(This just happened to me, so it postponed a long response to the great comments we got on our body language post.)
I just came back from my favorite Italian deli. It’s been in my neighborhood forever.
As I was finishing up, the guy behind the counter said, “Is that all, dear?” And I made that half-beat pause one does, saying to myself, “OK, am I going to spend the energy to call him/her on this or am I going to just leave irritated?” In the case of this deli’s staff, this wasn’t the first time. My earlier responses of humor and sarcasm hadn’t been noticed. So this was the time.
Add to the picture that I’m simultaneously polite and very intense and forceful. I told him how long I’ve been coming in and how much I like the place, and then I said, “I’m 63 years old, and I’d rather you didn’t call me dear.” He’s forty-ish, professionally pleasant, and helpful. He looked upset and asked me if I felt it was insulting. I said, “No, but it doesn’t feel respectful.”
Then I said something else nice about the place, and left.
Twenty or thirty minutes later, I made a change of menu decision. (I’m having my daughter and her partner over for a birthday dinner tonight.) So I needed to go back, and I said to myself, “Oh, shit.”
A grey-haired mustached guy, whom I think is the manager, called me over to a corner to talk. He heard my earlier conversation and was civilly angry and upset about it. He feels that their conscious choice of “dear” for women is very respectful and told me that many women object to “ma’am” but no one has ever objected to “dear.”
We went back and forth, with me firmly insisting that I don’t find it respectful, that they told me “girlie” was respectful when I was 20 but that I think that he is sincere in believing their choice comes from a respectful place. When I asked him if he would call a man “dear,” he reacted angrily, saying that that would make him seem gay.
We left it that I thought it was an unfortunate choice of words and was unmoved by his explanations.
Then I walked out feeling “I wish I didn’t feel feel like these things were important enough for me to react to, because now I’m angry and I was having a nice day getting ready for a birthday dinner.”
This has been an ongoing decision for me forever: is it important enough to respond to, will I give myself a vacation next time, etc? I face this a lot because I don’t only respond when people react disrespectfully to me, but also when people say offensive things about other people around me.
More often than not, I do say something, and when I don’t, it’s because I’ve made a conscious choice not to. But I get really tired of making this decision.
What do you folks do?