people call me “young lady” when I’m clearly not

A reader writes:

I am in my 60s. I don’t look like like a fossil, but I don’t look like I am in my 20s or 30s, either. Today I went to a store where someone who was in his 20s or 30s looked at me and said, “How can I help you, young lady?” The store wasn’t busy, so I told him what I have told others a few times: “When you call me young, it makes me think you immediately notice how old a person is before you consider them as an individual.”

He was upset by this criticism and insisted he was only being polite and saying what he had been raised to say. I told him I believed him, but that the best way to treat someone older was to treat them like any other customer without calling attention to their age. (And, if anyone wonders, I don’t indulge in millennial bashing or “kids today” talk that lumps generations of younger people together.) I have gotten the “young lady” line from people my age and younger people, and the only time I grinned and bore it was when it came from the guy at the farmers market who looked to be in his 80s or 90s — to him, I _was_ young!

I never complain to store management because as far as I can tell, this is a learned behavior, usually from family or observation, and not a shtick that stores train employees to use. If the store is crowded or busy, I often let it go, even when I am temped to say something snarky like, “Fine, callow youth, could you tell me where the anti-aging pills are?”

Customer service workers are often really taken aback when I make my comment. Is there better wording I could use? Do I make this into a riddle and ask what the perfect age is where maturity has been achieved but one is not “over the hill” yet? How can I push back firmly in a way that creates a teaching experience?

Oh, this kind of comment is so patronizing and gross! It’s based on the assumption that everyone wants to be young, or at least be thought young. And there’s something almost … mildly flirtatious about it? But in a patronizing way. It’s actually rather insulting. It’s transparently trying to curry favor while insinuating being young would be better.

And don’t forget the sexism! It’s much less common for older men to be greeted with “young man,” and that’s because at some level we think youth matters more for women … and because we tend not infantilize men in the myriad ways we do to women.

But I don’t think you need to create a learning experience around this every time.

There is value pushing back on crappy things, and you’re certainly not obligated to just smile and nod politely when someone patronizes you … and I very much understand the urge to educate total strangers when they say something wrong-headed … but sometimes there’s merit in just letting a customer service interaction be as short as possible, for both your sakes.

That said, if your goal is to get people to rethink what they’re saying, then your line — “When you call me young, it makes me think you immediately notice how old a person is before you consider them as an individual” — isn’t a bad one. But it’s long! And it’s a bit jarring, in that suddenly it’s a much deeper conversation than what anyone was expecting to have when they tossed out a cheesy greeting.

An alternative would be to just say, “What an odd way to refer to a grown woman.” That kind of response — said kindly, not meanly — might get someone to think about what they’re really saying.

But there’s at least as much chance that you’ll just be written off as “grouchy old curmudgeon” (an identity I look forward to, personally).

{ 901 comments… read them below }

  1. Lena Clare*

    I absolutely join you in looking forward to being a grouchy old curmudgeon, Alison.

    OP – I feel you. I like the response “what an odd thing to say to a grown woman.” It sort of covers all the basics for me.

    1. A*

      HA, agreed. I also think something like “Well hey now, I’ve earned these wrinkles!” said cheerfully can also be disarming but still get the point across.

    2. Trig*

      Yeah, it works for the reverse of OP’s situation too! I’m in my early 30’s, and one coworker (who I don’t think is even 40 yet?) regularly calls me “young lady” or “kiddo” over IM. It’s condescending whether I’m 30 or 70. There’s no perfect age.

      I long one day to deploy the mildly bemused “what an odd thing to say” with perfect aplomb, either in this situation or another where it’s merited.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Oh lord, I had a coworker regularly address me as kiddo when I was 30. He was 29, and my supervisor! Back then, I had a crush on him, so he could’ve called me a, I don’t know, “grouchy old curmudgeon” and I would’ve been “aww, he is so sweet”. But now I’m like “Kiddo? really? what the hell was he thinking?!”

      2. Totally Minnie*

        I hate being called kiddo. I look younger than my actual age, so I get it a lot and it’s the worst. Why can’t we just talk to one another, human to human, without bringing age, or perceived age, into it?

      3. Lissa*

        “Kiddo” is the worst. It makes me cringe when people use it to refer to actual children (just a pet peeve like hating moist, I realize it’s my issue!) and it’s so weird when people use it for adults who are their own age! Also is this gendered? I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone call a grown man “kiddo”. Ew.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          If it’s a kid, sure. It’s the whole calling a grown adult kiddo phenomenon that I object to. I am 35. I am not anybody’s kiddo.

      4. Autumnheart*

        Got called “kiddo” repeatedly by an optician last time I was buying a pair of glasses. Not only did he screw up my order multiple times so that it took me six weeks to receive them (when LensCrafters has been punching them out in an hour for 30 years), but I’m in my 40s. If I’m spending hundreds of dollars at your establishment, you better not call me “kiddo”.

        Heck, these days I don’t even really care for being called “miss”. But the whole “miss/ma’am” situation is a minefield, and I don’t blame customer service workers for just trying to get through their day without being yelled at. But “kiddo” or other jocular “let’s pretend you’re not an adult” is, excuse the phrase, getting really old.

        1. SavannahMiranda*

          Dame Maggie Smith is my goal, combined with a touch of Madeline Albright, and if you’re my friend then Judi Dench. But only if I like you.

          1. Aveline*

            I want the combined wit and sass of the 4 dames in Tea with the Dames. And a touch of Dame Helen Mirren’s naughtiness.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I recently finally got into Agatha Christie novels, and let my mom borrow them and read them, too. Now we both aspire to be Miss Marple. Not exactly grouchy, but not someone you’d want to mess with, either! We are 51 and 81.

      1. LunaLena*

        Miss Marple is badass, too! If you haven’t read it yet, Sleeping Murder has a great scene where she springs into action.

        1. Aveline*

          We could have a whole Marplen thread this weekend. I have definite options but don’t want to derail. Though I must say Geraldine is my fav.

      2. AgathaFan*

        Agatha for the win. The ladies in her novels are often such spectacular people and I love it. Some of them can be quite biting – it’s the best.

    4. VonSchmidt*

      A somewhat older man (late 50’s) in our circle of acquaintances has called me “kiddo”, I’m 48! So I just respond to “Hello Kiddo!” with “Hello Grandpa!” The look on his face was priceless!

    5. Artemesia*

      Agreed. The ‘young lady ‘ thing is insulting; it treats a grown woman like a child or worse as if she were now stupid in her old age. Anything to discourage the trend is fine by me. At best it translates as ‘wow, you look really old.’

  2. Kelly L.*

    I’m sort of cringing at the idea of a parent intentionally raising their kid to call adults “young lady.”

    1. MechanicalPencil*

      I was just beaten over the head to say “ma’am” and “sir”. But young lady? What’s the masculine equivalent? “Good sir”? “My fine fellow”?

        1. Amelia*

          To an elderly man? I’d like to see someone say that to my 80 year old Navy guy father. Likely wouldn’t be pretty.

          1. MechanicalPencil*

            Considering most of the elderly men I know, I couldn’t see calling them “young man” to their face either. Hence my quandary. The whole thing is just gross feeling.

          2. Magenta Sky*

            I have a friend who tends to refer to any male as “young man,” regardless of age (relative or absolute).

            Yeah, it’s a thing. It’s a figure of speech. I know people who tend to refer too all females, from infants to a hundred, as “young lady,” too. There are parts of the US where it’s just how people talk. Whether the letter writer is in one of those parts of the country or not, who knows?

            I suspect, however, that if we looked, we could find the other side of the story somewhere on Reddit, like Tales from Retail.

            1. Clisby Williams*

              Where are these parts of the US where it’s just how people talk?
              Being called “young lady” is one of my pet peeves (I’m 65). I live in South Carolina, and I’ve never heard if from anyone but cashiers (grocery store, Walmart, etc.) Is it some sort of retail training? It’s definitely NOT just how people talk.

              1. Magenta Sky*

                So you’ve been to every part of the United States? Say, lived in every one of the 3000 or so counties long enough to get a good feel for the local culture? Or are you assuming that your own personal experience must be representative?

                1. GradStudent*

                  You said there are parts of the US where people talk like this. Clisby asked where and you get mean. Why not just answer their question if you really know an area where people talk like this?

              2. Shad*

                Same across the border in North Carolina, though I’m only 25 and not far removed from it actually being accurate. And the one retail coworker I did hear doing that? An older man with some definite chivalrous biases.
                And the counterpart, young man? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that other than to an actual child except with a clear racist undercurrent (and to actual children, mostly with a sense that the kid’s in trouble). Because everyone understands that’s demeaning, bigots just think that’s okay as long for certain targets.

            2. Artemesia*

              I grew up in the PNW, lived for decades in the South and have lived in different decades in the Midwest. It was not common in any of those places except by patronizing men — it was more common in the south but then treating women as lesser beings was somewhat more common there. I was a married woman with my own last name long before it was common and so got a front row seat on ‘woman’s place.’

      1. Adele*

        I once ate a (non-theme) restaurant at which the server called me “M’lady,” throughout the meal. I was older than her by about 10 years. It was weird and felt mildly icky but I figured it was a harmless quirk.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I know what you mean. Several years ago I encountered a WF associate behind the butcher counter who was so submissive and servile it almost made my skin crawl. I understood he must have been raised to be that way and didn’t say anything, but OMG what kind of environment did he grow up in?

          1. Annette*

            Likely had nothing to do with upbringing and everything to do with working in the “service” industry. Strange comment.

            1. Anna*

              It’s the kind of thing your parents might tell you is appropriate if you’re working in the service industry, so maybe not that strange actually.

      2. JSPA*

        young fellow. I’ve heard it used to older men, and they don’t seem any more thrilled than I am to be “young lady.” Unless they’re old pals with the equally old person using it, in which case, it’s smiles and jokes all around.

        Maybe the kid heard his old manager use it with an old classmate, and copied inappropriately.

        I favor, “when you’re my age, you can call me ‘young lady.’ “The smarter ones chuckle and occasionally have the grace to look abashed, the others sit and look puzzled. Or I call the older guys who do it, “young fellow” right back, and the youngsters who do it, “grandpa.”

        1. Artemesia*

          Time for my old story about the airplane trip where I was on my way to a conference at age 25 or so (so 50 years ago). The business type seated next to me asked ‘so are you a career girl.’ I said ‘why yes, yes I am, are you a career boy?’ jaw dropped.

    2. Micklak*

      I was having trouble picturing this. Would someone actually teach their child to call grown adults “young lady?” That just seems so obviously inappropriate that I’m struggling.

      1. TooTiredToThink*

        I highly doubt it was an intentional training but that his father did it and so therefore learned from his father.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Uh yeah, I call BS on that one. If he said “ma’am” or “auntie” or “Mrs. So-and-So”, I’d be inclined to believe him. But “young lady” is so far outside of anything I’ve heard!

      1. Doe-Eyed*

        FWIW, it’s fairly common in our area. It’s a regional thing, I see it happen to people of all ages (that are clearly not young, say 30-90) and meant to be a sort of jovial conversation starter. I’ve also see the opposite for younger folks (ie, hey there greybeard to someone who’s 21).

        Think, “Well how are you doing today, young lady?” “Oh well just as fine as frog hair”.

        1. Lissa*

          oh this is so interesting, I have never ever encountered somebody use “young lady” for someone who isn’t significantly younger than them, so I was really confused by this letter and comments! It being a regionalism makes sense. I just associate “young lady” with when I was a kid in trouble, lol.

        2. Maude*

          When I moved to the area where I currently live, I was quite surprised to be called “My dear”. “Here you go, my dear.” “Have a good day, my dear!” Initially I was all wtf, how patronizing, but now I realize it’s a regional, folksy, term of endearment, intended to show friendliness and respect.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I have a friend my age who “my dears” me.

            He’s a very old, trusted friend, so he gets a break from me on that one.

          2. WonderCootie*

            Honestly, it was weird hearing that some people find these offensive. They’re so much a part of culture around here that even people that move here tend to pick it up.

    4. Chriama*

      I highly suspect it’s more likely to be customer service training than parents. Parents usually teach their kids to call adults sir/ma’am or Mr./Mrs. or uncle/auntie.

  3. NYC Redhead*

    I also hear comments like this at professional presentations when a woman is being introduced: “Jane has worked in finance for 30 years- so she must have started when she was 10.” Hardee har har.

      1. Oh So Very Anon*

        AAAAHHHH!!!!!! I hate this so much! See my rant many comments below. And nona’s comment in response to yours is identifying just why this makes me so crazy.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Been scrolling to see if anyone has said this yet! My pet peeve of all time.

      3. Michaela Westen*

        Around the time I started hearing this, I got the impression it was because some 80-somethings objected to being called “old”

        1. Totally Minnie*

          I just don’t see any reason for adding “old” or “young” in that situation. The only reason you should ever be highlighting a person’s age is if it’s their birthday, in which case, you can just say “Mary turns 80 today, how wonderful!”

          1. Jasnah*

            The thing is, “# years old” is how we say someone’s age in English. There are, of course, other less popular, less colloquial ways to say it (“#years of age”, “a woman of 80 years” etc.) but the way most people say someone’s age is “80 years old”.

            Then people started to notice that the word “old” means “old” and that got combined with the obsession with youth, especially the notion that women get less valuable as they age, and so people started to object to the word “old.”

            There is no intrinsic value in being old or young, so there is no reason to object to the common phrase “Mary is 80 years old” because that does not mean “Mary is … old.” There’s no reason to tiptoe around the word “old” in this context because it does not mean “elderly” here.

    1. nona*

      It perpetuates the idea that women wanted to be considered young. Which perpetuates the idea (subconsciously) that women only have value if they are considered young.

      1. Jessen*

        The smart-aleck in me wants to say “eee I have my patriarchal beauty standards approval stamp, thank you so much, now my life is complete!!!”

        It wouldn’t help one bit, but I want to say it.

    2. RJ the Newbie*

      Pretty much verbatim how I was introduced at my previous office’s bon voyage party held in my honor. My response was….verbose and profane.

    3. Sleepless*

      I was just at a conference. One of the speakers was a younger woman. She was introduced by an older man who started out with, “This young lady…”

      1. Michaela Westen*

        That could be appropriate *if* the woman was, say, under 28 years old and had accomplished a *lot* more than most people her age and the point of the introduction was “this young woman is a brilliant genius who has accomplished so much in such a short time, look at her go”, or something like that.
        Though as a I typed I realized “young woman” would be more appropriate for that.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Ugh. “This young investigator successfully earned her first R-01 grant is here to tell you about her research.” or “This young journalist has had 6 long-form articles published in the New Yorker is here to tell you about her experiences.” are great introductions. Replacing “investigator” or “journalist” with “lady” is gross. Even “woman” is weird because that’s not the primary reason they’re at the conference.

    4. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      The most awkward thing I have ever witnessed in my entire life was someone trying to give a woman a cutesie compliment by saying “you don’t look old enough to be a grandmother!”

      The answer? A very flat, very bitter “I wasn’t.”

        1. Aveline*

          I went to school with a girl who had a child at 13. Her kid had a child at 14. That kid had a child at 15. Dozing myself on my age. But my classmate became a grandmother at 27 and a great grandmother before she hit 45.

  4. Roscoe*

    This is one of those things that, to me, is just getting upset at people for no reason. Its like the reverse of is someone were to say “Hi Mr. Jones, how can I help you” and you go on a tirade and say “Mr. Jones is my father”. Some people don’t like to be called Ma’am.

    Honestly, I feel like people in customer service roles deal with So. Much. Crap. all the time, that you are really just taking something completely out of context and making their day harder. Everything doesn’t have to be a learning experience. Just take your change and move along, then complain about them on social media or to your friends. But no need to berate someone because of something so innocuous.

    1. Observer*

      Please stop defending the indefensible.

      This is NOT the same as someone using a common phrase that is generally considered part of polite address (eg Mr. Jones) and getting attacked over someone’s idiosyncratic response. “Young lady” is not, and never has been a form of polite address, formal or informal. So to start with there is never a reason to use it. Given that it’s also often intentionally denigrating in *normal usage* (ie meant to highlight the person’s lower status / lack of knowledge, experience and / or authority) it’s pretty dismissive to tell people that they shouldn’t speak up.

      It may not bother YOU – but you are not the target of the constant infantilizing that this is an example of.

      1. Let it go*

        I agree with Roscoe, and I’m a woman in her 30s. These retail workers have probably gotten yelled at for calling people ma’am. This seems to me like a “pick your battles” sort of thing.
        The OP seems to think that *not* complaining to the manager is virtuous but to me, the concept that not telling the manager should be lauded — that telling the manager would even be on the table — is silly.

        As someone who has worked retail in the past, there’s no pleasing everyone and these workers are probably just trying to get through their workday with one less person yelling at them about something inconsequential.

        This seems like a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation, honestly.

        1. Observer*

          Please. If they got yelled at for calling someone Ma’am the solution is NOT to use something that is ACTUALLY offensive. The solution is to either not use anything “How can I help you?” or, if yo umust have SOMETHING, use a neutral word such as Ms. ie “How can I help you Ms.”

          Keep in mind that neither the OP nor Allison are suggesting YELLING at anyone. But it’s ridiculous to say that because some people act like jerks and yell at customer service people, it’s not ok to call out sexism in a reasonable way.

              1. Justme, The OG*

                I’m pretty sure my mom only called me “young lady” when I was in trouble. Still super icky to be called it as an adult.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Yes. It’s patronizing AF. “Young lady” is rooted in being used to chastise and degrade women.

            2. Micklak*

              Wait, you don’t think it’s offensive to call an adult “young lady?”

              I don’t think I’ve ever called someone young lady. I don’t know if it’s ever well received. Even a ten year old probably doesn’t need her age called out when addressing her.

            3. emmelemm*

              Absof*ckinglutely.

              If you were a woman in her 40s who is a competent professional and someone called you “young lady”, rest assured you would NOT appreciate it.

              1. Descanta*

                I’m a “competent professional woman” with two degrees. Please don’t assume that you speak for me. I have been called many, many things, and “young lady” was a favorite of judges before whom I appeared. Didn’t (Doesn’t!) bother me a bit. For my two cents, context, tone and non verbal signals matter. I’ve been far more upset by someone sarcastically calling me “counselor” while rolling their eyes and then staring at my (insert body part here).

            4. Aveline*

              It ALWAYS WAS. It was just that women didn’t have the power to say or do anything about their degradation for most of human history.

            5. Decima Dewey*

              It is when the woman you’re calling young lady is old enough to be your mother or grandmother.

              1. SoonToBeRetired*

                I got called “young lady” last night at Trader Joe’s, then she asked for my ID for the bottle of wine. I’m almost 61. I thanked her, because honestly, in my gym clothes, at my (lack of) height, no makeup, and gym-hair-don’t-care ponytail, I can be mistaken for under 30. I just go with it.

                1. CandyCorn*

                  You honestly think people are mistaking you for under 30?????? I think it’s more likely that they card literally everyone. Lots of stores are like that.

            6. Totally Minnie*

              “Young lady” is what parents shout at their teenage daughter when she’s missed curfew without calling. In general, if it’s something a parent would call their child, it’s not a thing you should call a grown adult who is a stranger to you.

            7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              OP is in her 60s! Yes, to her it is! At best, it’s based on the ridiculous assumption that the nicest thing to say to her is “ya know, for an old chick, you don’t look old”. At worst it’s just weird and patronizing.

