The waiter brings the apps, sets mine down and says, “There you are, young lady.”
He sets down my husband’s. “And for you, sir.”
We are the same age, my husband and I.
And I am no young lady.
When the main course comes the waiter repeats his little service mantra and I point out the above—lightheartedly, but clearly wrapped in a message. It rattles the poor soul but he’s not the sort that moves easily beyond his ignorance and chooses to stand firm instead, explaining that many people like being called ‘young lady’.
“People?” I say. I point out that in our case, my husband is called ‘sir’ every time.
He looks to my husband who purposely says nothing. This is my discussion and that seems to rattle the waiter even more.
He says some people prefer ‘sir’.
Again with the people.
I should mention that the waiter is thirty something. In other words nowhere near old enough to be calling anyone young. Were he my parents’ vintage or older, or even my vintage, it would be another story and more acceptable, because it would be coming from a whole different place. Does this chap call twenty-five year olds ‘young lady or man’? I doubt it but if he does I’m guessing it might also come across as odd. In fact I can’t think of any age, beyond maybe eight, when I would have thought it normal. But more important than the age thing, is the gender thing. My husband is referred to with respect, as in ‘Sir’. While I’m expected to be content with the nonsense of ‘young lady’.
Women may be subjected, generally, to more dears and sweeties and hons, than men, and from both genders, and that’s another story, but this is about more than endearments or habits of speech. The ‘young lady’ thing, however, seems to come predominantly from males… and is directed at females who are not young. Perhaps these misguided men think of it as some kind of gift…
I try to explain this, to enlighten him with the news that women don’t actually enjoy being condescended to and that this ‘young lady’ thing is just plain silly, and then I present him with a challenge so that he might see the silliness more clearly. I suggest he turn things around, call all male customers, of any age, ‘young man’.
His face falls a little.
I smile. “Go on,” I tell him. “Give it a whirl. Maybe some people will prefer it…”
No answer to that and I’m suspecting he doesn’t give it a whirl.
I swear if I was his boss I’d insist he do it.
Later, when I pass on dessert and hand back the menu, he says, “Thanks, love.”
“You’re welcome, darling,” I reply.
If he gets where I’m coming from he doesn’t let on.
It’s only when he places the bill on the table and I immediately reach for it—and I know he sees this—that for the first time all night a light seems to come on for this boy as he realizes he’s made a terrible mistake…