Monday, May 4, 2015

Why I hate cutesy pet names...

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you might already know how I feel about being called "hon" or "sweetie", especially by people I'm doing business with or strangers.  I don't like it.  I feel this way even though I grew up in the South and southerners typically use terms of endearment toward others.  It's usually not intended to be anything more than a pleasantry, but sometimes it's not. If you're face to face with someone, you can usually tell what they mean.  If you're online, you can only rely on the context of the message.

This morning, I got a private message from a stranger on Facebook.  She was responding to my request for information about the Canary Islands.  She had told me yesterday that she would send me a private message, so I wasn't surprised when I saw it in my "others" folder.  She and I have never met and we're not friends.  I suspect after what happened this morning, we won't be friends.  I think I hurt her feelings.

This person made the mistake of calling me "sweetie", which I really don't like, especially since my name is clearly indicated on Facebook and is even one letter less to type than "sweetie" is.  She gave me a few tips that were genuinely useful, then signed off by calling me "hun".

If there's anything I hate worse than being called "sweetie", it's being called "hun".  So I vented about it.  The author of the note saw my rant and wrote back, saying she was being "sarcastic".  I thanked her for the information, said I was sorry, and that I realized she didn't know she'd hit one of my pet peeves.  I could tell she was offended and I can't blame her for that.  On the other hand, I think I have a valid reason for not liking  being called "cute" pet names from people I don't know.

To me, those types of names are diminishing.  It's kind of like patting someone on the head and telling them they are cute or sweet when you don't know them well enough to make such a determination.  Also, when a person I don't know calls me by a pet name instead of by my name, it tells me they don't care enough to learn about who I am.  It's both overly familiar and has the effect of making a person somewhat anonymous.  A stranger who calls another stranger "sweetie" would obviously call anyone that; so as a term of endearment, it really means nothing at all.

One of my local friends mentioned that she once got bitched out by someone who was trying to book a handicapped room at the hotel where she was working.  My friend, a very nice lady from the South, had made the mistake of calling the woman "sweetie" and got handed her ass for it.  Knowing my friend, I highly doubt she meant any offense.  But then, if you are someone with a disability, you may have some hang ups about being independent and treated as an adult.  If some random person calls you "sweetie" it can seem demeaning and belittling, even if it wasn't intended that way.

I know this complaint sounds really stupid and pointless to some people.  In the grand scheme of things, it's a fairly minor complaint.  Of course, I have bigger problems than a random Facebook stranger calling me by a pet name.  I can't deny that it really bugs me, though.  Unfortunately, if you say anything about it to the offender, you can come off as bitchy or anal retentive.  I don't enjoy being bitchy or anal about things; I do try to let things slide if I realize I'm getting wound up over nothing.  But this is one of those things that if you don't say anything from the get go, it becomes a habit.  And then when it finally does irritate you to the point of getting really bitchy, the offending person wonders why you didn't tell them in the first place.

This is also one of those situations that's kind of hard to bring up.  I mean, I don't even really know this person.  How do you politely tell someone you don't know that you want to be called by your name without sounding really stuck up or uptight?  I could say "My friends call me Jenny."... except this person isn't yet a friend.  "Please call me Jenny." seems kind of anal, too.  If you're face to face with someone, you can just ignore them until they get your name right.  But then they wonder if you're hard of hearing.  

I really relate to Dustin Hoffman's turn on Tootsie... s/he made a lot of sense while annoying a lot of people in the process.
I didn't used to be this irritable about cutesy pet names.  I think an experience I had with a Web site I refer to as the "Pepto Palace" kind of helped make me this way.

About ten years ago, I was a member of a Web site for second wives and stepmothers.  I eventually had a lot of complaints about that site, which I won't get into right now because it would take too long and isn't germane to the topic of this post.  What I will say is that the site had very uptight moderators who would aggressively watch every post and were very quick to correct certain people who broke the rules.  And when they would correct the members, they would couch their corrections in cutesy pet names.  Here are a few examples of what I mean.

"Hon, please don't swear in your posts."

"Sweetie, your posts are getting too political.  You hurt someone's feelings."

"Hon, I edited your post because it offended someone."

"Sweetie, you can't post that.  It's against our terms of service."

You see what I mean?  It's as if "hon" or "sweetie" somehow softens the blow of another adult chastising you for the way you communicate on the Internet.  It was disingenuous and, after awhile, it became very insulting.  Cutesy pet names are, after all, often used by adults when speaking to children.  Of course, in fairness, my bitching about another person's insistence on calling me "hon" or "sweetie" could be interpreted the same way.  By that, I mean someone could argue that telling people not to call me "hon" or "sweetie" is akin to telling them how to communicate.  Except I think people have the right to be called by their names, or at least by something they don't find offensive or irritating.

Another incident that made me hate the endearment "hon" is less silly.  The first time I had a visit with a gynecologist, she really hurt me.  I cried out in pain and the doctor said, "Now hon, if you can't be quiet, we can't finish the examination."  I needed her to complete the exam because I was joining the Peace Corps.  So I bit my lip and she continued, even though it was painful because she used equipment that was too big for me.  And then, adding insult to injury, she was very condescending to me afterwards... to the point at which she said she "hadn't gotten the world's best examination" because I hadn't cooperated with her.  I left her office feeling totally violated and twenty years later, have only had one other gynecological exam.  I don't trust most doctors at all.  When I hear "hon", I think of that horrible experience at the doctor's office, too.  Of course, most people don't know this about me because it's personal.  Some might even think it's kind of stupid.  It's not stupid to me, though.  Those memories are all too real.

If someone you don't know calls you by a cutesy pet name, how are you supposed to respond?  What should you think?  Does it imply that they really like you a lot, even if they don't know you and have no way of knowing if you're really "sweet" or not?  Does it mean they can't remember your name, even if it's printed right there on Facebook?

I think the lady who engaged with me via Facebook chat this morning probably found out I'm not all that sweet.  She could have called me a bitch and that might have been a more factual representation of my character.  A lot of people think I am a bitch, even if I know I'm not one.  I just have my principles.  And it's easy to tell me not to "sweat it" or to "get over it", but one person's small stuff is another person's big stuff.  This issue, to me, is not actually big stuff as much as it is annoying.  I think telling people what should or should not upset them is also wrong.  After all, why should one person's opinions matter more than another person's, especially when it comes to things that affect them personally?

I do actually feel a little bad, though, because I do think the woman was trying to be helpful when she wrote to me.  Or, at least I assume she was.  Oh well.  Guess I'll go pull out my trusty Rick Steves travel guides.  

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