            8. Susana*

              Always has been for anyone over 16 and who is not your daughter. I am in my 50s, and I get called then by 20-something men. STOP IT. It’s infantilizing.

            9. Archaeopteryx*

              It’s not only sexist (presuming that youth=beauty and that beauty is the core of a woman’s value, so we must all pretend an older woman is young) but it assumes the recipient is kind of a pathetic figure. It’s as though they think she must be so sad about her ‘faded youth’ that she’d be delighted at the fiction that she’s been mistaken for 19. Would you address a senator as ‘young lady’ and think she’ll enjoy it?

              Some people do get upset at polite adult honorifics such as sir and ma’am, but they come across as insecure and unreasonable. Objecting to being patronized is qualitatively different.

            10. Michaela Westen*

              I found it offensive as a child. It was always used to punish me… “what do you think you’re doing, young lady?” or “listen, young lady, don’t you know better than that?”, etc. :(

            11. Elaine*

              Actually “young lady” is offensive when applied to an adult, and most especially an older woman. A young lady is a child and, per Miss Manners, one who has just done something dreadful.

          1. sunny-dee*

            Yeah, you’re not yelling at a low-paid customer service employee. You are educating them, to make them a better person, because you are already a better person and they can do better.

              1. binkle*

                Speaking up in a rational, direct manner, to claim one’s human dignity, is not being an *sshole.

            1. Jasnah*

              I hope this is sarcastic, in which case I whole-heartedly agree. If this is sincere, then please do not “educate” people in customer service positions, they get condescension all day and literally can’t please everyone.

              1. Lavender Menace*

                No, you can’t please everyone. But doing something literally offensive to someone isn’t a ‘you can’t please everyone’ situation.

        2. hbc*

          “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”? When has anyone ever complained, “That person refused to call me young when serving me”? There’s no requirement that they choose between “ma’am” and “young lady” when speaking to a woman.

            1. DaffyDuck*

              Yup, people complain that calling them Ma’am or Sir make them feel old. Calling them Mr. or Mrs. is using their parent’s name. Not using any honorific is too familiar or casual. Really, there is no winning when you work retail. Thank the powers that be I don’t have to do it anymore.

              1. Dragoning*

                Yep, and a lot of retail workers can’t even use Ms./Mr. because we don’t know their names and “Hey mister” is….not….better.

                1. One of the Sarahs*

                  Yep – and bear in mind in other English-speaking countries (like the UK!) “ma’am” isn’t even used in everyday life (outside of Buckingham Palace, *maybe*), service industry workers still are able to address people without problem.
                  I don’t understand why any gendered address is even needed when talking face-to-face.

            2. thankful for AAM.*

              I hate being called ma’am, but I recognize that it is a traditional way to speak to people and don’t say anything. I also hate when waiters tell me their first name, it is too friendly and casual for me. I know it is also common and let it go.

              But why comment on my age or hair or anything else?

              1. Mx. Mix*

                I feel like ma’am is far more polite than something patronizing like “young lady.” For me, when in doubt, stick to honorifics. I sometimes squick internally at being called ma’am (I’m 34) but I’d straight up bust a fuse at “young lady”!!!

                1. Anononynony*

                  Yeah, I don’t care for being called ma’am – I’m 42 – but it’s not on the level of being called “young lady” by someone young enough to be my child. Leaving aside the issue of gendered forms of address and whether they’re avoidable, at least ma’am is considered more polite than young lady.

            3. Drqmatama*

              I don’t ever complain out loud but I do hate being called ma’am because it makes me feel old…

        3. Totally Minnie*

          But why do you have to call a customer anything? I work with customers, and I get by just fine with “Hi! How are you today? What can I help you with? Have a nice afternoon.” I don’t need honorifics or endearments or cutesy gendered titles. Just treat people with politeness and no one will feel the need to yell at you.

            1. Totally Minnie*

              I speak Spanish with some of our customers, and I err on the side of the formal you unless the customer instructs me otherwise.

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Same with my first language. I’d say one can never go wrong with the formal when speaking to a customer.

              1. Rez123*

                I wrote this further downSo sorry for repeat but it works as a response here as well. When working in more of a customer facing role I worked really hard to never address anyone as anything. Sometimes I accidentally started a sentence and had to say you. Usually I used the polite form of you unless it was a child. Majority of time a customer corrected me by saying that they were not fancy or old enough to be addressed like that. Some were polite corrections and some were rude, but I guess it is understandable since they felt offended. So I’d say that you can go wrong with the polite form.
                Best to avoid saying you or mrs/sir/ma’am/mr in general. It is just hard sometimes cause it requires careful phrasing.

          1. Jasnah*

            Because in some places and cultures, treating someone with politeness means to refer to the customer with a phrase like “ma’am/sir” or “you (formal)” or “honorable customer (lit.)” What you see as friendly, others may see as too familiar.

        4. Lavender Menace*

          It’s not really a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Someone could just say “Hello, how are you?” or “Good morning!” or what have you without any specific reference to perceived age or gender.

      2. Annette*

        Defending the indefensible? Dramatic and harsh. Plus some stores require staff to say things they don’t like. Including sir or ma’am and others.

        1. Observer*

          Yes, it’s dramatic, but basically true. Sure, it’s not as bad as some other things that people say or do, but that doesn’t make it right. It is NOT right, and should not be defended.

          If the store requires staff to call women “young lady”, you certainly can’t blame the staff for doing that. But in that case, it certainly makes sense to bring it to the management. Also equating this to “Ma’am” is purely obscuring the issue. Despite the fact that some people don’t like it, it’s not *inherently* sexist in the way young lady is.

          Do you actually know any store that requires this? I don’t – and I would be very surprised if any store actually did require this usage.

      3. AnonyMouse*

        Eh, I’m somewhere in the middle on this. On the one hand I agree with you that “Young Lady” is not a normal greeting and has some weird connotations. But I also don’t know if I agree with how the OP addressed it. I feel like it’s one thing to make a lighthearted reference to how you are not young in response to that (much like many others are suggesting), but the tone of what the OP typed above came across really lecture-y. It also didn’t sound like this person meant any ill will in saying that. Plus pretty much any greeting directed at women corresponds to age in some way (“Miss” sounds young, “Ma’am” sounds old).

        1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

          I’m way to old to be called a “young lady”, especially by someone who is young enough to have birthed, so I get why it gets under the LW’s skin. I tend to reply by calling the person old man/woman in a joking manner. It highlights the ridiculousness

        2. Bunny Girl*

          I’m somewhere in the middle too. On one hand, yeah I think “young lady” is really patronizing. On the other hand, having worked in customer service, you kind of get enough crap and I think OP’s wording is just off-sounding for some reason. It sounds way too “I’m going to throw a fit because you won’t accept my expired coupon”-ish. I was raised to say “sir” and “ma’am” though and I did use it a lot when I was in a more customer facing position. But I was taught to say “ma’am” to someone older than me, not necessarily old and I was taught to use “miss” for someone younger than me. Using ma’am/sir can be pretty regional though and I’d be pretty pissed if I heard someone going off on someone for using their regional dialect.

          1. Adele*

            And what region would that be? I have lived in the Northeast and the Midwest/Great Lakes and spent lots of time in the South and “Sir” and “Ma’am” has been considered polite address in all those regions. Being called “Miss FirstName” *is* a Southern thing but I don’t think the South can lay claim to Sir and Ma’am.

            1. Bunny Girl*

              When I lived on the West Coast there were some people who got their panties in a twist over it. But you’re right, for the most part I don’t think most reasonable people find sir/ma’am offensive. But yes I definitely do say “Miss Firstname” a lot. I have made an attempt to slow it down though because I did read a letter on here were the letter writer found it odd.

            2. Archaeopteryx*

              We don’t use sir or ma’am excessively in the Pacific Northwest. It’s more common to just say “Hello, how can I help you?” etc. The exception would be calling out to someone, i.e “Sir, you dropped your wallet!”

              1. Archaeopteryx*

                (It’s not unheard of to use Sir and Ma’am in other contexts, but to me it always sounds vaguely Southern)

                1. Thankful for AAM*

                  I grew up in the Northeast – I don’t remember ever hearing sir or ma’am except as in the example above, “sir! you dropped your wallet!”
                  I think especially ma’am as southern and especially and degradingly deferential on the part of the person using it. I know it is not but that is always how it sounds to my ears.

              2. Ev*

                Yeah – I grew up on the East Coast and was raised by Southern parents, so I use “sir” and “ma’am” instinctively with people with whom I’m in a customer service relationship, like library patrons. Now I live in western Washington and once had an interaction really go south because she was upset about something, I called her ma’am, and she assumed I was being sarcastic.

          2. AMT27*

            I moved to the South when I was 12 and had to train myself to use ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ – it was fully expected in my church and in any customer facing job. So I did it but I absolutely HATE the word ma’am – if someone says it to me I ignore it, but my kids know how much I hate it – my daughter has been snarkily ‘yessir’ing me since she was two because I wouldn’t let her call me ma’am. A stranger? I’m going to take it as it was meant, as a polite address. Young lady is particularly patronizing and just plain weird IMO; I’d be tempted to reply with something over the top and very very sweary (my initial internal response being something along the lines of “I haven’t been ‘young’ in X many years” with at least one or two f-bombs thrown in there) – not polite, but it makes the point and would be cathartic.

            1. Roscoe*

              So you want to make someone else feel worse to make yourself feel better?

              I feel like in other situations people call that bullying…

              1. motherofdragons*

                Goodness, I hope you stretched before that leap. If that “someone else” is being rude, intentionally or not, it’s not bullying to respond in kind.

                1. Roscoe*

                  She said she would be tempted to reply with something over the top and sweary. Once you start swearing at someone for an innocent meaning comment, even if you don’t like it, that makes you the asshole

                2. sunny-dee*

                  No, you’re just being a jerk to a low-paid clerk who is already putting up with a lot of crap. There is a definite power dynamic in play, and this is one of the very few times I think it’s appropriate to tell someone to check their privilege.

                  It’s not intentionally rude. It’s someone trying to be pleasant and the method just didn’t connect. The OP isn’t their mom or their boss. She’s just attacking someone over a verbal tic she doesn’t like. If I were a store manager, she’d be on a list, and I’d try to prevent my staff from interacting with her.

                3. JSPA*

                  Especially if they may have been directed to do so by their manager. People who have not worked retail don’t always understand the level of regulation, scripting and managerial power trips that can make retail jobs far more hellish than they need to be.

            2. Lissa*

              But, I think going off on someone with swear words who is in a customer service position for something like this isn’t going to “make the point”, it’s just going to make them think you’re an unreasonable customer. Cathartic, well maybe, but I doubt it will cause the person to reconsider anything.

              I actually do think it might be reasonable to go to the manager! Not in a “to complain about this person to get them in trouble” but as a “hey, you might not realize this but your staff are addressing people like this, and it’s pretty condescending.” Using f-bombs will just end up with you in a “tales from customer service” story. :)

        3. Adele*

          I am nearing 60 and I would not be bothered by “Miss” or “Ma’am.” I remember when I was in my early 20’s and would feel slightly shocked to be called “Ma’am” but would n0t be upset or outraged by it. Nearly 40 years later, being addressed as “Miss” seems a little odd, but again, not upsetting. But “young lady”? No. It would be patronizing and obnoxious from anyone less than 90.

        4. Micklak*

          Greetings don’t have to include anything about age or gender. “Hello, how may I help you?”

          1. ababao1o1*

            thankfully english doesn’t distinguish between formal and informal second person pronouns. whew …

            1. Ann Non*

              If for whatever reason you don’t want to use a form of a address in such a language, there are still usually options to drop the pronoun entirely: “Hello! How can I help?”

        5. Grapey*

          I’m in the middle too in that on one hand, it’s so culturally ingrained to some people to say these things that arguing with ONE person each time is a lot of effort. On the other I personally notice the little microaggressions and sigh internally.

          I feel the exact same way as people saying “start a family” to mean kids, which ignores that a married couple might be done with their family of two. I don’t go out of my way to point out why it bothers me because then I’d look like the weird one for dying on that hill. Similarly, being called “young lady” is a hill that I don’t care to die on. But I don’t think people are wrong to point it out themselves.

        6. Susana*

          M’am is what should be used, unless it’s a child. Miss and Ma’am are honorifics – and yeah, some people will feel “old” being called by an honorific. But they are NOT on the same level as “young lady,” which is just incredibly condescending.

        7. ket*

          What’s wrong with being lecture-y? The OP wants the speaker to think about what they’re saying, and it’s working. And the OP didn’t say or imply that any ill-will was meant, which is great because indeed it probably wasn’t. I think the examples the OP brought up are a wonderful example of someone having a problem as a result of someone else’s actions, saying something politely, and everyone moving on after learning something.

          Pointing out that someone said something that made you feel uncomfortable is not worse than the original cause of discomfort, even though that’s what we’re often socialized to think.

      4. Magenta Sky*

        ‘ “Young lady” is not, and never has been a form of polite address, formal or informal.’

        That. Depends. On. Where. You. Live.

        I’ve lived in places where being offended by being called that – at any age – would have most people wondering who peed in your Cheerios.

        Whether it’s polite or not, getting *that* upset over it is more about you than the person calling you that.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          I’m guessing those places you’re referring to were also full of people that called strangers “dear” or “honey”. I’ve also lived in those places and all those sorts of terms, including “young lady”, always bothered me because they are condescending.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            I’ve lived in places where that’s all common. I know people here, where none of them are in any way common, who use them because that’s just how they talk. Very few people are put off by it.

            Being offended is a state of mind in your head. Being condescending is the state of mind in *their* head. Calling it condescending when they’re just being polite in the way they were taught is telling them what they’re thinking – and being wrong about it. That’s rude and insulting – and condescending – to them.

            And if you use condescending when you mean offensive, then you’re doing the same thing they are, using words the way you understand them, at odds with how they understand them.

            1. Mx. Mix*

              “they’re just being polite in the way they were taught”

              How nice for them! They need to be corrected.

              What else do you excuse with this line?

              1. Magenta Sky*

                So you’re the final arbiter of what everyone else has to consider polite?

                Isn’t that *exactly* what you’re complaining about *them* doing?

            2. Totally Minnie*

              If Person A says a thing that they were taught was polite, and then Person B says to them “Please don’t say that, it makes me feel uncomfortable,” then Person A can do one of two things. They can dig in their heels and say “I AM BEING POLITE!” or, they can accept that the standards of politeness have evolved over time and the thing they originally thought was polite may not be anymore, and they can do some introspection on that topic. I would greatly prefer it if people would go with the second option.

              1. Magenta Sky*

                And person B can do several things. They can politely explain what they don’t like, they can ignore it, or they can go psycho about it.

                Or, I guess, they can write to Ask A Manager about something that really fits better on Miss Manners, I guess. What is this even doing *here*?

                1. Totally Minnie*

                  In what universe is making measured, reasonable statement in a polite tone of voice the same thing as “going psycho”?

                2. Roscoe*

                  I was wondering as well why this was here. This is not a workplace question. If she was asking how to deal with a coworker doing this is would be different.

                  It would be like me writing in to ask how to get the people at starbucks to stop spelling my name wrong on my cup

                3. Anna*

                  I think Alison gets to decide what she wants to write about and I like that she periodically broadens her topics. I’m here because I like reading what she writes.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            To me a lot depends on how it’s said. I’ve been called “dear” and “honey” in ways that were nice, complimentary, endearing. I’ve also been called these things in ways that were patronizing and unpleasant. It depends on the relationship and the way it’s said.
            The few times I’ve been called “Miss”, it seemed rude.

            1. Magenta Sky*

              Context is always everything, and is very, very location dependent. And there are a lot of people in this discussion who are dead set on not recognizing it.

              There are places where “Miss,” in context, is not rude, and is even perfectly ordinary. I’m guessing you don’t live in one of them.

              (In some social circles, “Hey, Stupid!” is pretty ordinary, but retail is almost never one of them.)

              1. Cercis*

                Well, I mean there are places in Kentucky where it’s “school spirit” to dress in black face. The location excuse only works for so long and the time is up now.

                1. Magenta Sky*

                  Only if you assume your opinion is more important than everyone else’s. Otherwise, it’s more complicated than that.

                  Complicated problems never have simple solutions. Only people who want to control other people’s lives claim that.

        2. Marthooh*

          I wish someone in this thread would mention an actual geographic location where “young lady” is considered the proper way to address a stranger. Instead of just saying “I’ve lived in places…”

          1. Batty ArtMonster*

            I live in western Canada and ‘young lady’, ‘young man’, ‘ma’am’, ‘miss’, ‘dear’, ‘honey’, ‘hun’, ‘sweetie’, ‘friend’, etc. are all very common platitudes and informal means of polite address. This doesn’t mean you have to like or appreciate being called any or all of these things (I loathe being called ‘ma’am’) but it does mean you will come across as oversensitive or a difficult customer if you reacted in such a way that involved a lecture directed at whoever called you the term. They’re not meant to be infantalizing or patronizing at all, but instead intended to be complimentary and/or friendly/affable. I’ve worked with the elderly in the hospital and care homes, and the women loved being call ‘young lady’ or ‘lass’ (and likewise, the men were called ‘young man’ or ‘lads’). It was fascinating reading this letter and the replies because it’s something that would never have occurred to me as being generally considered offensive simply because it’s so acceptable where I live.

            1. JSPA*

              Hm, as polite as people are in BC, and as hungry as care home residents can get for a helping hand and bit of friendly interaction–however phrased–you likely wouldn’t know if they quietly disliked “young lady” or “young man.” “Nobody ever complained” and “everybody smiled” is not the same as “they liked it fine.” You…can’t say that for them.

                1. Magenta Sky*

                  And whether or not anyone or everyone likes it isn’t relevant to the question of whether or not such a place exists. The question was asked, and answered.

            2. Lavender Menace*

              “common platitudes” is different from “the proper way to address a stranger.” Something can be quite common and still wrong.

              Intent isn’t magic. People can have all the good intent in the world and still be wrong.

        3. OlympiasEpiriot*

          If people are taught to say condescending things, then that is not polite and I don’t need to act as if it is.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            And if people assume that the only possible reason anyone would ever say anything they find offensive is because that person is condescending, I don’t need to take them seriously.

            What you have to say doesn’t matter if how you say it makes you sound looney.

      5. Mellow*

        “Indefensible”? Seriously?

        A bit offensive, perhaps, to those on the receiving end, like the OP. Frankly, though, if the customer service person is otherwise polite and efficient, anything else to me is a bump in the road and one to be overlooked and certainly not analyzed to death. Sheesh.

        @ Roscoe and Let it go: Spot on.

    2. Hurricane Wakeen*

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling out casual, day-to-day sexist comments like this, even (maybe especially) to customer service reps who have to have these conversations frequently.

      And for the record, I’m a married woman and I still hate being called ma’am. There’s an element of ageism and sexism inherent in “ma’am” versus “miss” that I’m not comfortable with.

      1. TootsNYC*

        see, I would actually think Roscoe’s reaction could apply to you w/ your aversion to “ma’am.”

        “Ma’am” simply means “grownup woman.” Is it ageism to recognize that someone is a grownup? Or sexism to recognize that someone is “ma’am” and not “sir”?

        (I’d think that calling someone over the age of 20 “miss” is a bit like this “young lady” thing.)

