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Respectful service means treating adults like adults

March 20, 2011
By ANITA HANABURGH, For The Leader-Herald

After exercise class at the YMCA, we visit a local diner every week to reclaim the calories we have lost. Waiting inside the door to be seated, the waitress arrived and chirped, "Well, it's the girls again. Would you like your regular booth?" It was only our second visit. I looked at my two good friends and then nodded to the waitress, "Sure."

As we slid into the narrow plastic benches, the three of us leaned forward and whispered to each other, "Hey girls." We laughed. My mom used to say once you are 25 you aren't a "girl" anymore. Although she meant it to chastise me for not acting my age, I have taken it to heart. I looked again at my two friends. They were a lot of things, retired professionals, community leaders, but they hadn't been "girls" for years.

The waitress returned to take our order. "OK guys, what can I get for you?" The "girls" had a quick sex change. We ordered quickly as we are a decisive group of women. Guys? We are not a group of guys.

The waitress returned to me, "Honey, do you want cream with your coffee?"

This diner made the bad decision to circle the top of some booths with mirrors. Today we were the lucky ones and I could get a good look at this "Honey." Not bad, I thought, a bit sweaty and in need of a hair brush and maybe some lipstick, but definitely a grown-up. I have earned "grown-up" status and I prefer to be addressed as a grow-up.

Our waitress returned and addressed the attractive woman sharing my side of the booth, "Sweetie, did you want the home fries or the fruit salad?" Oh busboy, "Sweetie." Sweetie, honey, girls - why do some people talk to full-grown people as if they are still children? It seems the older we get, the more some people talk to us as if we are children.

I know, I know - we all do it to some degree. I often called my students "Hon" when I couldn't come up with the right name in enough time. It didn't fool anyone. My students surely knew I couldn't remember their name. I call my husband "Hon" when I need to kindly explain something he doesn't want to hear and my husband, well, let's just say, he doesn't like it. But I call my grandchildren "Honey" all the time and that's OK.

Several years ago, I dined with my 91-year-old aunt Anna in the cafeteria of her very lovely adult home in Ithaca. Part way through the meal, the staff approached our table and asked, "Does Sweetie and her friend need anything?" My aunt answered, "How do you know I'm sweet, did you bite me?" I was taken aback. The woman walked away. My aunt learned forward and whispered, "I'd like to take a bite out of her!" and smiled. I then laughed, she laughed and we laughed together. This wonderful woman - the single surviving child of nine, a 1936 graduate of Cornell, the mother of seven, the wife of a professor - was not going to suffer the indignity of being called "Sweetie" in her later years.

Perhaps my aunt didn't handle the situation quite right, but she made her point. This point may not be important to everyone and perhaps I should just let it be, but I have never heard of anyone that likes being talked to as a child. Sometimes children don't even like it. As an adult, I have lived many years, done many things, felt many things, learned many things and made many choices. I don't want to be coddled, pampered or indulged. In restaurants, I want to be waited on efficiently, talked to in a sincere tone, smiled at genuinely and addressed with dignity. For my years of living, I would just like to be treated with respect.

Restaurant Watch: Enjoy the respect given by most restaurant servers.




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