or 10 doff their hats and place them over their heart. Heck, I’m not even sure our elected officials, from POTUS down, show respect to the flag and anthem. (Yes, I see their little flag lapel pins; it’s simply not the same.)

Who knows what a modicum of courtesy might generate. Perhaps less road rage? Less cutting in lines? Gentlemen holding the door for ladies – or have both gone the way of dinosaurs?

Go on, as Mr. Clint Eastwood famously said, “make my day” (http://tinyurl.com/cfm9mqd) and “call me mister” (http://tinyurl.com/cupa9q7 and http://tinyurl.com/3xbcc4u).

As I “researched” the origin of “Call me Mister,” the first URL I visited referred to a play of that name revolving around, according to Wikipedia, returning soldiers (from WW II) who expected to be addressed as civilians instead of by their military rank.

I recall how surprised I was when, as a just out of the Air Force civilian someone addressed me as “Mister Glenn.” I almost went into shock – that would have been OK since I was working at a hospital. That incident occurred (c 1963) before many readers of this rant were born.

To paraphrase the late Mr. James Francis Durante, “goodnight, Ms. Swartz, wherever you are.”

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