        I mean, you’re entitled to hate it–have at it!
        But that doesn’t mean your reaction is FAIR.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I think that we are going to have better luck eliminating “young lady” than we ever will with eliminating the use of the word “ma’am”. I am not sure what word we would use. I was taught it was disrespectful to call established adult women “miss”, just a few steps away from saying “little girl”.
          I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for the conversation where a family tells their son to address older woman as “young lady”. I suspect they role modeled it rather than giving verbal instructions.

        2. LondonBridges*

          I think one of the issues at play here is that there is no real change in how you address a man respectfully. It’s “sir” from a teenager to an elder man, if you’re being respectful. The only younger form is the archaic “master” for young boys, which you would never use in conversation. For women, though, there’s “miss” and “ma’am”, and that’s always seemed a little odd to me.

        3. Micklak*

          Doesn’t “Ma’am” mean married woman? That’s kind of inherently sexist. Women are described by their relationship to a man. Men just get to be.

          1. Thursday Next*

            No, in the contexts I’m familiar with, it’s the counterpart to “sir,” not a synonym for “Mrs.”

          2. ThatGirl*

            Yeah, technically it’s short for Madam(e), which is used for married women – Mademoiselle is miss/unmarried/young.

            1. TootsNYC*

              in its origins, “Madam(e)” was for established women, married or not.

              And of course, being an established adult is something that comes with age.

          3. Nobby Nobbs*

            Maybe in the original French, but in practice, at least where I live, it just means adult and female.

            1. Agnodike*

              Actually, in the original French, “madame” means “adult woman who has reached an undefined but universally recognized age where she is too old to be called mademoiselle.” Nothing to do with marital status.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          In retail, “ma’am” and “sir” mean “You’re the customer, and my boss will yell at me if I’m not polite to you, and this is how I was trained.” And nothing more.

          I prefer to avoid being the sort of customer that the cashier tells stories about in the lunchroom.

      2. Dragoning*

        Christ, I hate being called “Miss.”

        It makes me feel like they are looking at me and seeing a child. It’s just as sexist and ageist (just in the opposite age) as “Ma’am” is.

          1. Dragoning*

            See, that’s the problem (I mention this further down). There is no non-presumptive, vaguely insulting term of address to use for strangers.

            I suggest we all just sort of deal with it, or come up with better words.

          2. BethRA*

            “Hello, how can I help you?” “What can I get you today” “Good morning” all work quite nicely (see several dozen similar comments)

            1. JSPA*

              I don’t generally need to be addressed “as” anything, actually, to feel welcomed and helped.

              Hi, are you finding what you need?
              Careful, the rolls are hot!
              So nice to see a smiling face! Can I get you anything?
              Hi, I’m Jason, is there anything I can get for you, or do you prefer to browse a while?

            2. Grapey*

              “Excuse me ‘hello can I help you’, you’ve dropped your glove” doesnt have the same ring when you’re trying to get someone’s attention.

            3. Jasnah*

              This works in some cultures, but not others. “Yes” is not as formal/polite as “Yes, sir/ma’am.” Have you never seen a movie or something where this was corrected?

              I think modern Americans are so used to “polite” being “friendly and casual” that we forget the rules of more hierarchical speech. We can decide to come up with a new, genderless, universally polite honorific for someone whose name you don’t know, but until then, “ma’am/sir” is not rude.

        1. henrietta*

          I love being called Ma’am. And once, on an overseas flight, the dishy young Danish flight attendant addressed me as “Domina.” I kvelled.

      3. Rebecca1*

        In Texas we use “ma’am” starting with little preschool girls, so age is less of an issue.

    3. PlainJane*

      I get why it’s upsetting, but I’m with you on what customer service staff have to put up with. And they run the risk of offending someone else by not doing the thing that bothers you. Your “ma’am” example falls into that category. Some people will get offended because it’s gendered and/or implies they’re old. Others will get offended if you don’t call them, “Ma’am,” because they see it as a sign of respect. As the social rules change (and many certainly should), customer service employees have to try to guess what they should say and will, invariably, piss someone off just by trying to be polite. So let’s cut them some slack.

      1. Observer*

        Sorry, politeness NEVER requires “young lady”. Seriously.

        I do agree that when responding, you have to be reasonable. No yelling or aggression. Which is the advantage of the OP’s wording. But, as Allison says for many situations it’s too long. A cool “That’s an odd thing to say to a grown woman” works perfectly well for those situations – it’s not mean or aggressive but gives any customer service person who is willing to learn some food for thought.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          (devil’s advocate mode) well, maybe when said to a 13-year-old, it would be polite.

          But not someone who’s sixty! Gawd!

          1. Magenta Sky*

            Based on more decades of experience in retail that I’d care to count, more women in their 60s find it a cute, if not terribly effective, attempt at being friendly, than offensive. (I’d say neither is especially common, but very few are put off by it.)

            When dealing with the public, there is literally *nothing* you can say that won’t offend *someone*. Say hello, some people are offended because they don’t want to be pestered. Don’t say hello, other people are offended because you’re not being friendly. Tell someone how much their total is, some people are offended because they can see it on the cash register display. Don’t tell them, other people are offended because they didn’t even see the cash register display.

            All you can do is play the odds, and hope your manager has your back when some whackjob tries to get you fired because you can count money and refused to let them scam you on change.

            (All of this is from personal experience.)

            1. PlainJane*

              This is exactly what I was trying to get at. I know, “young lady,” is not the same as, “ma’am.” My point is that customer service personnel have to deal with the reality you describe–no matter what they do, someone is going to find fault with it. So let’s give them a break and not correct them unless they say something truly horrible.

              1. Magenta Sky*

                I would modify that to “not correct them unless they do something that other people would find truly horrible.” We all have our pet peeves.

                There’s a small category of customers who seem to be more interested in shopping solely for an opportunity to be abusive to someone who isn’t allowed to tell them to take a hike, because that makes them feel important, than in anything they actually buy. (Not saying the letter writer is in that category, but I suspect the cashier might believe she is.)

              2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                And what I’m trying to say is, the (sadly correct) fact that someone will find offense with anything doesn’t mean that it’s ok to go on the full offensive and use something that the majority of people will find issues with. If a cashier in the store called me girl or babe, I’d be livid! I assume that’s why no one uses those words (I would hope) (braces self for comments stating that a lot of customers actually love being called babe and you never know)

            2. Mx. Mix*

              “more women in their 60s find it a cute, if not terribly effective, attempt at being friendly, than offensive”

              Do you live where women are valued higher for their appearance maintenance catered toward the approval of men, religion, or traditional society? All of that is complete nonsense when you work with the public at large.

              1. Magenta Sky*

                I’ve worked with the public at large my entire adult life, and that’s not my experience. Believe it or not, people have different opinions, and different values, and different language habits, even in the same place. Shocking, isn’t it? I mean, it’s like they’re all different and unique!

                For the record, when I was a kid, most of the women role models in my life would not have found “Young Lady,” or “Miss,” or “Sweetie” offensive, or even noteworthy. Some of them used such terms themselves. And most of them, if treated poorly because they were women, would have been more inclined to rip the guy’s nuts off and feed them to him than merely complain.

                Values differ in different places. So does language. We have *zero* context from the letter. Maybe the guy’s a jerk. Maybe he’s from a place where “Young Lady” is a common thing. Maybe the letter writer lives in such a place but is from a place where it’s not. We have no data on that.

                But it’s all possible, no matter how focused people get on their own use of language, or how much they desire to make everybody else talk the same way they do. About 75% of this discussion isn’t about how the cashier address the letter writer, it’s about how the letter writer took it.

                I can’t even figure out why this is here instead on Miss Manners. It’s certainly got nothing to do with management.

        2. Roscoe*

          They aren’t getting paid to learn, or to be taught a lesson by someone who thinks they KNOW better, when in reality its just their preference

      2. Lily in NYC*

        And don’t forget the women who get furious at servers who dare to say something like “Hi Guys”.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Or people who get all snippy about the phrase “no problem.” Oh my god. Even etiquette columnists like Miss Manners are like LET IT GO, IT’S COMMON VERNACULAR NOW, THEY ARE NOT BEING RUDE.

        2. Aveline*

          Guys is gendered. There are alternatives. No, a customer should not get snippy, but a server should not be saying it.

          If you can’t master something like y’all, then avoid the pronoun entirely. Hello, everyone is sufficient.

          1. Aveline*

            Guys = assuming men are the default.

            Y’all
            Everyone
            Peeps

            None of these are gendered. No assumption that being male is the default

            1. Archaeopteryx*

              You guys is common enough (at least on the west coast) as a neutral plural that calling it out would be seen as pretty high maintenance. I understand in theory that it’s part of the same sweep to fix things like “Mankind ” that make men the default, but it’s so standard here that it doesn’t really carry any of the literal meaning of ‘guys’ anymore. It’s a denotation vs connotation issue.

              Language evolves, and for a lot of people “guys” just means any group of humans, even if it didn’t in the past. If people object, that’s fine, but they should take regional differences into account when calibrating how offended to be.

              1. Aveline*

                Well, I spent over 20 years on the West Coast and everyone I knew there considered it gendered.

                So I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s now a universal neutral.

                1. Mx. Mix*

                  I’ve spent 34 years on the West Coast, and have never in my life stumbled across a single soul who considered it gendered.

                2. Aveline*

                  MxMix

                  I have. I’m sitting next to someone right now who spent 60 years in SoCal. Just asked him. “It’s gendered”

                  It might be acceptable use, but that doesn’t take the gendered bit out.

                  That being said, you had your experience, I had mine. Neither of us have done a survey of West Cosaters and asked.

                  So I’m going to leave it at that.

          2. CommanderBanana*

            I actually use ya’ll, despite not being from the South, because my first language has a word that means “all of you but not me” and there’s not really an equivalent in English.

            1. Aveline*

              That’s what ya’ll is for! Unless you mean “all y’all.” If anyone says that to a group you are in, steel yourself. Stuff is about to get real.

          3. Spencer Hastings*

            OK, but the thing about “y’all” and “folks” is that they’re features of a stigmatized dialect. The fact that people from the south have been unfairly deemed “uneducated” all these years for speaking their dialect makes me not entirely comfortable about the thought of us northerners adopting those words just for the hell of it.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              Don’t worry, Yankees are just as stigmatized in the South than Southerners are in the Northeast. Meanwhile us Midwestern folks would like to politely stay out of either label if you don’t mind. And, honestly, only assholes on both sides participate in the stigmatization.

            2. CommanderBanana*

              I’m not adopting it for the hell of it, I’m adopting it because my first language has a gender-neutral word that means “all of you but not me” but English doesn’t, and I don’t like using ‘you guys.’

              I suppose northerners could use the Philadelphian ‘yins.’

          4. Magenta Sky*

            Like everything else, it depends on where you are. I live in Southern California, and here, “guys” is pretty generic – it’s pretty common to hear women refer to each other as “guys.”. For that matter, “dude” is more a state of mind than a reference to gender.

            Know you audience.

        3. Susana*

          Please don’t turn this into a “oh, everyone gets upset about some moniker, so none of them can be right.” I can deal with “hi, guys.” I don’t like “hi, girls,” since i and my friends are middle aged and the servers much younger. But “young lady” is in a class of offense all by itself.

    4. SJ*

      Have to say I agree with you somewhat! We’ve become a rather sensitive society and while I try to be very cautious about what I refer to people as, there is always going to be someone who doesn’t like what I say. Ma’am will make them feel old, their name with Ms. or Mrs. or Mr….too much like their parents, Hon…too familiar. I try to just aim for Sir or Ma’am for older folks or if I happen to know it, their name.

      Customer service of all kinds really does get the short end of the stick a lot and this is one more issue. We can never be right…no matter which way we go. There will always be someone who bristles.

      BUT…if it IS blatant sexism or ageism…(and tone of voice is a big one here)…then yes, not great and stop it!

      1. Lavender Menace*

        We haven’t become a rather sensitive society. We’ve finally started speaking up about things that have always been offensive, but marginalized groups have been unable to say things about them until now.

    5. Leslie*

      Yeah, I don’t really get the animosity about it, either. For context, I’m a 28 year-old woman in the south, and it’s pretty common to be called things like “young lady”, “hun”, and “sweetie”. If I was older or grew up somewhere else, maybe I’d be put-off by it. Certainly if it was from a co-worker. But by some random person out in the world? So far I’ve never thought “wow, how condescending of you to say!”

      1. Washi*

        There are a lot of very common things like this that are examples of what I’ve seen called “benevolent sexism” – being called honey, having doors opened for you because of your gender, etc are seemingly nice, but have their roots in the idea that women are less capable than men. The animosity comes not from the words, but from what they imply about women.

        To me, the question about stuff like this is not whether it’s sexist, because it so obviously is (if they don’t do it to men, it’s sexist!) but whether it’s worth saying something, and I think Alison’s post and others on the site address that very well.

      2. grace*

        Same. I mean, it’s fine to not like it – I don’t like being called ma’am and usually joke about it with whomever did – but I just … the level of animosity here about it seems more directed at the sexism understood with it rather than the phrase. All the “clap backs” people are posting here sound funny and cool online, but in person? It’d just come off way out of proportion. Not to mention rude.

        To be clear, I fully agree with Alison that not everything needs to be a learning experience every time – I just think some commenters here are losing sight of that.

        1. Name Required*

          “All the “clap backs” people are posting here sound funny and cool online, but in person? It’d just come off way out of proportion. Not to mention rude.”

          For REAL real.

          Cosigned,
          Another Southern Woman

        2. PlainJane*

          So much this. I would add that having a nuanced understanding of what is gendered, what has sexist roots, etc., often tracks with education and social class. If you start lecturing a cashier or waitperson about this stuff, you’re going to look like a pompous jerk, whether or not you are, in fact, right. And before everyone points it out, I know that cashiers, waitstaff, and other customer service personnel can be educated. Bottom line: it’s fine to be annoyed about this stuff (it bugs me too), but I don’t think it’s fine to make a busy customer service person’s day harder over it.

          1. Dankar*

            Amen. So many of these complaints (I hate Ma’am, I hate Miss, I think the cashier is just carding me as a sly joke) are super common, but if you start going off on the cashiers and waitstaff, it’s going to look like you’re punching down. Even if you’re right.

            And honestly, this idea that you’re doing a service by pointing out what’s wrong/your specific issue with what they’re saying is totally bonkers to me. Service industry people cannot explain themselves or walk away or correct themselves without potentially further offending the customer. They are a captive audience for whatever cathartic lecture you feel you HAD to deliver. It’s gross.

            That being said, the OP was chastising someone she supervises, which is absolutely her prerogative and I’m with her on the over-the-top obnoxiousness of “young lady.”

            1. Jasnah*

              This. If this was in the workplace, absolutely pick this fight. But this is a retail worker! Literally the next customer is going to object to being called “ma’am”, and then the next will giggle and beam at being called “young lady.”

              You’re entitled to your opinions but you are not entitled to retrain customer service workers, just give them a break.

      3. Bee*

        I do think age makes a big difference here. I’m a 30-year-old northeasterner, and while I find this mildly patronizing from people 20+ years older than me, I certainly wouldn’t complain about it or let it sour the interaction. But the tone is SO much different from a younger person to an older person, particularly when it’s a noticeable and obvious gap. Can you imagine *saying this* to a woman in her 60s or above and meaning it in any way sincerely?

      4. Lynca*

        I am a 33 year old woman from the South (born and grew up here) and while I’ve heard it all my life, I’m fairly put off by it. It always feels so patronizing and too familiar.

        I don’t know if I would say anything like the OP but I have said, “Please don’t call me that” and generally that’s the end of it.

        1. Roscoe*

          I’d like to think I won’t be as thin skinned as to feel the need to lecture someone making minimum wage.

          1. Margaery Moth*

            Why are you so dedicated to this sexist phrasing? You’re all over these threads defending the hell out of it.

        2. Perse's Mom*

          My mom is older than that and she might roll her eyes if she’s in a bad mood and someone ‘young lady’s her as a customer, but otherwise she doesn’t care. But then, she worked retail up until retirement; she’s intensely familiar with the need for retail workers to be super-polite, sometimes to the point of obsequiousness to appease particularly vitriolic customers.

      5. Aveline*

        Maybe you are a fish swimming in the water not able to see it. There’s a lot of things about the South that other’s don’t get and even more about the South that Southerners themselves cannot see.

        None of tthe terms you listed are terms of pure endearment. They are terms designed to keep women in a certain place.

        It’s ok if you aren’t put-off by it, but that doesn’t make them less problematic.

        Just b/c something isn’t as condescending as a racial slur doens’t mean it’s benign.

        1. Name Required*

          Retail salespeople are not using these terms to put people in their place. Responding to a sales person using “young lady” as if they were intentionally oppressing you is not effective, and is rude in it’s own way.

          You can fight the man without making the young person earning $8.50/hr at Target feel invisible and small. To me, both OP’s response in the moment and Alison’s suggestion seem antagonistic. The only possible response to either of those is “I’m sorry” and then the storeperson is left wondering if you’re going to complain to their manager for using an incredibly common, what-seems-meaningless phrase — at least, common in the South.

          1. Archaeopteryx*

            If the OP keeps her reply in a kind tone of voice, the salesperson might learn from it and reconsider. I do agree that any snappy tone will move the interaction from “this woman gave me something to think about ” to “the 35th person today gave me rudeness in response to a cheerful greeting.”

            1. Jasnah*

              “the salesperson might learn from it and reconsider”

              Or the salesperson might be berated by other customers or management for making a switch to “ma’am” or just “you” with no honorific. Please do not treat the person scanning your groceries for an unlivable wage as your student. Their job is to scan your groceries, not read each customer’s mind for how they prefer to be addressed.

          2. Lavender Menace*

            Intent is not magic! It is not rude to correct people for using a sexist form of address. One can debate whether or not “young lady” used on an older woman is sexist and ageist, and that’s fine. But I don’t like the implication rampant in this thread that it is somehow rude to correct people for being offensive because they “didn’t mean it!”

      6. ket*

        Right — you’re 28. When you’re 65 and you’re called “young lady!” by a jovial 25-year-old car salesman, you’re not going to feel quite the same way.

      7. Totally Minnie*

        I feel like the difference is that–in the American south, at least–those kinds of endearments are deployed regardless of the recipient’s gender. “Young Lady,” when being used outside the south for a person who is a legal adult, is really not cool. It calls out a person’s age and gender in a way that really shouldn’t matter in a customer service interaction.

        1. Pippa*

          Yes – it’s not the informality, it’s the gendered condescension. Vera (the older police detective in the wonderful series of the same name) addresses everyone from children to murder suspects as ‘pet’ in a cheerful Newcastle accent, and it never seems condescending or inappropriate. The effect of forms of address is heavily dependent on speaker, recipient, and context.

    6. JanetM*

      Hm. I don’t mind “ma’am” in a customer service context, and prefer it to “miss.” But I don’t like being called Miss M– or Mrs. M–; if they want to use my last name, I prefer Ms.

      But when I get emails from distant coworkers addressed to Ms. (or Mrs.) M–, I generally reply with “… and please feel free to call me Janet.” That’s not the same sort of thing as “Mrs. M– was my mother,” is it? Now I’m worried that I’m being rude.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Nope. It’s direct and helpful. “Mrs. M was my mother!” is subjecting people to tired comedy to air your own issues with aging. What you’re saying is not.

        1. Bee*

          On the other hand, Mrs. Mylastname will ALWAYS be my mother – I will never be Mrs. Mylastname unless I marry a man who is also a Mylastname. (I get a lot of cold pitches from people who, I guess, either assume that every adult is married or that Mrs. is the polite form of address for adult women? It drives me nuts. This is the whole reason we started using Ms, guys! Or just use my first name!)

