Yes, I’m old and grumpy. I still call what few people older than me are by Mr. or Mrs.
I wouldn’t presume to use their first names unless asked to do so.
Recently a friend and I went to a nice restaurant near Plymouth for lunch. It has an excellent menu and an excellent reputation.
We were sitting. Our server came over and asked me, “What’s your first name?”
I motioned for him to come closer.
“Are we going to exchange Christmas presents?”
“So why do you need to know my first name?”
She then told me that she wanted him so she could talk to me.
This bright young creature was probably a quarter of my age and slim as a model. I just couldn’t imagine a scenario in which she and I could have a meaningful conversation. She had already pointed out that she had two other part-time jobs and was studying nuclear physics.
If I ever knew anything about the waitress or the service, I forgot it. Nuclear physics is a subject best left to those who care…or study it so they can care. No. So that, I thought, would take care of all the conversational gambits.
I looked around and didn’t see a single empty table and there were people crammed in waiting to come in…those stupid, hungry people who hadn’t made reservations. I didn’t see how she thought we would have time to have a conversation even if I agreed.
Or, maybe because she told us her first name, she felt it was right for me to tell her mine.
I searched the room for a TV news crew: maybe it was one of those surprises where I’d get $3.82 if I gave him my name, social security number and my address. No: no television cameras. I waited to see if his supervisor would accept the offer of a free dessert if I gave him my name.
No. No free dessert.
Under what conditions would we be likely to have a conversation? Our relationship was strictly one of service: I told her what I wanted to eat and she, acting as a conduit of information and then goods, passed on my wishes to the kitchen. Someone in the kitchen would cook my meal, put it on a warming rack, bellow the waiter’s name, and she would bring it to me.
It hardly seemed to be the occasion for useless chatter with exchange of first or last names. This nice young woman and I had very little chance of seeing each other again. If we did, and with my memory, a vague smile and a nod would be directed at her.
Increasingly, it’s assumed that we all like the familiarity of strangers using our first names to address us. I noticed it especially in doctors’ offices and other medical establishments.
Again, you’re not likely to socialize with your pulmonologist – at least on a regular basis:
“Hi ho, Dr Whatsis? How about a little game of racquetball?”
“No, Tiffany Evangelina, your last lung scan doesn’t look good for racquetball. I suggest you try The New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle in 20 minute increments.
I bet 90% of us still call our doctors by their last name preceded by “Doctor”. But they call us by our first names.
One of my doctors slipped up once and left me a message, “Hi, Susan, it’s Tom Stanley, here’s my number, call me back for the test results.”
I called him back and left a message, “Hi, Tom, this is Susan Keezer calling about the test results.”
Then I got a call back, “Hm, this is the receptionist for Dr. Thomas Martin Stanley, Ph.D., MD, Harvard, Cardiac Arrest and Things, please call his nurse about your recent test results. “
Note that he had dropped his first name and no longer wanted to communicate directly with me.
I suspect an AMA spy caught him, and he was reprimanded in the middle of the night for using his first name in a message to a patient.
Susan Keezer lives in Adrian. Email your good news to him at [email protected]