Dear Miss Manners,
I am a 50 year old Catholic priest who appreciates your contribution to a more civilized world. As a priest, people are usually polite and well-mannered in my presence, with one glaring exception.
I confess that I am a bit irked by the growing popularity of addressing total strangers by their first names in the banking industry. The tellers at my bank always address me by my first name, even when I am attired in full priestly garb. I have tried responding, “Oh, do I know you? Since you used my first name, I feel sure I should remember yours. I am so sorry.”
Am I being too persnickety in thinking that one should use a title (Fr., Mr., etc.) when addressing an older, business client? I spoke once to a branch manager who informed me it was the “company policy.” Am I wrong for preferring a little more decorum in these situations?
You are neither wrong nor persnickety, but you are not achieving your very legitimate desire to be addressed respectfully. Your being a stranger to the speaker is sufficient reason alone, as is your being an adult, and a priest.
Unfortunate as it is that the teller has been instructed to use your first name, Miss Manners is guessing that he probably doesn’t even know how else to address you. It would therefore be a kindness to say gently, “Please call me Father Gardner.”
While I’m eating lunch during the workday, I occasionally take a mental vacation and surf the news. Typically, it’s trashy celebrity gossip and other such important information. Today, however, I ran out of gossip — mostly due to Britney Spears being straightjacketed into a semi-normal life again by her father — and glanced through what I like to call the “Mentally Defective” section: horoscopes and advice columns. The above letter from Father Persnickety got me thinking about a pet peeve of mine. In fact, this peeve is so much of a pet that I’d let it sit on the sofa, eat treats, and beg for scraps at the table if it wanted to.
Here it is: I hate when kids call adults by their first names.
Maybe this makes me sound like Sister Persnickety of Our Lady of Perpetual PMS, but I honestly just think it’s rude for a six-year-old kid to walk up to a middle-aged friend of the family and say, “Hi, Sue” instead of “Hi, Mrs. Jones”, “Hi, Jane’s mom”, or even “Hi, Auntie Sue”. By not using a title, that child is not demonstrating respect for that adult. And the fact that little Johnny is not using respectful terms leads me to implicate his parents as the culprits in not teaching this
brat sweet child some decent manners.
Use of the first name as a form of address is no longer the exception these days. Indeed, it seems to be the rule. I can’t recall the last time I heard a kid refer to someone as “Mr.” or “Mrs.”, aside from school teachers (and even there, the growing trend seems to be to call them by their first names).
Ok. Ready for the rant that goes along with this?
By burying old social traditions, such as titles of respect, our societal fabric will continue to fray. It sounds minor, but it’s actually quite defining. “Damn the past”, we’re saying, “kids are equals with their elders.” By putting them on the same level, we’re essentially telling children to ignore us, to blow off the lessons shared by the past in favor of doing whatever feels good. Premarital sex, drugs, eating at Popeye’s Chicken (beware of that one in Barstow. My intenstinal tract hasn’t been the same since going there) — all ok by us. Have a ball. But by signing over that respect, by relinquishing the responsibility of the elders to teach, we’re sowing the seeds for a generation of very confused, very messed up kids. Watch “Intervention” or “True Life” some time: 19-year-olds heroin addicts from supposedly good families.
It comes down to this: boundaries, personal responsibility, and respect for those who deserve it. The hardcore liberal whack-jobs of the 60s and 70s have done their best to shatter those important components of our cultural construct with their goofy experimental movements. Thanks a lot for making the United States your sociological petri dish, Abbie Hoffman.
That persnickety priest deserves to be addressed as “Father”. He’s worked for that title. Your family physician is “Doctor”. He or she also worked for that title. And, guess what? Your neighbors deserve to be called “Mr.”, “Ms.”, and “Mrs.” by your kids because they work for that title, too. They’ve worked on it their whole lives, in fact. And by teaching your kids this one little lesson in politeness, you may very well be teaching them something even more important than you realize.