              1. hermit crab*

                Yeah, I mean, neither my mother nor I changed our names when we got married, so in my case Mrs. MyLastName is actually my paternal grandmother, while Mrs. Husband’sLastName is my mother-in-law. But I have never felt the need to explain that to someone who is addressing me!

            1. Bee*

              For sure! But my point is that when I say, “Mrs. Mylastname was my mother,” I’m not making a joke about aging, I’m saying they got my name wrong.

                1. Bee*

                  I mean, I’m not actually SAYING this to them, I’m making the point on this here website that this joke works differently for women than it does for men.

              1. Totally Minnie*

                I used to work at an elementary school with my mom. She was Mrs. Mouse and I was Ms. Mouse. But 5 year olds are not great at understanding the difference between the two terms, so we got called by each other’s honorifics about half the time. If my mother was not in the room and someone called for Mrs. Mouse, I would answer because I knew who they were talking to, even though they had used the wrong honorific.

                If you don’t want to just respond and ignore it, a polite “it’s Ms., actually,” gets the job done with a minimum of fuss or annoyance.

          1. doreen*

            You would think you could safely assume that only strangers would call you Mrs. Mylastnmae -that would be safe- but you can’t. When my daughter referred to me as Mrs. Mylastname on her wedding invitations, I thought I had somehow missed a piece of her education. I looked around online and found out that there are multiple websites advising that invitations to a married couple with different names should be addressed to Mr. Hislastname and Mrs. Herlastname because after all, Mrs. just means a married woman and has nothing to do with the name that follows. Thought my head was going to explode.

              1. blackcat*

                No, she’s saying that Mr. Hislastname and Ms. Herlastname is correct. She is Ms. Herlastname, not Mrs.

                1. doreen*

                  Yep. I have no problem using my husband’s last name socially either with my first name or Mr & Mrs with his first name and Mr His Name and Ms My Name is correct , so it’s like my daughter picked the only possibility that’s actually incorrect. So now all of her in-laws think that rather than being married to her father, I am married to some guy with Mylastname because the names were listed that way on the invitation everyone received.

                2. Totally Minnie*

                  Do you know how old I was when I learned that this is the correct form of address for a married woman who kept her own name? I was today years old.

                  I don’t see anything at all wrong with addressing a married woman who kept her name as Mrs. It seems perfectly respectful to me.

                3. Scion*

                  @Totally Minnie – that’s how old I was when I learned that too! It all seems so needlessly convoluted. Who cares whether a person is married or not?

                  I’ve also never understood the Mr. and Mrs. Hisfirstname Lastname. Like does the wife lose her first name when she gets married?

              1. doreen*

                I wouldn’t go so far as saying it’s improper- if someone else wants to be called that, it’s fine with me. But it’s not correct for me, and at this time it’s not the default usage and really never has been. Before “Ms” was in common use, ” Miss” was used for women who were well-known under their own names , married or not. Maybe it’s different with younger people, but I’ve never known anyone who both kept her name and wanted to be referred to as “Mrs”. Plenty of people who wouldn’t be offended by it, but none who actually prefer it.

                1. Totally Minnie*

                  I intend to keep my name ifI get married, and it has never occurred to me to think about the Mrs/Ms piece of it. That’s not really part of my thought process in making the decision.

          2. blackcat*

            I do think a fair number of people are raised to think Ms/Miss are disrespectful to married women. I’ve had to correct a bunch of students this semester. “You can call me Black or Dr. Cat, but not Mrs. Cat.” A young woman actually looked at me quizzically and asked “But isn’t it more important that you are married?” and seemed downright offended at my “No, not when I am working.”

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Yikes! WHY would it be more important to your students? Double yikes!

              This is tangential to the thread, but I got congratulated on my name change once. Three years after my divorce, I got the immediate family’s approval to change my name back to my maiden one. I walked into my bank with a court paper and a request to change my last name, and an account manager I’d never met came out beaming and going “Congratulations!!!” Because of course, why else would a woman change her name but because she finally found a man to marry her! Today’s me would’ve been, “Aw thank you! It was a much-needed divorce, best thing I’ve ever done!” Past me just froze and said “on what?”

            2. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

              Woah! Even I have to agree with you on this one!

              A friend of mine who is a professor states, “You can call me Dr. MyLastName or Mrs. HisLastName but don’t call me Mrs. MyLastName.”

    7. gecko*

      I think knowing the crappiness of a customer service job behooves customers to be polite, friendly, and businesslike. I don’t think it behooves customers to bear being patronized or discriminated against (though I don’t think this case is discrimination).

      To that end I probably wouldn’t whip out any of the snarky or “educating” responses, but I certainly would say, “please don’t call me ‘young lady.'”

      1. Kendra*

        I got called “young lady” at Best Buy the other day and this discussion is a very validating reassurance that I’m not alone in feeling like it’s condescending!

    8. Lena Clare*

      It isn’t the same at all! And it’s not quite innocuous. The idea that these casually sexist and patronising remarks should be tolerated because they’re ‘not that big a deal’ perpetuates the socially sanctioned sexism inherent in the comment.

      You’re not going to change the world with one comment to one person, but as Alison says, you might make them think on it.

      Yes, customer service people get treated poorly a lot of the time and that’s not good at all, but that’s not what the OP is talking about.

      You can be assertive and let someone know that actually it’s a pretty patronising thing to be called “young lady”, even if you happened to be young, and you can do it politely.

    9. ejay*

      Calmly calling out someone for being rude is not berating them. If she were to verbally attack / yell at them, that would be berating.

      In this instance she’s standing up for herself. Sometimes people need to be told their words aren’t okay.

      1. Confused*

        Intent does matter. “Young lady” was clearly not meant to harm or offend OP, even if she takes it the wrong way. There’s stuff I hate being called by CS people too, but making them feel like shit after what is probably a very hard day for them is much worse than them erring on their words. Going out of your way to make someone feel shitty is a lot ruder than calling someone an innocuous but highly annoying term.

        1. Jessen*

          I think the point of benevolent sexism is that you can actually perpetuate attitudes that harm people, even if you don’t mean to harm or offend anyone. The sales clerk may not mean any harm, but perpetuating the idea that “you look way younger than your actual age” is something that women should appreciate or feel complimented by is harmful, even if only in a small way.

          I compare it to an issue I had many years ago, dealing with people complimenting me on my weight loss. I went from around 105 pounds to just above 90 – a weight that definitely is not healthy for my size. While the people complimenting me didn’t mean any harm, they were still reinforcing the idea that all weight loss no matter what is a thing to compliment a woman on.

        2. hbc*

          Intent matters, but it doesn’t render immunity. Almost everyone who says, “When’s the baby due?” intends to show friendly interest in another person, but they should all cut it out because of the risk they’ll say it to a non-pregnant person. That good intent doesn’t somehow make the recipient who says “Not pregnant, just fat, thanks for noticing” rude, even if it makes your day worse.

          And if your intent is good, then you should really *want* to know that your words aren’t having the intended effect.

        3. Karyn*

          I’m going to push back on this a little. Intent isn’t magic. There’s no ‘wrong way’ to take something. Multiple people have said that they find this phrasing condescending and sexist.

          1. OG Karyn*

            I keep forgetting to change my name to OG Karyn when I post, so I apologize if people think my comment about working at the makeup store was from you!

        4. Washi*

          I haven’t worked in retail, but I have done customer service over the phone. Someone calmly explaining that what I’d called them was actually kind of offensive would be difficult in a “wow I need to examine my unconscious bias” way, but it’s not at all the same kind of upsetting that the name calling and other horrific rudeness is.

          I think the worst thing is when people treat service workers as if they are not even human. This is the opposite – trying to have a very real human interaction and help someone understand a different point of view! (which is why I actually like the OP’s line better than Alison’s, I think it could be very eye-opening.)

          1. motherofdragons*

            I totally agree with you. If the customer service person (or whoever) experiences discomfort when you have calmly explained it to them, that is on THEM. Protecting people from their discomfort is one of the many things that has allowed things like benevolent sexism to continue. Because ultimately, there is still discomfort in the situation…borne solely by the person on the receiving end of the sexism. Why is it expected for the recipient to grin and bear it, but considered rude/abrasive/wrong if they decide to “return to sender” as Captain Awkward would say? That attitude irks me to no end.

        5. Susana*

          Nah. It’s not about intent. The phrase itself is offensive.

          I had an African-American male boss once who thought I was being “silly” because I didn’t like being called a “girl” or “young lady.” So I said, really – how do you like it when someone calls you “boy?” He looked stunned. Then understood.

        6. ket*

          Why should asking someone not to call you “young lady” when you’re old make them feel shitty? That’s taking things awfully personally.

          1. Name Required*

            If you warmly said “Please don’t call me young lady.” alright, got it.

            But saying, “When you call me young, it makes me think you immediately notice how old a person is before you consider them as an individual.” … that’s a zero-to-100 response. She could have well as said, “What ageist malarky! You clearly don’t value older people.”

            “What an odd thing to call a grown woman” is a bit much, too. Because it isn’t an odd thing to call a grown woman in a lot of places, even if it’s icky and we should move towards inclusive language.

            How should we make action towards better language? By having discussions with people who are appropriately close to us, politely asking people to use other language without judgmental add-ons, and modeling good behavior ourselves. At least in cases like this, where the language is common and the intention is good.

            1. Totally Minnie*

              There’s a tone of voice in which the OP’s line could feel snarky or rude. There’s also a tone of voice in which this line could sound perfectly polite and reasonable. I’m willing to take the OP at her word that she’s using a polite tone when she delivers this line.

            2. Jasnah*

              I agree, I don’t see the value in snarkily responding to, or explaining sexism to, a stranger who I’m never going to see again, especially a stranger who might not even have the power to correct their actions (could be a directive from management).

              Best to just say “I prefer x” or “x is fine” or ignore it and focus your efforts on making a suggestion to management or someone closer to you where it will make a difference.

            3. ket*

              I gotta say, maybe I’m just having an Aspergers’ moment, and maybe that’s the point….

              … because to me, “When you call me young, it makes me think you immediately notice how old a person is before you consider them as an individual,” is a simple statement of a fact about the speaker’s opinion. It’s an I statement, not a you statement. It doesn’t say anything about anyone’s values (in some cultures considering someone’s age before their individuality would be respectful and there’s no comment on this). It doesn’t have judgement — you’re adding that in, as your choice of analogous wording indicates.

              I don’t get the snarkiness you’re reading, I don’t get the 0-to-100, and I think your response says more about you than the speaker.

              1. Jasnah*

                “It doesn’t say anything about anyone’s values”–the fact that OP is saying anything at all means that she is admonishing the person for being ageist. I think OP’s actions are perfect for a coworker or customer service rep who she has a relationship with, but I don’t think the average minimum-wage retail worker deserves a lecture on this.

                “in some cultures considering someone’s age before their individuality would be respectful”–I don’t see how this is relevant, since that’s not the culture OP is operating in. I live in a culture that respects the aged and you can still be rude about people’s ages or polite as a customer service rep. Because the point isn’t “is it better to be older/younger?” it’s “when is it OK to correct people serving us?”

        7. Totally Minnie*

          There are several things I’d like to say in response to this.

          1. Store clerks calling adult women “young lady” may not intend to be condescending, but their intent does not automatically make the phrase not condescending. The correct response to finding out a thing you say is condescending is not to dig in your heels and say “is not!” Instead, you should respond with, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that. I won’t do that anymore.”

          2. Saying “please don’t call me that” in a polite tone of voice is not “going out of your way to make someone feel shitty.”

          3. Those things you don’t want customer service representatives to call you: Are any of them based on your age or your gender? If so, you may be right that they’re not something people should be using. If not, then yeah, there are personal quirks that people feel irritated by, and yours may be one of them.

      2. BettyBrant*

        I work retail. I deal with customers all day long, from the wonderfully polite to the unbelievably sexist. And from my perspective, as a low-level manager trying to keep things running smoothly and prevent any major tantrums, this response from OP is too much. That’s not to say the guy calling her “young lady” wasn’t wrong – he was, and it’s gross – but there are better ways to have handled it than to essentially berate him. And honestly, the way it sounds is not going to have made your point stick. It’s going to be remembered as “that weird old lady”, for right or wrong. Allison’s “What an odd thing to say” is way, way better.

        OP, your frustration is understandable. The person was out of line. But your response wasn’t the best way to handle it.

        1. Roscoe*

          Yep. If OP did this, it wouldn’t be people taking a long hard look at their language. It would be “Let me tell you about this mean old lady and how she got super pissed over nothing”

          1. BettyBrant*

            I have literally had conversations with my staff about customers who treat them like this! And it’s never “well, she is right and maybe it would be in your benefit to reflect on your language and your internal biases”, it’s “I’m glad you maintained your cool in dealing with someone so difficult – next time they treat you like that, remember you can walk away.”

            Good meaning, bad message. You’d get filed with “Dude who thinks it’s acceptable to tell me I don’t have a job in my field because of my gender and tried to solicit me”, “Dude whose normal volume is SCREAMING LIKE IT’S A MOTLEY CRUE CONCERT IN 1986” and “Old lady who constantly changes her mind and is patronising as anything”.

          2. Elspeth*

            I really don’t know how you’re getting that OP was “super pissed” – I think we can take her at her word that she used calm, measured language and tone.

                1. Roscoe*

                  Yes. Just like everything you have posted is your opinion. This entire board is people’s opinion.

                  Your point is?

          1. BettyBrant*

            When you work in customer service, when you work in retail, you are automatically at a power imbalance with customers. You don’t get the luxury of walking away, because they can easily complain and get you in serious trouble. Therefore, when you tell them in a way such as this that you have a problem with them (or their language, or their hair, or whatever it is that is bothering you) then the person serving you does not have the option to have a reasonable dialogue. Because you, the customer, can get them in huge trouble with their employer. So for OP to respond so strongly is to berate him, because he doesn’t get to fairly respond, not when he is at an imbalance.

          2. Elspeth*

            Replying to Roscoe, since no more nesting: my point is, we take the letter writer at her word. Calmly stating something is not rude.

            1. Roscoe*

              And I disagree. I can calmly say “I think all of the points you are trying to make are completely stupid”. I could say that with a smile. Its still rude

        2. Jasnah*

          Thank you for commenting. I think many commentors don’t have your experience and don’t realize how unhelpful and unproductive it is to “help the lowly customer service rep reconsider”

          1. Perse's Mom*

            I feel like you can tell who has or hasn’t ever held a service job by the responses to this letter.

    10. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      This thread provides excellent examples of how difficult it is to know what to say. Some people are offended by “ma’am”. Some people are offended by “Miss”.

      I don’t think we will ever agree on a term that will be unoffensive to everyone.

      Personally, when I get called “Sir” (I am 51) I take it as a sign of respect. When 20 year old students call me by my first name, I don’t like it, but I also know that they don’t mean it as a sign of disrespect. Some of my co-workers who are as old or older than me prefer to be called by their first name even by 18 year old students. Again, I admit I don’t like it, but I do just grin and bear it and try to remember that it is not meant as a sign of disrespect.

      1. Lena Clare*

        In a customer service role, it’s perfectly fine to not be referred to as anything.
        ‘That will be £2.00 please’
        ‘Here’s your change’
        ‘Did you enjoy the meal?’
        ‘Have a nice day!’

        Sir and Madam/Ma’am are old fashioned ways to refer to unknown people where necessary – they don’t imply a social commentary on age and beauty, as such aren’t going to create problems if they’re used, whether or not they’re liked by the recipient. It’s the connotations in the phrase ‘young lady’ that are problematic.

      2. Bagpuss*

        And would you be happy if they were calling you ‘boy’ or ‘young man’?
        First name vs. Sir or Ma’am isn’t the same as ‘Young Lady’ because neither includes the underlying sexism and ageism.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          One of my sons got written up for calling a teacher dude in high school. The (male) teacher was fresh out of college and took it personally. My son is on the spectrum, and at that point in his life, used “dude” to address everyone: men, women, children, babies, dogs, cats… Which of course does not excuse him.

          1. Mx. Mix*

            34 years in California and counting — can confirm.

            “Dude!!” as an exclamation is gender-neutral, but referring to a group of people as dudes is definitely not safely neutral at all.

            When I managed retail I referred to a group of my staff as ‘dogglers.” It was oddly personable, and yet confusing enough that nobody bothered locating any offense. They just thought I was weird. Mission accomplished, work went on as usual.

      3. Spencer Hastings*

        Forms of Address for Men Less Likely to Have Weird Connotations Than Those for Women, News at 11

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I don’t think we will ever agree on a term that will be unoffensive to everyone.

        Agree, but why double down and use a term that will be without a doubt offensive to everyone?

        1. Roscoe*

          But its NOT offensive to everyone. That is the point. It seems its offensive to a fair amount of people on here, but not everyone is saying that. Just because you personally dislike something, doesn’t mean everyone does

        1. Roscoe*

          Black guy here.
          Its honestly all about how its said. Old white man saying “Get out of my way Boy!” is very different than sitting down with my friends at a bar to watch football and a waitress asking “how are you boys doing this afternoon”

    11. Robin Bobbin*

      “people in customer service roles deal with So. Much. Crap.”

      Unfortunately, this can be true; however, it doesn’t excuse younger employees from flinging So. Much. Crap. at older women customers. They may not mean to, but they are. It’s patronizing. It’s demeaning. I am not required to be a good little girl and just take my change and go home. I am a fully realized adult human female and I expect to be treated that way. It is no longer 1950 and I’m not Aunt Bea.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        But we can be cranky old women and shop somwhere else. And we can take our $$$ with us.

        Ironically, older women have much more disposable income than younger ones. So why do we get ignored and patronized all.the.time.

        1. WellRed*

          Fried Green Tomatoes. Kathy Bates after intentionally smashing into the car of an arrogant younger woman who took her parking space. AYY: “We’re younger and faster.” Bates: “I’m older and have more insurance.”

        2. Dankar*

          I do think older people have a more difficult experience due to just this sort of thing. Our culture tends towards infantilizing the elderly, and the gender aspect/benevolent sexism just make it that much work. On the flip side though, my partner has said that no person he dealt with in retail has ever been more difficult than older white women.

          Not that the OP is being difficult. I actually think her way of addressing it is better than Alison’s suggestion, since it clearly lays out what’s so troubling about the phrase.

          The issue with saying that you have more disposable income and will gladly take it somewhere else is that cs workers do. not. care. Most people I know who work retail are happy to see troublesome customers go to another store, just so they don’t have to deal with them anymore, and the vast majority of people who say this in the restaurant business are usually back the next week with the same complaint and empty threat.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Except I’m not a troublesome customer. I do expect someone to wait on me when I walk into a store. And be polite. Ignoring me while you play on your phone does get me into a cranky mood. And eventually it affects the store’s reputation. And then the layoffs come.

    12. Confused*

      Agreed. It’s rightfully annoying but there’s no need to be an asshole about it. Ignore it and go about your day. It is not that serious.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Or if it’s someone you know you’ll be seeing regularly, like the barista that always takes your order or whatever, you can always just cheerfully be like “oh, just call me Miss/ Ma’am / Lady Grantham.”

    13. OP*

      @ Roscoe and others —
      Part of the reason I started talking about this to customer service workers when there was time is because a salesman at the office I partially supervised was upset when a businesswoman snapped at him after he’d called her “young lady.”

