She was thirty something, a stranger, but I smiled and said, “Good morning”, the way you do in a small town.
She said, “Hello, dear.”
I did the aural equivalent of a double-take before murmuring to Nancy R., with whom I was out walking, “Did she call me dear?”
Nancy smirked. “Yes, dear.”
(But that’s okay, Nancy calling me ‘dear’. She can use any term of endearment – or abuse – she likes. Twenty-five years together earns you that right.)
Now I may be – er – mature. But I’m not a hundred, and I don’t forget where I’m going, or walk with a walker, or shuffle along at 0.5 mph (although I am old fashioned enough to think mph and not kph).
And what difference would it make if I was a hundred, and I made a habit of forgetting where I was going, and I walked with a walker, or shuffled along at 0.5 mph (not 0.804672 kph)? I’m not your ‘dear’ unless our relationship is old enough and entrenched enough to justify your calling me, and my calling you, ‘dear’, and even then it’s only to be used with initial caution, like French ‘tu’.
After a few moments of speechless incredulity and suppressed outrage, I started to wonder how I should respond. But of course it was too late by then. With Nancy and I travelling at a brisk 3.5 mph or thereabouts, and the thirty something woman at a paltry 2.0 mph (a slowpoke, despite her relative youth), we were already fifty yards (not metres, you’ll note) apart.
However, there will be a next time. Being called ‘dear’ is, regrettably, a common occurrence, and I need to be prepared. So how should one respond? Smile and suck it up and accept it as a well-meaning if misguided appellation? Reply, “Hiya, babe” (or sweet pea, or darling, or cutie), and risk outraged censure for one’s patronising sexism?
Maybe the problem is the lack of a casual and informal salutation to use instead of ‘dear’. Something like ‘mate’, or ‘buddy’, perhaps. But these seem to be used exclusively male-to-male, and ‘dear’, used in the situation I’m writing about here, seems always to be used by women.
There’s always ‘sir’, I suppose. I’d settle for that.
(Nancy, how about it?)
In the meantime, at least no-one has called me ‘dearie’.