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20-40-60 Etiquette: Hold the honey

Is "honey" as a nickname too casual for waiters, etc.? Our panel shares its take. [Thinkstock photo] 

Is "honey" as a nickname too casual for waiters, etc.? Our panel shares its take. [Thinkstock photo] 

QUESTION: I'm a woman of a certain age and feel disrespected when young people waiting on me at a store call me “honey” or “sweetie.” Any ideas on how I can politely let them know that I'd rather be addressed as “miss” or “ma'am”?

CALLIE'S ANSWER: I really do not think this is meant to be disrespectful. There are so many other things in life to be upset about. Think of this as feeling young!

LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: I don't know that people who do this mean anything disrespectful by it. It's more of a colloquial term of endearment used in some regions of the country more frequently than others. Used in the way you're referring to, like at the store, it's not meant to be demeaning, as far as I can tell. However, I, too, find these terms somewhat annoying, although they don't upset me really.

“Ma'am” and “sir” are more formal and traditional ways to address strangers than “honey” or “sweetie,” which seem too personal for strangers to use. These words also can be interpreted the wrong way in certain situations (male vs. female, young vs. old, etc.), and they're not very professional. Since it bothers you, perhaps best way to confront someone in the habit of saying this would be to smile without too much offense, and say, “Do you mind calling me ‘ma'am' next time? I really prefer that over ______ (fill in the name she just called you).” And then go on down the road, without letting it ruin your day. And then think of this: The next person in line might be upset because being called “ma'am” might make her feel old. So state your own preference or introduce yourself so they have your name, and then let the rest of it go.

HELEN'S ANSWER: I agree. It is annoying for complete strangers to use endearing terms when addressing me. “Hon,” “sweetie,” “babe” and “sweetheart” are familiar words of a younger generation. My generation still believes in “sir,” “ma'am” or “miss” as good manners.

Speak up if it bothers you. Ask the young people (politely, of course) to refrain from this familiar terminology. Tell them they don't need to add any endearments.

GUEST'S ANSWER: Christina Nihira, community volunteer: Like it or not, life is more casual these days. Maybe thank (or curse) technology, the fashion world or American media for these cultural shifts.

The question you pose goes beyond simple courtesies and manners. Younger folks are not “educated” as they once were to speak in strict, formal terms. Respect or etiquette isn't even considered when they interact with strangers. Younger generations, at least in my opinion, are simply not taught basics and don't realize that calling someone “Hon” might be a considered an insult.

I typically wear a uniform of sneakers, tennis clothing and my hair in a ponytail. I personally detest being called ma'am (unless it's by a member of the military or law enforcement). I find it a bit strange and incongruous. I prefer a more relaxed exchange.

It's important to recognize that everyone has their own viewpoint. Take it upon yourself to help the speaker(s) understand your feelings.

Gently instruct the person on your preferences. Humor can be a terrific way to communicate and disarm the “offender's” gaffe. Maybe even make a joke. “Oh, we call my dog ‘sweetie.' You can just call me ‘Ms.' ”

The Queen of England may also serve as a perfect example. Rather than call her Queen Elizabeth, royals and commoners alike use the ma'am as the proper address when in her presence. Say something like “I prefer ‘ma'am' just like the British monarch herself.”

For me, I received my own title only last week. A young man at the gas station cheerfully thanked me for my business and wished this princess a wonderful day. Flattery and kindness go a long way to making daily life tolerable.

Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email