      He was modeling his behavior on his dad and uncles, who routinely referred to older women as young (including their spouses). He was in his 40s at the time and I was in my 50s. He was genuinely confused about why anyone would see it as a problem because he thought it was a compliment.

      We had several conversations about it, mostly because he really struggled to see things from any other perspective. I think I was less sensitive about “young lady” then, but after those conversations with him — initiated by him — it seemed like I was hearing “young lady” more and more. Whether that was because I was noticing it more or just getting older, I don’t know; it might have been a mix of both.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I think there’s a different between correcting someone you partially supervise and whose professional growth you are at least partially responsible for and correcting a random salesperson (and I also side-eye someone, especially a young male someone, who can’t see things from someone else’s perspective or has to be reminded repeatedly not to use a means of address that someone has made clear they don’t like).

      2. Susana*

        A compliment? And why did he think that – because all women want is to be viewed (by men) as young-looking, so they (men) will like us more?

    14. Engineer Girl*

      This is bull. In my era (raised in the 60s) he term “young lady” had extremely negative connotations. You usually got called “young lady” because:
      * you were in trouble
      * someone decided you were being “uppity” and decided to put you in your place
      * they were instructing you in the “proper” ways of the world because you were clearly naive.

      In each case it is gendered. In each case the person is trying to exert authority over you (you are not a peer).

      It is exactly the wrong thing to call women “of a certain age”. Especially if you are in retail.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        Yeah, my primary association with “young lady” as a vocative is an authoritarian dad admonishing his teenage daughter to be back by curfew, or the like. (I’m a 90s kid, so this impression mostly comes from TV.)

      2. Lavender Menace*

        I was raised in the 1990s and had the same experience. Honestly, I think a lot of people on this post are being disingenuous at best.

    15. CommanderBanana*

      I’ve gotten bitched at for calling someone ma’am, calling someone sir, referring to someone as Dr. Soandso when they are in fact Dr. Soandso and for calling someone Miss Firstname (I was raised to refer to adults I didn’t know well as Miss Firstname or Mister Firstname, it’s stuck).

      While I would never use ‘young lady’ or ‘young man’ to refer to someone, and I agree with the OP’s sentiments, I also agree with Roscoe in that retail and food service workers do have to deal with So. Much. Crap, including not psychically knowing how a stranger prefers to be addressed.

      If someone referred to me as young lady, I might be slightly irked but I really do not have the bandwidth to make it a Teachable Moment, and I think I’m pretty good at telling when someone is attempting to be polite versus actually being condescending.

      1. Aveline*

        You know how we fix this? Ask!

        “How should I address you?” Always the first question I ask when I’m meeting a new client. Always the first question for a friend who is a waiter.

        Just as there are now websites where posters list preferred pronouns, shifting to asking people how they want to be addressed is not that hard!

        This isn’t rocket science. If they are standing right there with you, you OPEN YOUR MOUTH AND ASK.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Aveline, just to clarify, this was during my retail and food service days. Now I run events where I’ve instituted preferred pronoun stickers you pick up at registration and stick on your badge, and I usually do ask people what they prefer to be called when I meet them. You can chill on the all caps.

          1. Aveline*

            That wasn’t directed at you. Sorry if it seemed like that.

            There’s not a lot of nuance in the way this blog has set up. I would have preferred italics.

            1. Marthooh*

              (i)Words to be italicized(/i)

              But put in greater than/less than signs instead of parentheses. It’s on the “How to comment” page.

            2. CommanderBanana*

              No worries. You can italicize using HTML tags. I really like that more professional arenas are recognizing that names and how you refer to people are really important and are trying to adopt strategies to make that a conscious choice, like the stickers.

              The reality is is that when I’m at a conference and have to keep track of hundreds of people, I’m not going to remember if you wanted her/hers/she or his/him/he or they/them/their or zie/hir, and it’s not out of malice, it’s because I’m human and don’t have infallible recall. So we also ask people to be gentle and not assume malice in an environment that we’re trying to make as inclusive as possible.

              Personally if someone referred to me as young lady in the setting the OP describes above (which I agree is an unusual choice to post for this particular blog), I wouldn’t care or notice, but if it did bother me I’d probably just say something like “thanks, old bean!” and smile.

              1. Aveline*

                I don’t think we disagree.

                Sometimes I wish these conversations were live b/c we can insult people unentitionally.

                My apologies.

        2. Jasnah*

          I don’t think this is practical for most retail, where interactions are so brief and numerous.

          If every single person at the mall was asking me “How should I address you?” I’d certainly get tired of it as a customer, and I’m sure they’d get tired of it as a worker. I think it’s better to find the most neutral, most polite term we can, and everyone relax a little about it. We don’t need to question the centuries of injustice inherent every time we use a phrase, we can roll our eyes internally and move on.

          I think your solution is better suited for proper client-worker relationships where you know you’ll be interacting for more than an hour.

    16. CastIrony*

      Thank you, Roscoe! I don’t do this myself, but if I ever said something like this, it’s just because I’m tryingtobenicepleasedon’tkillmeI’mtryingmybestIdidn’tknowitwaswrong!

      It’s safer to just say, “Hello! How are you/How can I help you?”

    17. CommanderBanana*

      Also this is making me think of the Lady Grantham, Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey meeting Mrs. Crawley and responding to Mrs. Crawley’s question about what she should call her with “Well, we could always start with Mrs. Crawley and Lady Grantham.”

    18. Susana*

      It’s not at all innocuous. It’s incredibly patronizing to be called a moniker your mother used with you when you were 15 and came home late. It makes you look not like an adult professional, but a high school intern.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I don’t disagree and I think it’s definitely worth pushing back when it’s a coworker or someone you’ll be interacting with regularly – I’m just not sure if it’s worth it when it’s a one-off with someone who is otherwise trying to be polite.

        1. Roscoe*

          I this is what I was trying to get at in my original comment. If a co-worker is constantly saying that, by all means, pull them aside and say how you feel. If its someone you will likely never see again, why bother making their day worse to make yourself feel better because you “educated” people?

          Its not worth it

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Conversely, why should you put up with being referred to in a patronizing way out of fear of making someone else even moderately uncomfortable?

            1. Roscoe*

              Because at that point, all you are doing is trying to make them feel bad so you can feel like you stuck it to the man, or have the moral high ground, or whatever you want to tell yourself. In reality, its just you being a jerk because you know someone didn’t mean something offensively, but want to make them “suffer” anyway. That doesn’t make you a martyr, it just makes you someone that the employee will talk shit about to their co-workers later

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                I’m deeply baffled that you’re getting “jerk” out of the OP’s desire not to be addressed like a misbehaving child. How is all this the only possible motivation you can ascribe to not wanting to be referred to that way?

              2. Totally Minnie*

                Politely explaining to someone why you would prefer not to be called something is the opposite of being a jerk.

              3. Another Anon*

                I totally agree Roscoe. Honestly, if I was at a store and saw someone do this to an employee, I would probably record it and put it on the internet. Not in an effort to dox them, but just cause like what the actual f.

                1. Lavender Menace*

                  …so you think recording someone and putting it on the Internet is a more appropriate response to something you don’t like than politely correcting the person?

    19. Tisiphone*

      I have multiple times informed callers on the telephone asking for Mrs. Myname that such a person does not exist. Usually it’s a telemarketer who hasn’t bothered to do the research and who is in violation of the Do Not Call list. If they get all bent out of shape, too bad.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        My mom would do this, because she didn’t change her last name, so there was indeed no such person as Mrs. Momname DadLastName. But instead of doing it in a “it’s Ms. Momname MomLastName” she was kind of an asshole about it.

        1. Tisiphone*

          For me it’s a shibboleth. If I have any kind of relationship – business or personal – the one I have that relationship with knows to use my name First and Last or just First without any sort of honorific. No one other than a telemarketer ever uses Mrs.

          In written correspondence from all over (I see a ton of emails from many countries as part of my job), it’s Firstname or Firstname Lastname or Ms/Mr plus either Firstname Lastname or just the last name. Unless Dr. or some other honorific applies. I almost never see Mrs. It seems so obsolete.

    20. time for lunch*

      That’s why it’s a good question for this site. How to give gentle but appropriate feedback on a work strategy that isn’t working, without disrespecting the worker? As on a lot of AAM scenarios, the LW is very frustrated. Of course one doesn’t scream, but that doesn’t mean nothing can or should be said. If anything, someone is using a strategy in the workplace that is undermining and contravening the effect they wish yo bring about. Feedback is by no means unwarranted.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I feel like it would have made more sense to post the scenario the OP raised about a coworker using it and upsetting another colleague versus random retail or food service workers using it.

        1. Roscoe*

          Agreed. Because had this been a co-worker doing it constantly, I would’ve been firmly on the OPs side

    21. I coulda been a lawyer*

      I have a 50+ yo coworker who used to use that on anyone over 50. The problem is that as a group we greet several hundred people per minute and every one hears him. When he didn’t like my comment that his greeting was offensive, I took to greeting him with “good evening old man” at the start of our shift (I’m older than he is). He finally got the hint although I think someone had to explain it him.

    22. n*

      You bring up a really good point. I think it is super gross to call an adult woman “young lady,” and have gotten deeply upset myself when called things like this. But also, I have worked retail and the things that people get upset about and how often they tend to be outraged is soul-crushing. People are angry at you *all the time*, about everything. You’re being paid $10/hr to be screamed at all day while standing 8+ hours on a concrete floor and lugging 50-pound boxes from the stock room.

    23. RUKidding*

      I am do sick of women bring told to shut up when they object to being patronized.

      It’s not innocuous. It’s toxic, paternalistic misogyny. Nothing will ever change if no one says anything whenever these things happen.

      The offender may not have ill intent, but yeah it absolutely should be a learning opportunity.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve seen people say similar things, and invariably the other person then gets really uncomfortable and you can see them thinking, “Oh no, is this person acknowledging they’re old? What do I say now? I can’t agree without being rude. This is so uncomfortable.” … which of course is the original problem, that they think there’s something wrong or hush-hush about being old.

      1. Aveline*

        I had a 90 year old grand aunt who lived in an area that was where the south meets the north culturally. Frequently people would call her “yoing lady.” She would laughingly respond “You must have me confused with someone else. I haven’t been young since the days of speakeasies and flapper dresses and I’ve never been a lady.” That shut them down without too much issue

          1. Aveline*

            She was awesome. Sigh. I miss her terribly.

            She was also one of those women everyone assume was prim and proper based on her appearance. I knew. She was a badass.

          2. Aveline*

            PS She’s also the person who modeled radical kindness for me. She’s more important to the person I want to be than my parents or direct line ancestors.

        1. Gumby*

          Only tangentially related but: one of my great aunts reportedly went in to get/renew her drivers license when she was in her 90s. She took the test, etc. and passed and when they gave her her temporary paper license she berated them. “What do you think you’re doing? I’m 98 years old! I have no business being behind the wheel!” She just wanted to prove she could do it. She lived to 103 and I hope I take after her.

          1. Aveline*

            Awesome!

            I wish I had more time for open threads on weekends b/c I think so many people have great things to share.

    2. London Calling*

      I have a stock reply when I get called young lady – which at 64 I do, a bit. A smile and ‘It’s been years since I’ve been either of those!’

      1. Submerged Tenths*

        Thanks! I fully intend to steal this, if I may. I am a 64 year old woman living in the South and need ALL the help I can get.

    3. Confused*

      Honestly I would do this, just make a joke about it to diffuse it, not rudely lecture someone about something they never meant to offend you.

  5. prof-elsie*

    I gave a physical therapist a hard time about “young lady” too. He too said it was how he’d been raised. Although he was otherwise a good PT who really helped me, the next time I need PT, I’m not going back to him.

    1. blackcat*

      My standard response to “That’s how I was raised.” is, “One can overcome their upbringing.” I’ve only said that in response to racially offensive comments, but it seems to work quickly.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      So, I think this kind of situation illustrates an important distinction, one which Alison touched on. In short interactions, I just kind of brush things off and move on because it is just not worth it to me to stick around to either educate or get into a discussion. But when it’s a personal service provider and you will be going back to that person? Super important to speak up.

    3. CommanderBanana*

      Ugh. If someone says “I prefer to be called X” calling them anything other than X is just being shitty and mean.

  6. WellRed*

    This reminds me slightly of the letter where the coworker kept calling the LW “mom” and then doubling down on it and protesting that it was a compliment.

  7. Christmas Carol*

    Miss Manners defined a “Young Lady” as a female child who has just done something dreadful

    1. MLB*

      Thank you. If someone called me that, I’d turn around and expect to see my dad and wonder what I did wrong.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        I was just thinking about this quote, and how it might inform a lighthearted response: “Oh dear! I haven’t been called ‘young lady’ since my parents caught me breaking curfew.” I don’t know how well it would drive the message home, but it might be memorable enough to discourage a repeat performance.

    2. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah I still think of “young lady” as the precursor to getting in trouble. It’s not complimentary and no one can say it to me but my mom, 30 years ago.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Such a great point.

      “Only my mother can call me ‘young lady’ and only if I have done something wrong.”

    4. Rachael*

      Exactly. “Young lady” was what I was referred to only when I was in trouble as a child. I had to tell a well meaning older male coworker several times to stop referring to me as a young lady (I am in my mid thirties). We were good enough coworkers that I was able to laugh and raise my fist and yell “I am a grown-a$$ woman!”. To him, it was a compliment, to me it was a condescending phrase (although, I understood that he meant no harm). He learned something new that day, lol.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s like calling me by my full name. I’ve done something bad, go cut a switch off the tree.

    6. thanks for the memories*

      exACTly… I can still hear that tone in my mom’s voice. She used “young lady” when I was in trouuuuuuuble.

    7. Technically a young lady*

      I associate it with my elderly relatives saying things like “you are turning into such a nice young lady” when I see them. I’m in my early 20s now and they’ve mostly stopped with the young lady but they are in their 80s and up so to them I’m pretty darn young,

  8. it's me*

    I’m 40, and a few years ago a male dental hygienist kept calling me “young lady.” I know I look younger than I am, but I’m also in the South and I know older women are addressed as “young lady” as a compliment, so I found it surprisingly upsetting and distracting since he had my medical records and knew I was nearly 40. “My god I must look old!” Lol.

    1. Kazbah*

      I just purchased a new car a couple months ago. The finance manager seemed early/mid-30s to me (judging by looks, and the fact that he had two toddlers). He referred to me as “young lady” several times during the exchange. I am 30. I’ve never been mistaken for looking older than my age. It was -so-weird- because I figured people use the term “young lady” when there’s a large age discrepancy and it was so clearly not? I didn’t say anything though, I just kind of inwardly cringed. I’m from up north so it’s definitely not a regional thing here either. So. Weird.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Ugh. I remember hearing “young lady” a lot when I first started working. It slowed and stopped after a while. That was decades ago, however, at that time it was just one more Thing that made jobs really hard sometimes.
        To me it read as, “I don’t think you know what you are doing. I don’t think you are a competent employee.”
        It was mostly older men who said it. If I did not hear it or even overhear it so often I probably would have not thought about it.

        1. Jessen*

          It’s better than “young lady” combined with checking out (and possibly commenting on) my backside. I do not miss working retail.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Coming here to say the same thing. I have a male coworker over 60 who calls me young lady. I’m 40. If I was 60, I guess I understand what he’s trying to do there, but at 40 it’s just confusing. In my situation, I took it more as being mistaken for actually being young, but I still don’t care for the whole thing.

    3. CMart*

      Yes, in my area “young lady” is nearly exclusively used to address female children and elderly women. The former to elevate them from childhood to ladyhood in a whimsical way, and the latter as an obvious joking flattery. I always cringe deeply when I witness an older woman being called “young lady” because to me it just screams “lol you’re really old, this is funny because of how not-young you are.”

      The first time someone younger than I am calls me “young lady” you can bet I’m going to be wondering if that also means I get to retire soon.

  9. Audrey Puffins*

    I hate hate hate hate HATE when people pretend they think I’m younger than I am. I’m 35 years old, I look every painful minute of it, and I can’t stand the sneaky smile and the “can I see some ID please?” that I get when I’m buying alcohol. I can tell when you’re asking because you’re genuinely uncertain vs when you’re asking because you imagine it might flatter me, and the latter is annoying as hell. People age. It’s not only normal, it’s a helluva lot better than the alternative, and I can’t stand society’s widespread idea that the only good woman is a young one.

    1. It may not be either*

      They may be asking due to local law. Where I live, cashiers are required to card regardless if the person looks 19 or 91.

      1. sam*

        In alaska, they have to card everyone, which I learned when I went on vacation there this summer. One of the women on my small group tour was 90. Yes, she got carded.

        (one of the bartenders explained that it’s not an age thing. If you’re an alaska resident, there are certain DUI related offenses which mean you can’t get served/sold alcohol and it gets marked on your ID, so bars actually need to check everyone)

      2. Hooray College Football*

        Plus the bars/restaurants are subject to random sting operations. Once one of them spots a sting operation, they all call each other (in the local area), and all the bars/restaurants card everyone. They are in danger of fines and/or losing their liquor license if they get caught selling to underage people. The stings involve sending in older looking teens to buy alcohol, and they catch people not carding.

      3. Aunt Vixen*

        They don’t have to do it with a look on their face like they’re paying you a compliment by asking.

        1. Close Bracket*

          Maybe the look on their face is something else entirely, and you are projecting your feelings about being carded onto them.

          1. Lavender Menace*

            Non-verbal communication is totally a thing. While it is possible that people can misinterpret it, let’s also not pretend that people don’t get cute about pretending they think you’re younger than you are, particularly when you’re a woman. It’s not entertaining.

      4. Former Retail Manager*

        Yep. Same here and I live in Texas. They’re supposed to card “under 40” but that cutoff point seems so arbitrary that the younger or inexperienced cashiers often just card everyone. I actually had one guy about 25 (I’m in my late 30’s) say, “we both know this isn’t necessary, but could I see your ID?” I’m sure some would have been offended. I thought it was hilarious and gave it to him. I frankly don’t care what people call me as long as they don’t curse at me. I’ve worked retail and I know the hell that it is. And I take it for what it is, a random, casual greeting that a complete stranger who knows and cares nothing about you likely says hundreds of times a day.

      5. Totally Minnie*

        My local grocery store has their checkout system set up so that if a barcode for alcohol has been scanned, the transaction cannot continue until the purchaser’s ID has been scanned in.

    2. Someone Else*

      Getting carded when purchasing alcohol is a bad example and not analogous to the type of scenario described by OP. Legally in many places you should be carded regardless of how old you look. This is not intended to be something one guesses based on appearance. The “sneaky smile” is probably because they feel silly because they can tell you’re almost certainly the right age, but it is best practice to card you, even if you looked 50. If they’re not making otherwise snide remarks about how old you appear to be, but just asking for the ID, they’re doing their jobs.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Agreed about feeling silly. Customers do push back, especially when we first started carding everyone, all the time. “OH com’on I gave you my DL yesterday.” That was yesterday, today is a clean slate. In my county most places card everyone even if you look 90 and are 95 you still get carded. Sometimes they scan the DL or enter the DOB off the DL.

        And still, employees get caught in stings. Amazing. The current trap is a younger person sends an older person into buy cigarettes. Sales people are supposed to notice the young person loitering outside and approaching random older people. When the older person comes in, then it’s a sting. The sales person is supposed to automatically decline the sale.

