Dear readers: Recently I asked a question from an elderly gentleman who was signing his letter: “Indeed, not your darling.” He and his friends wanted to register their disgust at being called “Sweetie”, “Honey” and the like by service workers and health professionals.
I’ve had a great response to this question (especially from health care workers) – many have struggled with my decision to refer to this as “patronizing” rather than how they see it – demeaning and downright insulting.
As I leafed through the hundreds of answers, I decided to dedicate a column to some of them.
Dear Amy: I am a nurse. I really appreciated hearing from someone on the “other side of the bed rail” that they were addressed as “cutie”.
Health care workers are required to address all patients with respect, and while “Honey,” “Sweetie”, and “Dear” are a simple standard for the elderly, these words are demeaning and unprofessional.
I agree that their use must be nipped in the bud, if not by the patient then by a family member or friend.
His convalescent sister sat next to my dazed husband after the colonoscopy and tried to wake him up with: “Come on, honey, wake up!”
I waited until she agreed with his level of consciousness before I came back quietly with, “He’s not your sweetheart.” It stopped them in their tracks.
We nurses can do better. I plan to ask “Sweetie” at my workplace.
– Colorado RN
Dear Amy: I worked as a nursing assistant and in grocery retail. I will never address anyone as “honey”, “cutie”, “dear” etc.
Showing respect to others is at the forefront of my thinking and training. Say hello “and” Thank you, have a nice day! “Seems to be sufficient.
I have a sister who has since retired from a senior management position. She has said that this trend is a problem and that managers have chosen not to address the use of respectful nouns / pronouns.
As for “Mr. Indeed,” as a customer, he is entitled to post a comment on the customer experience in the hope that the owners or managers of the company will respond.
– Nobody is “sweetie!”
Dear Amy: As an anesthetist for 35 years, I remember taking the Professionalism 101 class, where we were taught that all patients should be addressed by their title unless they request otherwise.
As a patient, I’ve been called “Sweetie” and “Honey” more than once, and every time I look them in the eye and say quietly, “Please, call me Linda.”
Every time the person who called me “Sweetie” or “Honey” gets angry!
One EMT guy got so angry he went and said, “I can’t help her.” (What? You can’t start my infusion without calling me “sweetie”?)
When healthcare providers refuse to respect their ethics in order to treat patients with respect, I complain to their manager.
Dear Amy: I work in a credit union and I interact with our members every day. I can’t count the number of times I’m called “Sweetie”, “Honey”, “Dear”, and even “Love” in a work day!
Most of these “sweeties” are from men in the age bracket of the older man who wrote to you.
Maybe he should listen to the way he approaches people when he’s not around.
I bet he’s used a term of tenderness himself once or twice and when it comes from an older gentleman to a younger woman it’s creepy and not condescending as you seemed to think.
– Get over you, honey !!
Dear Amy: If the older man called a younger woman “sweetie,” we’d jump to label that inappropriate.
As a nurse, I get very angry with employees who refer to adult adults as such familiar and childish terms. These are officers, teachers, doctors, mothers and fathers.
These are elders who deserve respect for their lived experiences rather than being infantilized by our perception of fragility.
We would never expect a woman to tolerate such belittling when the tables are turned, and it should never be acceptable when directed at adults.
– Feminist nurse on a grand scale
Dear Amy, I know that the gentleman who hates being called “Sweetie” and “Honey” doesn’t live in the south. In the south we all call Sweetie and Honey. It doesn’t matter if they’re young, middle-aged, or older.
Nobody questions it, and it is not a sign that we are humiliating or talking to anyone. Personally, I do it because it makes me feel good.
Dear southerners: When you greet someone in a professional context, feeling good shouldn’t be your goal.
(You can email Amy Dickinson at askamyamydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, PO Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter, askamy, or Facebook.)