      2. MoopySwarpet*

        I’ve definitely experienced people asking for ID intending it as some weird form of flattery. I’ve also been asked for ID because it’s the establishment’s policy to card everyone regardless of how old/young they look. There’s a difference. I do agree that most of the time it’s likely just policy and/or law they’re following.

      3. Lavender Menace*

        I’ve been carded before when people genuinely did not know how old I am and carded before when people legally had to because they card everyone.

        I have also been carded by people who give me a sly smile and pretend to think I am 15. It is annoying.

    3. LQ*

      I think the getting carded thing has become really common. There are a lot of places where there are laws that everyone has to be carded and even more places that just say, card everyone because we don’t want issues. These days the only places I don’t get carded are places where I’m really a regular. (Been going there for weekly for 15 years kind of regular.) Everyone else cards me, I do not look young (I never did.)

    4. Close Bracket*

      “I can tell when you’re asking because you’re genuinely uncertain vs when you’re asking because you imagine it might flatter me”

      Can you? You can’t read minds, whereas you just expressed a fair number of assumptions. I think your assumptions are coloring your interpretation of events. That smile might be an uncomfortable smile that you are projecting sneakiness onto. If they tack a “young lady” onto the end of the question, then sure, they are thinking you will be flattered. Otherwise, they might just be feeling silly for asking at all or feeling nervous about getting attitude back.

      1. CMart*

        I can’t speak for Audrey Puffins, but I can speak for my 15 years as a server and bartender to say: yes, yes a person probably can tell. My coworkers were always grossly obvious in their differences between “just doin’ my job, ma’am” carding of the 35+ set and the “well well well, so nice for you sisters to be out for lunch, may I see your IDs young ladies” smirking flattery pointed at older ladies (in this example, out to lunch with a daughter). The only people who really seemed to get away with it without seeming like insincere tip-mongers were older women themselves.

      2. Lavender Menace*

        Why do people act like non-verbal communication doesn’t exist? Tone and facial expression conveys a lot, and there’s a difference between a polite “can I see your ID?” and the sly knowing smile and exclaim of “omg you look so young! You can’t be old enough to drink, let me see your ID *wink wink*”

  10. MuseumChick*

    My grandma loves to say, “I have EARNED every single one of these wrinkles and I wear them with pride.”

  11. lyonite*

    Honestly, it would be rude even if they were talking to a young person (over the age of, say, 10).

  12. Auntie Social*

    My mom would raise an eyebrow and say “Whoever told you that ‘young lady’ remark is cute is WRONG”, and then take one step closer and stare at the offender. People crumbled in her presence—I think it was the Scarlett O’Hara brows.

  13. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    I must really be a regional thing. I live in the south-east. I wouldn’t call someone in their 60’s “young lady”. However, recently, a woman mentioned that she had lived in the US for about 50 years. I said that she must have moved here when she was 10 (she was in her 20’s I think). She stated something along the lines of, “That’s so sweet of you.” Again, it must be a regional thing because in the deep south a woman generally takes it as a compliment if you think she is younger than she really is. Again, I do agree that a 20-something year old, calling a 60 something year old a “young lady” is more than a bit overboard.

    Heck, I even remember when I was working as a cashier, when a group of women in their 60’s (at least) were buying alcohol, and I obviously joked (big smile on my face), “Do one of you have an ID?” They joked about not being able to find their IDs!

    1. Anononon*

      Would you make the same comments to a man?

      While some women don’t mind/like these comments, many find them uncomfortable and unsettling. There’s no harm in not making the comments, so why would you risk making people uncomfortable?

      1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        I honestly must admit that I don’t know if I would have made the same comment to a man. Now, for the id’s when checking them out, I very well may have jokingly asked for their ids.

        It is hard to explain. In the south, comments like that are very, very common small talk and responses to such comments.

        1. LadeeDa*

          Because as a southern woman we are raised to be overly polite and gracious, and it is rude of us to point out when someone is being daft.
          A compliment is “It is state law that I have to check someone’s ID if I believe they are under 35.” and you don’t think they are older than 35, yet their ID says 45. That is a compliment.

          “Can I see some ID ladies hahahaha” *wink wink* You are pointing out that they are clearly not 21,or 35 — you are joking about their age, and it isn’t funny, they are just too polite to tell you so.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            It’s exhausting to listen to.
            “You’re the 15th person to use that line in conversation with me this week. It’s tired. Give it a rest.”

        2. Anononon*

          It’s actually not hard to explain. We all fully understand that this can be a common conversation trope in certain regions. As explained below, that doesn’t make it okay.

        3. Anonymousseforever*

          “How sweet” and “bless your heart” are nice ways of saying get a load of this guy. And that’s putting it nicely.

      2. RUKidding*

        And the ones that see them as a compliment…? Well, internalized misogyny is a hell of a drug.

    2. LadeeDa*

      But you haven’t mistaken anyone for being younger than they are– you are making a JOKE that they aren’t young.

      In the letter the CS person wasn’t a 90 yr old guy who might view a 60 yr old woman as a “young lady” it was a guy pointing out the fact that she ISN’T a young lady.

    3. Not Young and Hot*

      Or she’s been socialised to act that way, and on the inside she’s thinking what a patronising, sexist jerk you are.

      That’s what I think whenever some “wag” tries the ID nonsense on me.

    4. animaniactoo*

      So, here’s the thing about that – and I get it because my husband and my in-laws are all deep south. Certain conventions are accepted and found to be pleasant because they reinforce certain dynamics. In general, whatever a culture/region/2 people agree among themselves is okay, is okay. They get all the rest of the underlying nuance, etc.

      But sometimes… the underlying premise that’s being reinforced is problematic, and when people start recognizing that issue, they push back on the language as a beginning to undo the socialization that made it seem “good” or “okay”.

      Note, that is not just about stuff in the southern region of the U.S. There’s stuff in the North, the East, the Midwest that is all the same way. And if the intent is to reinforce something else, but you’re accidentally reinforcing the problematic thing by doing it this way… then this way has got to be adjusted to fulfill the actual intent, the premise that IS worth continuing to support and advocate for.

      With that in mind, let’s take a step back and look at it… why does being young – and particularly for a woman – have such value to it? Such that it is to be desired over the achievement of years and a life lived?

      1. pleaset*

        “let’s take a step back and look at it… why does being young – and particularly for a woman – have such value to it? Such that it is to be desired over the achievement of years and a life lived?”

        THIS

      2. Name Required*

        This is a great conversation to have … just not with the person bagging your groceries when they mindlessly use a phrase they may have repeatedly heard.

        1. animaniactoo*

          Well, yes. But here I’m not having it with a person bagging my groceries — I’m opening it with the OP of this thread, (Mr) Cajun2core.

    5. Been There*

      Ummm…sometimes a Southerner will use the phrase “you’re so sweet” and it means the exact opposite. Sort of like when someone uses “bless your heart.” Your cue…that very tight smile they give you when they say it!

      1. LadeeDa*

        “bless your heart” is usually Southern code for “f-you” ;)
        My husband also says that Southern women are able to “stare in southern” a certain look, that while they are smiling, can stop a man in his tracks.
        While we are raised to be polite and gracious, we are also raised not to take sh!t. It is an art form.

        1. Close Bracket*

          “bless your heart” is usually Southern code for “f-you” ;)

          There’s a whole lot more to it than that. Sometimes it means, “bless your heart.” If it were that obvious, the plausible deniability that the “go eff yourself” subtext relies on would be gone, and it wouldn’t be effective.

          1. Lavender Menace*

            Haha, I am so glad you said this. I am from the South, and I have heard so many people say “bless your heart is the Southern F you” and it kind of baffles me. I mean, sometimes it is, but not all the time. A lot of times it actually does mean “bless your heart.”

        2. Mx. Mix*

          It really is an art form. My great aunts are Texan and the kindest, most gracious and thoughtful people I know… but daaaaamn their Bless Your Hearts cut to the core. Love it.

    6. dawbs*

      It’s common here. And considered “cute”.

      Its still offensive as all get out. It’s that subtle “‘can’t you take a joke’when you call someone on it” sexism that’s hard to root out (harder than the blatant stuff) , and, absolutely is internalized to be taken as a compliment (bbecause to do otherwise is to be considered ashrw), but i’s still sexist.

      It’s getting a woman that the best way to flatter her is call her young. The fact that “young”=compliment is valuing youth in problematic ways (start dissecting it down as to WHY youth is a compliment) it is making age the important point of discussion, which, especially at work, it isn’t.

      A lot of things are common and participated in by the people involved, and still problematic. If you look at and read WHY this is unnerving, the commonality has naught toi sho with why I hate it

    7. Mari*

      If you genuinely thought that she was younger, then it is a compliment. If it’s obviously false flattery – it’s not a compliment, just unnecessary focus on age. Joking about IDs with people who are obviously far beyond legal age is just making fun of/highlighting their age. “Oh, haha! You CLEARLY don’t need to show ID to prove you are above 21! How funny that you are so old!” It’s not funny, though they might fake a polite laugh. It’s certainly not a compliment.

  14. There's Always Money in the Banana Stand*

    Its not entirely the same because of the gender difference, but there is an elderly man in my church (97 years old) who other congregants call “young man” all the time. I think its intended to be taken as a humorous sort of compliment? But yeah, I’m not sure why people do this or how it got into our speech patterns as something to say to other people. Its obnoxious, and unnecessary.

    1. Aveline*

      It’s very, very different for someone over the age of 90 to call anyone younger “young” than for someone younger than their conversation partner to use that term.

      My rule of thumb is that anyone who is more than 30 years older than I am can call me young, because to them, I am. Anyone over 90 can call anyone under 85 young.

      Totally different scenario

      1. TootsNYC*

        My grandpa lived to be 99.33 years old.
        When he was 90, he still lived on his own, and my dad went for a weekend visit. They went to church, and my grandpa said something about “those old guys that sit in the back.”
        My dad looked at the group of men in question and did a double take. He told me, “The oldest any of those guys was has to be 76.”

        I guess Grandpa thought he was younger than them–and mentally, he may have been.

      2. There's Always Money in the Banana Stand*

        You misunderstood what I was saying. Others who are 40 years younger or more than this man call him “young man”. Not the other way around.

        1. TypityTypeType*

          This happens to my dad, too — he’s 83. It has indeed always been from a man considerably younger than himself. Whatever the intent, it of course only emphasizes that the speaker considers my dad an old man who can be safely condescended to.

    2. Armchair Analyst*

      In current American English, there isn’t really an equivalent to bestow someone an honorific just because they are old. When I learned Arabic in Egypt, I was taught to respectfully call an elderly man “Ya’hajji” to indicate that I presume he had lived long enough (and been rich enough?) to make the Hajj Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. There is no equivalent in American culture, except for the jokes that older people make about themselves “Yes, I DID ride a dinosaur to school! Uphill both ways!” I don’t even want to assume a person of such an advanced age is veteran, or anything….

  15. Lindsay Gee*

    I like Alison’s wording! Although what you’ve been saying is definitely still accurate to start a conversation…I think your point will be made clearer with Alison’s script. Not to say your way was confusing, or that customer service workers wouldn’t understand it- I just think the suggested way is much more to the point and doesn’t put you as much in a position for them to argue back?

  16. Catherine*

    I have long held the belief that it’s usually smoother and more productive for everyone when you tell people what to call you rather than what not to. Exceptions can be made when someone is being deliberately insulting or persists in making the same mistake, but in this case, I’d just say, “Please, call me ma’am” (or whatever term you’d like to hear). If your listener is perceptive, he’ll get your point, and if not, he can at least learn by rote memorization.

    1. SignalLost*

      I think the issue is one of the length of the interaction. When I taught, I was very clear with my students that I didn’t want to be called professor (because I’m not one) but I had them for nine weeks at a whack. A retail transaction doesn’t have the duration to really justify explaining what you’d like to be called, to me.

  17. SamKD*

    I have noticed an increasing tendency for cashiers, waitstaff and similar people to call all women “Miss” regardless of age which is not -quite- as bad as “young lady” but still unpleasant, especially from those of my children’s generation. However in the past 6 months I have heard three separate instances of ESL speakers calling all women “Milady” which I find so much less offensive that I hope native speakers of English adopt the habit.

    1. Jessen*

      Unfortunately “Milady” also has some association with the PUA types. Right now I’d honestly be a bit scared of a guy using it!

      1. SamKD*

        I had to google so for others like me PUA = Pick Up Artist.
        I wouldn’t trust a guy who used Milady in any kind of small-talk setting either. I’m just hoping it catches on as the feminine of “Sir” for helper/service situations.

          1. Winifred*

            It’s good enough for QEII …

            “It’s ma’am as in ‘ham,’ not maum as in ‘palm’.”

      2. Parenthetically*

        My immediate and visceral reaction to “milady” is NOPE and also r/justneckbeardthings

    2. prof-elsie*

      Oh, no. Not milady. It’s associated with a particular kind of internet troll. It should only be used in the UK for someone for whom it is the appropriate aristocratic term of address, and even there, it might be pushing it to use it in 2019.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Even in the UK, and addressing a Lady, it wouldn’t normally be used .Normally it would either be ‘Lady Smith’ or ‘Lady Mary’ or ‘Ma’am’. It’s not incorrect, but (perhaps because it connotes an inferior speaking to a superior) it’s no longer common.

        You do use ‘My Lord’ and ‘My Lady’ in addressing Judges in the senior courts, but that (and in the House of Lords) is the only place it would generally be used.

    3. Delphine*

      A lot of people pronounce “Ms.” and “Miss” similarly, so I think it’s possible that cashiers/waitstaff/etc. are saying “Ms.”

      1. TootsNYC*

        except that (at the moment) “Ms.” is not a term of direct address; it’s a courtesy title that goes before a name.

        “Miss Toots” becomes “miss” (or “ma’am,” because all it means is a grownup female).
        “Mrs. Toots” becomes “ma’am.”
        But “Ms. Toots” doesn’t have a “ms.” to become.

        (calling someone “miss” is, to me, leaning toward to calling them “young lady.” Not completely, but sort of)

        1. Armchair Analyst*

          This is very specific.
          If someone said “excuse me, miz, can I help you” rather than “excuse me, miss, can I help you” I’m sure it’d be ok. (Unless you’re the grammar police from the other day.)

          I live in the South, in “yes ma’am/no sir” land, and frankly I am dissuading my children from saying ma’am and sir without knowing someone’s preference, first. Too many times I’ve said, “excuse me, ma’am” and a head of long hair turns around and…. has a mustache. Or vice-versa (a head of short hair turns around and she has breasts and/or lipstick). Just… don’t mention people’s ages and/or projected genders until you know them.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I’d also be OK w/ the direct address of “miz,” but my point was it hasn’t made it into widespread use that way. Yet.

            And yes, leaving it out altogether is certainly safer.

    4. Observer*

      I think that the “Miss” thing is not about pretending that women are young, but it’s the being mistaken for Ms. which means no one assuming anything about your marital state.

    5. Emi.*

      “Milady” sounds so Fedora Shrek though. I like “ma’am,” personally, but I know I don’t have a lot of company there.

    6. SamKD*

      I actually prefer Ma’am by a wide margin but have been in conversations with service staff who were specifically told to call all women “Miss” because “Ma’am” was considered “offensive.” I’d be fine with “Miz” as the pronounced version of “Ms” but nobody ever does that — it’s always “Miss” and it’s always quite deliberate and it’s always annoying but not enough so to complain. U.S. English needs a proper “Sir” equivalent.

      1. AnonThisTime*

        This. I distinctly remember it being a cultural Thing about what age you “got ma’am-ed” as a young-ish woman. Some of us joked about it, and some women got really upset when they “got ma’am-ed” because it meant “Server X thinks I’m old! Woe is me!” So, yeah, I’ve absolutely noticed a shift where, clearly, service staff has been instructed to call every woman “miss” to try to avoid the offense that some women took at “ma’am.” And truly, I knew women who were offended and would say so, if it was implied that they were “old.” Then, of course, others find “miss” infantilizing. Servers can’t win because there’s no “sir” equivalent without the historical age/marital-status baggage that we attach to titles of respect for women.

        So I cut service people all of the slack when it comes to ma’am / miss / basic terms of courtesy where there’s not a good alternative (because the sexist BS is built into our language). They aren’t trying to imply you’re a crone or a child, they are just trying to show you respect. Can we chill out on that front?

        And personally, I cut service industry folks more slack (say, than I would a co-worker) for even more problematic language (including “young lady” or addressing a table as “girls”), assuming the tone is light and polite. Because they have a rough job and sometimes it’s easier to not expend the energy. But I understand why others would not be OK with it and want to gracefully call it out.

  18. ThomasT*

    LW writes: “Customer service workers are often really taken aback when I make my comment. Is there better wording I could use?”
    I agree with Alison that your wording is fine. And I actually think that yours is more likely to make the intended impression that the shorter alternative the Alison suggests. But there’s no way to do this that’s going to be regularly met with gratitude for the advice. Bringing people’s attention to their problematic language is an inherently awkward situation, and it’s especially unlikely that someone who goes around referring to women as “young lady” is going to be someone who’s aware that they carry implicit biases and is going to be humbly grateful and apologetic when someone points them out.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I like yours better than Alison’s as well.

      Sure, it’s long, but you’re deploying it in a situation in which you are willing to invest the energy and time. And I think it has a much better chance of getting through to them, later, when they think about it.

      So next time, when they say, “I’m trying to be nice,” or “that’s what I was taught,” just smile and say, “Give my point some thought, would you? It really does tell people ‘I think you’re old.’ I’m sure you’d rather not have that be the message–and I can promise you that I’m not alone in my reaction. Now, can you tell me where to find the towels?”

      Drop the concept into their mental database, but don’t expect it to take root right away.

    1. Anonandon*

      Right? It seems like a minor issue, but it’s really, really not. One time I was shopping with my teenage son for a new phone to upgrade the one he had. The sales person (a younger woman) tried to upsell me all kinds of things that I didn’t need. I get it, she was just trying to do her job. Finally I said, thanks, but we just need this phone without all the other stuff. So then she says “Well, maybe you want to check with your husband on that when you get home? Just let me know!” Oh man. I saw red. First of all, not that it matters, I’m not married. Secondly, the account is in MY name. Thirdly, why would my theoretical husband know any better than I do? I looked her square in the eye and said “The account is in MY name. If I were a man, would you tell me to ask my wife?” She blushed and we proceeded with the transaction. My poor son wanted to be anywhere but there.

      1. Yet another Kat*

        I’m a 30ish woman and a landlord of a small (4-family) building and this same thing happened to me when a terminix tech came lout to do an inspection. He suggested that I “discuss” whatever we were talking about with my husband at least 6 times over an hour-long period despite my correcting him that I don’t have a husband and am the only decision maker in this situation every single time. He’d apologize every time I corrected him but then do it again a few minutes later. I actually did mention it in the voice portion of his “review” despite giving him high marks in the objective categories (on time, addressed issue, etc.) because I was just so fed up.

        1. Mx. Mix*

          “when a terminix tech came lout to do an inspection” Oooo, is this a great typo? Or Freudian slip? ;)

          Reminds me of an older male doctor I had; he was so impressed I knew so much about my own cycle that he thought it was flattery to declare, “Wow! You’re really smart. Your work is lucky to have you.”

          For real, who would say that to a man!?

      2. swingbattabatta*

        This happened to me while buying a car. I was dealing with the financial side with it, and the salesman would. not. accept. it. He kept asking my husband questions, my husband would say “ask my wife”, and turn to me, and then the salesman would really reluctantly turn to me. It happened with pretty much every single question the entire time we were there, like the guy could not accept that I was the one negotiating and making the final decisions. Finally, the salesman stepped out to make photocopies and my husband headed home, leaving me to finish up – the look on the salesman’s face when he returned was pure panic: “Is he coming back???”

    2. kittymommy*

      Ehh, I’ve heard men referred to as “young man” (of all ages) before, so yeah, it does happen.

    3. Bobbie*

      I get any so angry when people use any gender term because the individual may not identify by what they are being called (for example calling someone a man indicates they are male). Maybe they do not identify that way even if they ‘look’ like that. We all may be offending people even with comment such as, ‘They wouldn’t dare to speak to a man like that’.

    4. Chaordic One*

      Actually, I think they would. The I.T. staff in my office are especially condescending to a couple of the older men who are a bit, um, shall we say “technologically challenged,” and I’ve heard these men being addressed as, “Young man.” I think it is very “ageist,” and “sexist,” not so much.

    5. J*

      Hmmm, some people wouldnt, but I had the …ahem…. pleasure of working with a man who called everyone ‘young lady’ and ‘young man’ indiscriminately. It was infuriating. That said, I’m completely certain that if i was a man, i would have only needed to insist 3 times that he stop calling me that, instead of the 7 times *and* escalation to our manager it took to get hime to stop.

  19. Kelsey*

    My job requires me to provide a lot of customer service via phone, and I do run into this issue quite a bit as well. I am on the younger side of the workforce (late 20’s), but I’m also a grown adult who has worked hard to break into my industry. Whenever I get referred to as ‘young lady’ or ‘sweetheart’, I try to keep in mind that they probably refer to lots of people this way, not just myself. As frustrating and patronizing as this can be sometimes, I also try to keep in mind that no one is *trying* to offend me, which I can usually identify via their tone. Since this is all happening over the phone, I know that they can’t be making these comments based on my appearance, but rather the way my voice sounds. I do sound young, and I have a lot of inflections in my voice that you would categorize with a younger individual. As frustrating as it can be sometimes, I try to focus on the bigger picture and put emphasis on the fact that I am being thanked, rather than being referred to as a slightly (sometimes more aggravating) colloquialism. Some days are more challenging than others.

    1. time for lunch*

      I would be inclined to say, “I understand that *you* think that’s a compliment, or maybe a joke. It’s not a compliment. It’s what a parent calls you when you are a child who has done something wrong. Honestly, it’s pretty condescending and patronizing. I look to you like someone who wants to be talked to like a child?”

      And I wouldn’t take this from someone older than I am either. Oh, hell, no. I’m a grown person. I’ve been voting for nearly three decades. Don’t talk to me like a little kid (a little *girl*–because a male kid gets called “man” from almost any age but a woman may never stopped being condescended to) who gets a pat on the head. Nope nope nope.

      1. time for lunch*

        I meant to post the above at the bottom of the comment thread, but I do have a reply to this, which is: when someone slaps you on the butt, does their intention still mean more than your experience? At what point do you get to have a say in how you are treated? When someone addresses you, those words are intended for you. You get to have a say in how they treat you. Whether that flies in your workplace may be another story, but I want to encourage you not to discount your experience because someone else’s (supposed) intention (I would contest the idea that it’s not an expression that you are lesser–it is often precisely that) must mean more. It does not.

        1. Susana*

          Yes yes yes. How often are we told to suck up some offensive/insulting behavior because they “mean well?”

    2. Blarg*

      They may not be trying to offend you but they are dismissing you, not taking you seriously, and making damn sure that you know it.

  20. LadeeDa*

    It is like when people ask on your birthday “Are you turning 21 again?” When clearly I am not 21, and you have obviously noticed I am not 21. It makes me cringe, but I don’t say anything. I usually do the squinty eye you are an idiot look, and move on.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      I was so annoyed on my 29th birthday when our waiter was like, “29 how many times? haha!”

      Anyway, to refer to a few comments above, I feel like customer service people could use either Miss or Ma’am and adult women should be basically fine with either and there is no reason to call anyone “young lady.”

      1. LadeeDa*

        I am fine with Ms, Miss, Ma’am. I am from the south I call everyone ma’am!

        “young lady” or “milady” may result in a junk punch.

      2. Kevin*

        I agree this is extremely inappropriate to say to strangers, customers or anybody probably but to play devil’s advocate I have heard women in my family and female co-workers joke they’ve “turned 39 five times” or something. Some people probably hear people joke about themselves in this manner and then think it’s okay to make jokes of that nature.

        1. OtterB*

          I agree it’s different when someone makes the comment themselves. Years ago, I worked with a distinguished gray-haired woman who described herself as “29 and some months” and I was amused.

          But I do think it’s buying into the stereotype that women lose value as they age, and that gradually these jokes need to fade out as no longer amusing because they no longer reflect a shared cultural assumption.

        2. RUKidding*

          Saturday will be my 17th year turning 39…it’s a joke initiated by me based on the old Jack Benny joke. I do not jowever ask other similarly aged (or older) propke if they are turning 39 “again hur hur hur…” because, it’s ridiculous.

          Side note: Husband puts a “3” and a”9” candle on the cake every year. He turned 40 in September. He is now older than me. :)

    2. JanetM*

      I had that conversation with a *doctor* once. He asked me how old I was, I told him 32, and he asked, “For how many times?”

      I changed doctors shortly thereafter.

      1. Mx. Mix*

        Ewwwww, I am sorry.

        Once a doctor turned his screen around to show me my own file photo, and suggested I ask reception for a print out because it was so nice. Dude, would you say that to a male patient?

    3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I got really mad at work when one of the college kids used to list people’s birthdays as a mathematical expression of 21, like “21+6.”

      This was particularly ridiculous because, at the time, the majority of the staff were in their 20s and a few of us were in our 30s. No one who’s 27 or 31 is ashamed of their age or self-conscious about being “old,” ffs.

  21. Clay on my apron*

    “Fine, callow youth, could you tell me where the anti-aging pills are?”

    Bea ha ha.

    I think you and I would get along really well, OP.

  22. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    As a man, who is 51, I can tell you that if someone thought I was 41 (or younger), I would take it as a compliment. I admit “young man” might be a bit much, unless it was from some in their 70’s. Not so much now, but when I was in my 40’s, people did often think I was in my 30’s. I was not offended by it and somewhat complimented by it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      As a man, your context on this is different than it is for women, who are bombarded by messages that their value is tied to youth (and inherent in that, sexual attractiveness) and who are regularly condescended to because of their sex.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Even with that, he’s comparing apples to oranges. I will be 46 in a couple of weeks. The oldest anyone anywhere has ever guessed my age is 38 and I frequently get guesses younger than that. I’m happy to look younger than I actually am – mostly cuz I enjoy shocking people with my driver’s license proof. This is what he’s talking about which is NOT what the OP is talking about.

        @MrCajun2Core – okay, but when you’re 78 and look it and have grey hair and a cane, would you still consider it a compliment to be called “young man” by somebody who is less than half your age? Because that’s the rest of the context here.

        1. time for lunch*

          I will also be 46 shortly and I am so #$#$%^ over being taken for 10+ years younger than I am. Though honestly, I think it’s less being taken for younger than being taken for “always junior” because I’m female. It’s like the lifespan of a woman is however many years of lesser-than followed by sheer irrelevancy.

          1. emmelemm*

            Yep. I also am 46, and very small to boot, and people will be thinking I’m junior until every hair on my head is grey and I’m walking with a cane.

        2. sam*

          Yeah – my dad regularly gets assumed to be about 10 years younger than he is – a trait that he has lovingly passed down to both myself and my brother.

          But being able to shave a decade off your age (or having your actual friends marvel at how you don’t age, which is quite nice), is a VASTLY different thing than being condescended to by strangers who clearly know that you’re not “young”.

      2. fposte*

        Though I think the ageism is worthy of discussion too. Yes, it’s intertwined with sexism here, but it’s a thing in its own right, and I’m always a little bemused at how much slack it gets cut.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, that’s absolutely right. It’s saying “I see that you appear old, so I am going to flatter you by saying you appear young, as old is obviously undesirable.”

    2. TootsNYC*

      Also–as a woman, I’m happy for someone to think I’m a little bit younger than I am.

      I’m NOT happy with being called “young lady.”

    3. Murphy*

      Also, I think in the situation OP is talking about, they’re not actually mistaking her for a young lady, they’re calling her “young lady” as a…facetious compliment? I’m not sure how to explain it.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        “Facetious compliment” is exactly it. It’s obviously insincere; it’d be like someone complimenting me on my gorgeous, deep tan. I’d only fall for it if I were delusional. A “compliment” should not imply that the target is totally lacking self-awareness.

        1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

          Or assume that you are so thirsty for compliments that you are happy for even obviously false ones. Calling me young isn’t a compliment. It is just obviously wrong. Why would I want to hear something so stupid?

      2. Parenthetically*

        Yep, it’s pretty clearly, “I assume all people (especially women) are desperate to cling to the appearance of youth, so even though you do not look like a college student, I’ll pretend you do.” It’s weird and uncomfortable.

    4. hbc*

      Okay, so you don’t like “young man” from a younger person and the OP doesn’t like “young lady.” So you’re in complete agreement that it’s an uncool thing to call someone?

    5. Close Bracket*

      Absolutely nobody refers to grown women as “young lady” because they believe said woman is actually a teenager.

    6. Elsajeni*

      But to be clear, this isn’t about people sincerely thinking you’re younger than you are — it’s about people sort of jokingly pretending to think you’re younger than you are, as a form of flattery. It’s a totally separate thing, and a lot harder to construe as a compliment. (In fact, if you’d consider it a compliment for someone to think you were younger than you are, this is almost a deliberate insult — it’s calling attention to your age so that they can “flatter” you by underestimating it!)

    7. Mx. Mix*

      Were these terms followed up by being treated as if you were actually younger or inexperienced? Preferably in a condescending *tone* as well? Rhetorical question.

  23. Anonandon*

    I’ve noticed it too – my mother and I were out to lunch recently (I’m 50 and she’s 71) and the waiter (who looked to be in his mid 20’s) said something like “what can I get you girls today?” GIRLS?!?!?!?! I’m not sure if he thought it was a compliment, as he said it in kind of a smirking way. We both just kind of looked at each other, then at the waiter. After a very awkward pause, my mother proceeded with her order. He did not get a tip.
    I also get “dear,” “hon,” and “miss,” which isn’t as objectionable as dear or hon, but still not ideal. Whatever happened to Ma’am or Sir? I don’t mind being called Ma’am, at least it’s respectful.

    1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      Are you in the US? If so, what part? “Hon” and “Dear” are quite common in the south east. I get them as a man.

      1. Mx. Mix*

        “Hon” and “Dear” toward strangers is gross because it’s rooted in the expectation that all women are either motherly figures or are positioned to comfort and soothe egos at all times. Boo hiss.

    2. Confused*

      You didn’t tip someone because they called you girls? You stiffed someone out of their income because you were annoyed at their choice of words? I really hope the poor guy did something else that merited that because that is an awful and terribly mean overreaction.

      1. Observer*

        Being polite is part of his job. Just how rude does a waiter have to be for them not to get a tip?

        1. Seacalliope*

          Workers are not typically docked pay for mistakes. Unfortunately, the US system of wages for waiters and other tipped workers doesn’t allow for tips to truly be treated as “extras.” They are wages and when the worker performs work, they should be paid accordingly.

          1. Observer*

            As long as people are being expected to tip – and being explicitly told that it’s so that they can manage behavior of the staff – it’s not reasonable to expect people to tip regardless of the behavior of the person involved.

            The fact is that while tips are wages for the purpose of taxes, places like restaurants explicitly avoid putting that information out. The term itself indicates that it’s optional, and the more formal term is even more optional sounding.

            This is an industry wide problem. So much so, that when some restaurants have tried getting rid of tips, they’ve gotten push back from customers. For one thing, customers often wanted to have that leverage. For another, it looked to customers that the prices had gone up. Not that it really had, because all that had happened was that the cost of the tips were just built directly into the prices. But because tips are peddled as optional, people felt like they could NOT pay if they didn’t want to, so the “real” cost was lower.

            I don’t think it’s a good thing at all. But as long as that’s how the industry operates, you simply cannot blame people for withholding tips when a waiter is really rude. They are not “stiffing” people, since they have been told that this is OPTIONAL, and they are not being “terribly mean”.

            1. n*

              But can you really characterize referring to customers *once* as “girls” “really rude”?

              It’s definitely sexist. But there’s a lot of benign sexism still out there in the world and I don’t think the best way to seek justice for that is to penalize working-class people trying to survive in an unfair economic system that encourages people to see their wages as optional.

        2. blackcat*

          My standard is that is service is bad enough that I want to leave no tip, I talk to the manager.

          My only exception was when the service was so bad… there was no service… and no manager.
          It took an hour to get our food. Afterwards, our waiter vanished. For another hour.
          I stood up and looked for a waiter. Any waiter. I wanted to pay and leave
          None were to be found.
          I popped my head into the kitchen. Asked for the manager. Shrugs. Asked a second time in Spanish, got the response “No se.”
          Uh, ok.
          I put the bare minimum of cash on the table to cover what *I thought* was the price of the food. Then we left. Place was out of business a month later.

          1. MissDisplaced*

            Exactly this! Service has to be truly terrible or nonexistent for me not to tip waitstaff at least 15% Being called girls, young lady, miss, ma’am, or milady, or dude, even if it is in a mildly smirky manner, isn’t enough to chintz on the tip as long as they did their job otherwise. I mean, jeez! There are so many worse things in this world to get angry over. Don’t stiff people.

        3. grace*

          What? Seriously, if you don’t like being called “girls” you say so – but if you don’t, it’s nowhere near egregious to justify not tipping. Rude to not get a tip is things like insulting you to your face, spitting in your food, repeatedly messing up your order, ignoring you … Not calling a group of women “girls.”

          I don’t understand you throughout this thread, tbh – yeah, calling someone “young lady” is rude and rooted in sexism, but it’s really not this outrageous offense that you keep trying to paint it as.

          1. sam*

            yeah – the only time my friends and I didn’t leave a tip was when…the waiter literally took our half-full plates away while we were still actively eating our food because he was trying to force us out of the restaurant for the next reservation. We had to get the manager and basically get the entire meal comped because the whole thing was so ridiculous.

            The appropriate response to someone calling you “girls” is…to ask him not to call you girls (which, among other things, gives him a chance to apologize.)

          2. Observer*

            I’m not calling it and “outrageous offense.” But if it’s rude and rooted in sexism, why is it ok?

            Someone else pointed out that if they were so offended they could have not ordered, and I see that. But, please let’s not pretend that it’s ok. It’s not.

            I don’t know that I would have not tipped (even if it happened after I ordered.) My question is was at what point does rudeness rise to the point where it’s ok not to tip. Using the term “choice of words” is intended to minimize the issue without really addressing the issue – after all you could use the exact same working if the waiter had used egregiously offending language such as an explicit slur.

            You expressed a standard, which Confused (who I was responding to) didn’t – they just implied that you can never not tip, and anyway this was perfectly ok.

            1. Roscoe*

              I think when its that they are actively rude. Because they used a term you didn’t like, which isn’t inherently offensive, doesn’t rise to that level. A group of 30 year olds may have been totally fine with it. Its not inherently disrespectful. Now had he continued to do it after they asked him not to, that is when, in my opinion, witholding a tip could be somewhat understood (even still, I’d probably just ask to talk to the manager)

            2. Jasnah*

              I disagree that this level of “rude and rooted in sexism”, ie. using a term of address that you dislike with the clear intention to be polite, has earned the severity of stiffing a waiter part of their wage.

              That’s like saying you should see a paycheck reduction every time you mistake someone’s name, or compliment someone’s outfit instead of their work.

              You’re entitled to tip however you want, but stiffing poor waitstaff because they should psychically know your preferences is pretty self-centered.

        4. Kiki*

          I’m not a huge fan of when people call adult women girls in this type of way, but it’s also such a common service industry shtick that a lot of people respond positively to. Tip-culture tends to encourage service that is aggressively friendly/ faux-endearing/ jokey, even though that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Taking away someone’s wages (which is what tips are in the restaurant industry) for something management probably encourages them to do is not okay and people who do this should rethink what they’re doing.

          1. Dragoning*

            Also, a lot of servers do not factor tip/no tip into their behavioral patterns. They just assume whoever didn’t leave one was a jerk.

      2. Adalind*

        +1

        I’m in my late 30’s (but look 10 years younger) and sometimes use “girls” to describe groups of women. “Ladies” is probably more popular in my area, but I would never stiff someone on a tip because of a word choice unless it was blatantly sexist. In general, it’d have to be extremely terrible service for me leave less than 20% ever honestly. I’m in shock.

        I personally loathe being called “ma’am,” but I know those in customer service use it as a sign of respect. I was taught that at a young age and use it myself. If you’re trying to get someone’s attention and don’t know their name what else do you say? IMO there are way more things to get angry about (like when my ex, who is younger than me, calls me kid.. pfft).

      3. Wulfgar*

        I’m with you. Someone else may not have been offended by that at all. Everyone is offended by something, and none of us knows what’s going on in another person’s head. As long as the waiter was polite and took care of them, he deserved to be fairly compensated for his time.

    3. sam*

      wait – you felt insulted, THEN ordered, and THEN didn’t leave a tip?

      Oh…no.

      If you’re not insulted enough to not let him wait on you, then you’re not insulted enough to not tip.

      [insert facepalm emoji]

    4. Mary Dempster*

      If you didn’t tip because of this, you are even more immature than the well-intentioned nature of the waiter calling you “girls”.

    5. Dasein9*

      The server was rude.

      Servers pay taxes on assumed income, with the assumption based on their sales.
      When you stiff a server, you make them pay to serve you.

      (Yes, most people do pay more than the assumed amount. Nevertheless, the cost of your lunches was counted in the figuring of this person’s income.)

      1. AK*

        Is it rudeness though? I find that men generally are less sensitive to things like this because it’s not an issue for them (and there are a few comments on this post that show the same), and if no one’s ever called them on it it’s just not something they have a reason to make a connection about. Just to be clear, I’m not justifying the waiter’s action or saying this should’ve been let go, I’m just trying to understand how other people are seeing this.

        It seems to me like the most reasonable thing to do here would have been to say to the server “you know, you really shouldn’t call women girls” and possibly mention it to a manager as something to have a wider conversation about with their staff. If they’d otherwise been given great service, no tip is a pretty harsh penalty for an otherwise minor misstep.

        1. Phoenix*

          Intent isn’t magic. It’s entirely possible for someone to be unaware that something is rude AND for the thing to still be rude when they do it.

          1. Roscoe*

            Sure, but that doesn’t mean you have to punish the person for it. They could’ve used their words and said “please don’t refer to us that way”. But they were jerks for not tipping

    6. Roscoe*

      Wow, that is just rude. You could’ve said something. You could’ve left the restaurant. But not tipping the guy is really shitty. He probably had no idea how it bothered you.

      Some of you really care more about making a point than being kind

    7. Mx. Mix*

      NO TIP? Wow.

      Did you provide feedback at the time? Or did you decide for him that he was being deliberately sexist and cut into his livelihood?

      No tip at ALL? That’s shameful.

  24. animaniactoo*

    Given that I routinely look anywhere from 10-15 years younger than I actually am, I probably will not get this comment until I’m about to drop dead. By which time it will hopefully have been phased out of existence.

    My immediate thought would be the truth: “The last person who called me that was my grandfather and he’s been dead for AGES. What’s your definition of young?” and then possibly a question of whether they refer to younger customers as “old bats” and why not? If being young is a thing to be celebrated by such misapplied designations, why isn’t getting old enough to be a grouchy curmudgeon?

    1. Former Young Lady*

      Opposite experience here, but I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’ve “read” as older most of my life — I was the kind of teenager who’d get asked if I was the teacher on the first day of school, or warned to control my “children” when I was at the mall with unruly friends.

      I like to think I’m finally closing the gap between the age I look (40ish?) and the age I am (37). I no longer bristle at “ma’am” (I first heard it at age 10), and “Miss” doesn’t outright offend me, but I’m tired of the endearments from younger people trying to make a sale. From now on, anyone who calls me “young lady” or “sweetie” will be forever dubbed “pumpkin” or “sweetcheeks” or “fluffernutter,” at my option.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Heh. About 21, 22. As a kid I always looked 2-3 years older than I was. Until I hit my late teens/early 20’s, and “caught up to myself”… and then fell behind.

  25. Master Bean Counter*

    “Young Lady? I have underwear older than you.”
    Okay maybe you shouldn’t use that one. But a lot can be said with a raised eyebrow and a stare.

  26. Kristine*

    Whenever my husband and I would go out he would get “sir” and I would get “young lady” even though we’re the same age. Ugh. Getting knocked up helped with that, though. I’ve been “ma’am” ever since I started showing.

  27. nnn*

    I enjoy obliviously failing to notice that it’s me they’re talking to. (Or, if body language makes it fairly clear that it’s me they’re talking to, look around for the young lady standing behind me that they’re clearly addressing.)

    Following up verbally to make it clear to them that I’m confused because they said “young lady” and I’m not a young lady is optional.

  28. Delphine*

    I put up with “young lady” from people who are clearly and considerably older than me, but I can’t imagine my reaction if someone obviously younger than me tried it.

  29. Free Meerkats*

    When my mom (who turned 83 Saturday) gets this, she looks behind her and says something like, “Where?!?” She’s awesome!

  30. hopeful prospective retiree*

    I’m in my sixties, and being referred to as a young lady doesn’t merit a response from me. It takes what should be an innocuous social interaction and makes it awkward and unpleasant to push back. And the next person may enjoy being called young lady, leaving the poor likely minimum wage worker doing a of emotional labor. I usually just say, “Oh, I’m not so young, but thanks”. I don’t think this is meant as an insult.

    1. Elspeth*

      That’s your choice. Lots of women do NOT like being called “young lady” and have every right to push back on that.

    1. stitchinthyme*

      The people who are saying that are at work.

      Anyway, obviously Alison thought it was relevant enough to answer. Her site, she can do what she wants.

      1. government worker*

        That is definitely reaching and you know it. I didn’t say she couldn’t publish it — I’m just wondering why this is here. If this blog is going to turn into “complaining about service workers and how annoying I find them” I’d like to know. This question rubs me the wrong way.

        1. OP*

          Although I didn’t put it in my letter, I explained in an earlier comment that I first started thinking about this when a coworker got slapped down for saying it. He really offended one of our business customers and he was upset for weeks afterward. (He had had a good relationship with the business owner, who decided to put his daughter in charge of a large chunk of the administrative work. The daughter was not amused.)

          His supervisor reassigned the account, which was fairly lucrative, so his commissions were down for a few months until he could build up business with new clients. There were real work-related consequences.

          1. JustMyOpinion*

            Which is a major overreaction–the daughter could simply have said “Hey, can you refer to me as JustMyOpinion or ma’am or whatever”. I just can’t imagine being so offended by the term “young lady” especially if only used once and I didn’t speak up about it in the moment that I would kill a good business relationship and effect someone’s career.

            To me this is a type of person who sweats the small stuff and projects malice, sexism, and ill intent on those who are actually just trying to be friendly. Don’t like it, say something. Person keeps doing it, then you can have an issue.

            1. CM*

              Why do you assume that the coworker was otherwise completely respectful and the client enjoyed working with him, other than saying “young lady” one time?

              I’m really put off by all the comments here saying the OP was overreacting, or that in general being offended by a remark like this is being overly sensitive. If you have lived your life with people making assumptions about you and treating you in ways that are unfair, dismissive, or condescending, then noticing and saying something when that happens is NOT an overreaction. It is a perfectly reasonable and valid reaction.

              Whether it’s worth doing at any particular time or context is a trickier question. But if you choose to politely express that you don’t like it every time? That’s your prerogative.

              1. JustMyOpinion*

                Because there is nothing to indicate otherwise. I appreciate your assumption regarding how I have lived my life. Considering I’m a minority in the field in which I work I have dealt with being treating in all the ways you list. What I have learned is you dilute the actual problems when there is an overreaction to a greeting that is not malicious or made with ill-intent.

                Even reading throughout the comments on here, you don’t see the same reaction to the term “young man”. Some even agreed that they liked the term “young fella”. If someone is offended by it, that’s is their prerogative. I think in the context of a one-off with a sales clerk that it’s an overreaction. It’s different if a phrase/term/nickname is used constantly by those you must be around everyday and they refuse to stop even after being asked. But that is not what the post is about.

    2. time for lunch*

      “How, when people are think they are being pleasant and complimentary toward me while doing their jobs, may I tell them that they are in fact being dismissive and irritating? Surely they are trying to do their jobs well. How can I give effective feedback expressing that this extremely common work strategy is not having its presumed intended effect, while still respecting their efforts as workers?” They are speaking to her while they are doing their jobs, because they are doing their jobs. If not for the job, they would not be addressing her at all.

      1. government worker*

        Answer: you don’t. You move on with you life and quit obsessing over minor interactions with people. You don’t write a work advice columnist to reinforce your ire. This is so incredibly dumb.

        1. fposte*

          And yet you’re doing the same thing–instead of moving on with your life, you’re commenting on a work column to reinforce your ire.

          1. government worker*

            I don’t really think it’s the same thing, but I see your point, kind of?

            Ultimately this question, to me, seems like punching down. Like, “I, a sophisticated and educated 60 year old (who doesn’t look THAT 60), cannot BELIEVE this retail worker is engaging in impersonal pleasantries that I find offensive because of my own hangups. I already have a way of handling this, but please, reinforce my opinion and let’s pile on this peon.” It’s gross and I don’t understand why it’s here. There isn’t really any advice.

            1. fposte*

              Though good intent isn’t exculpatory (I don’t want to hear “You look smoking today!” from a cashier either), so I think the question for me is at what point good intent isn’t sufficient for me to wave off an offensive comment. I’m certainly not a fan of snarling at anybody, but I don’t think the OP did.

              We’re also not talking a social situation–we’re talking a business environment, where they want the OP to give them money and has the absolute right to prefer businesses that don’t present her with this problem. She gave a reasonable and measured in her response, and I think it’s legitimate to say “Hey, that think you’re accustomed to saying as a pleasantry makes me an unhappy customer.” That’s feedback that a lot of businesses would really *want* to have, because unhappy customers more often just move along silently. And while you probably can’t please the outliers who want to be called “Your Serene Highness,” it’s reasonable to consider whether it’s important for you to stick to a pleasantry merely because you’re used to it or whether its benefits outweigh its downside.

            2. Name Required*

              I was trying to figure out why this letter bothered me so much. You hit the nail on the head.

            3. Ask a Manager* Post author

              There isn’t really any advice.

              The advice is “you don’t need to create a learning moment every time, but when you do want to, it might be better to say X than Y.”

              1. Aveline*

                It’s good you published it anyway. Sometimes it’s good for people to understand that things they might not think of as harmful or offensive can be so to others.

                So, thank you from all of us who hate being called young lady.

            4. madge*

              The issue is that referring to an adult woman as “young lady” isn’t just a pleasantry that OP finds offensive because of her personal “hangups”–it’s sexist language. Asking someone not to use sexist language isn’t punching down. Being marginalized in one way doesn’t exclude one from being privileged in other ways.

            5. PlainJane*

              This. It is punching down. Not everyone is as “woke” (for lack of a better word) as the commentariat here. And that’s why intent matters. People are doing what they’ve been taught to do, either overtly or by example. You have the right to ask them to address you differently, of course, but it’s nice if you can do that without being condescending or rude yourself. Standards are changing around language–and changing really rapidly. Plenty of people aren’t on the forefront of that.

            6. Jasnah*

              I agree. I guess anything even tangentially related to the working world is fair game, but complaining about how we as customers experience customer service doesn’t seem appropriate–I think we should focus on “what can we do AS workers” not “what can we do ABOUT/TO workers”.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Probably the overarching idea could be of general value to many people. The younger person in this question was working and on the clock when this happened. Just because OP is not at work herself does not mean this is not happening in a work context. The sales person is working.

      1. Jasnah*

        Yes but our options in dealing with things as customers is very different from when we are workers ourselves. How often are there letters saying “can I go to my husband’s boss/HR about this”?

        In this case we have to be aware of the power difference between the customer and salesperson, and think carefully about what is likely to get the result we want. Snarkily lecture a minimum wage worker who deals with verbal abuse all day and could be fired based on customer complaints? Or speak to the manager/owner about their training policies for how workers address customers?

  31. LadeeDa*

    The clerk at the wine store “are you old enough to buy this? HAHAHA” *wink wink*
    Me- *squinty, you’re an idiot look* “I am old enough to have children old enough to buy wine. ”
    Pointing out that you know someone is more than old enough to buy something that has an age requirement isn’t a compliment. it is annoying and stupid, and I am well aware I am in my mid-40s. Not a compliment, jerkface.

    1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      Some people would take it as the joke it was intended and laugh with the clerk. I know I would. I may make a comment like, “Dude, thanks for the compliment but I am old enough to be your father!” and I would say that with a smile and laugh!

      1. LadeeDa*

        I posted above in response to your similar comment… want to make sure you don’t miss it.

        A compliment is “It is state law that I have to check someone’s ID if I believe they are under 35.” and you don’t think they are older than 35, yet their ID says 45. That is a compliment.

        “Can I see some ID ladies hahahaha” *wink wink* You are pointing out that they are clearly not 21,or 35 — you are joking about their age, and it isn’t funny, they are just too polite to tell you so.

        1. fposte*

          Honestly, no, that’s still not a compliment. It’s just factual about a perception. Considering it better to appear 35 than 45 is buying into ageism.

        2. Susana*

          No. It’s only a compliment if you accept the premise that being younger is better, or that looking younger is better. And I don’t believe that. And yes, this is directed more at women, who are supposed to be thrilled if a man tells them they actually don’t look like they’re past their attractiveness expiration date.

      2. Parenthetically*

        Why is “I’m going to pretend you look younger than you actually do” funny, though? Why, especially, is “I assume all feemayles are tender about their age and want to be seen as perpetually 20 so I’m going to pretend you look younger than you actually do” funny?

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think this is a joke at their expense. However, I also don’t think it’s appropriate. This is the age equivalent of saying “You chose wine like a man!” as a compliment–it assumes a problem with the category people are actually in.

          1. Sunny*

            Mr. Cajun said “Some people would take it as the joke it was intended” and I’m saying that jokes (which this situation wasn’t) at someone’s expense aren’t jokes at all. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Part of the problem is the frequency. It’s not fun if it’s the 15th time I have heard it this week. I would be at the point where I can’t even pretend it’s clever or original.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, it’s funny that it’s coming from the same people who’d set their hair on fire if they had to hear “That means it’s free!” one more time.

  32. stitchinthyme*

    Not sure I’d be able to keep from rolling my eyes and saying something like, “You’re calling *me* ‘young lady’? You look about 12 to me.”

  33. Alienor*

    A handy guide for when it’s ok to address someone as “young lady”:

    – You are her parent and she’s in big, BIG trouble, young lady!
    – You are a shopkeeper in 1890, and she’s a girl who hasn’t graduated to long skirts yet and has come in to spend her pocket money on licorice whips and horehound candy

    Any other time is smarmy and condescending and gross, ugh.

    (Also, “Fine, callow youth, could you tell me where the anti-aging pills are?” is officially the best thing I’ve seen all week, and I think every AAM reader over 40 should adopt it immediately. )

    1. Princess Scrivener*

      oh. my. gosh. snort laughing and now my office-mate thinks I’m looney tunes… I really needed a laugh, though, THANK YOU!

    2. CoveredInBees*

      Yes, it feels very condescending which bothers me (personally) far more than it being a backhanded way of calling someone old.

  34. RainbowBrite*

    I’m 30 and it makes me laugh when I get it. I know I’m not old, but I haven’t thought of myself as a ~young lady~ for quite some time and it’s just so silly to me. I don’t even know how I’d react in 20 years if someone who is obviously and visibly several decades younger than me said it.

    1. TootsNYC*

      If you don’t like what Alison puts up on her free-to-you website, you are completely free to go somewhere else to read. The rest of us won’t miss you.

      1. darthbb*

        This reply is inflammatory and nonsensical. It should be standard in any community, especially the AAM community, that divergence of opinions be allowed.

        1. Bucket Residence, The Lady of the House Speaking*

          This isn’t a “divergence of opinion”, it’s a pointless complaint by a whiner.

          It also shows a severe lack of reading comprehension, since the relevance to work is quite clear in the letter, assuming basic critical reasoning abilities.

          1. Confused*

            Thanks but my reading comprehension is fine. Just because you go to a place where people work (i.e. any place that provides customer service) doesn’t make any problem encountered there a work problem.

          2. Perse's Mom*

            This is also inflammatory and nonsensical and also comes across as whining, with insults to boot!

    2. Silver Radicand*

      As a customer service manager, I find this quite relevant. I need to know what can come across as patronizing in order to best train my employees. It is less broadly relevant though.

      1. time for lunch*

        Exactly. It’s asking for how to give someone work-related feedback on a common work-related interaction strategy.

      2. Wulfgar*

        What is offensive to one person may not be offensive to someone else though. It’s all subjective. I personally wouldn’t find being called young lady offensive, sexist, or demeaning, but I’m obviously in the minority on this thread.

    3. Former Young Lady*

      It is, because the person who thinks it’s flattering to call women “young lady” is on the clock while doing it.

    4. OG Karyn*

      It’s a work problem for two reasons: one, because someone who was working did this and a person “across the counter” was asking how to handle it, and two, because this happens so very commonly in all sorts of work environments that it’s helpful to have feedback on how to respond to it.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Why have I published questions about vampires or letters that are more about relationship problems than work? Because people send them to me and I find them interesting. And this one is actually about a workplace. But with any site, some people will like the mix and some won’t.

  35. Karyn*

    When I was working at Fancy Makeup Store With A Black And White Theme, we would get the opposite – a lot of women would come in and ask for my help with their skin because they “looked ancient,” even though they were only in their 40s or 30s. Whenever I would (quite sincerely) tell them that they didn’t look nearly as old as they thought, the response would be, “Oh, you’re so young, you don’t understand!” I’m 33, so I’m not ancient, but I’ve also got age lines under my eyes that I didn’t have when I was 20! So I’d sort of get the “young lady” thing from the other side of the counter, in a way.

    That said, I never referred to anyone with an “age” term like that. My habit, that I continue to try and break, was calling everyone “hon,” and that’s because I grew up with friends from Baltimore who said it constantly. I don’t mean to be offensive with it, but it’s a hard habit to break! I never did it at my Office Job, and I certainly don’t do it with my attorney clients now, but at the Fancy Makeup Store where you’re encouraged to treat your clients as friends, it just sometimes happened!

    1. JustMyOpinion*

      Well, according to the OP in reference to what happened to OP’s coworker, calling someone “hon” who didn’t like it should be grounds for them to terminate their business relationship with you.

  36. AdhdAnon*

    My go to response to this is ‘you’re not old enough to call me young lady’ said with a smile. I usually don’t bother if it’s a onetime interaction, only if it’s someone I’ll be working with or seeing at least periodically.

    If they get insistent I tell the guy – always a guy- that no one younger than my father gets to call me that.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      I really like this response. It gets the point across while still being kind and giving the other party the benefit of the doubt, assuming they didn’t intend their comment to be offensive.

  37. somebody blonde*

    I think you could also say, “I know you mean well, but I find it very awkward when people call me young lady.” That way you acknowledge right up front that they’re not doing it to insult you and hopefully cause them to consider that you’re probably not the only one who feels this way.

    1. Dragoning*

      To be honest, as a former retail employee, I would smile and nod through all of this and wonder “why are you making that my problem?” and not change a single thing.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Valid point, there is an entire segment of people out there who would not register that they were causing someone to feel awkward and that was not a good thing. It is probably clearer to say, that the comment was rude or patronizing or condescending. In other comment sections we have often said that we are not responsible in SOME situations for how another person feels. I can see how a person might carry that rule of thumb over to this situation also.

        1. Dragoning*

          It’s not that I don’t realize it’s a problem–but I may never see this particular woman ever again, and plenty of people aren’t offended. What am I supposed to, memorize her face and put it next to “Do not call ‘young lady’ again?”

          1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

            Personally, I’d just stop calling everyone “young lady” unless I was busting someone under 18 shoplifting. Generally a, “Pardon me”, “May I help you?”, “Next in line, please” works just as well for everyone

            1. Dragoning*

              Personally, I’ve never called anyone a young lady and have no desire or intention to.

              But I also would not appreciate getting a lecture from a customer over something like this, and wouldn’t really factor it into…anything, ever.

          2. Mellow*

            ^^^Exactly what I was thinking, Dragoning.

            Much too much is being made of this. I really wish the commentariat would save its outrage for *intentional* sexism by adults who know better, rather than pile on some kid who thought he was being polite.

            Good grief.

      2. AnonyMouse*

        I don’t work in retail, but I do work in a heavy public facing role. I am very familiar with the smile, nod, say “we’ll take that into consideration,” and then never think about it again lol!

    2. TootsNYC*

      I would also add, “It just underlines the fact that they -really- think I’m old. If I were really 30 or something, they wouldn’t say it.”

  38. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    A regional grocery store used to give senior citizen discounts. There were customers who were upset when they got the discount and didn’t qualify for it and there were customers who were upset when they didn’t get the discount and they did qualify for it.

    It is a fact in the south that women do generally (yes, I know I am making a broad generalization here) prefer to be assumed to be younger than they are.

    1. London Calling*

      Ha, I always ask for the senior discount. If it saves money I take it and the hell with anyone knowing my age.

      1. Arielle*

        Not even a little. I am 34 with a young face and people routinely assume I’m in my mid-20s, and therefore am much more junior or have less experience than I do.

    2. TootsNYC*

      OK, let’s say that I *do* want to be assumed to be younger than I am.

      If I am clearly over 45, and you call me “young lady,” you just told me that you noticed I’m old.

      1. Lissa*

        This is what I think!! I don’t get doing this to be polite. Literally nobody thinks you think the 60 year old lady is 20. so it just comes off as…worse somehow, like extra pointing our they’re 60! I mean, I think sometimes this is just a stupid joke and not sexist, such as when a great-grandparent is blowing out candles on the cake and they make a joke about them turning 18 or whatever. but even then it’s a very dumb joke people should stop making, lol.

    3. Grapey*

      My store’s policy was just to grant it to anyone who asked… but they definitely had to ask.

      We were allowed to ID people if we thought someone was pulling a fast one but nobody ever tried (at least with me).

  39. Silver Radicand*

    I am curious what the commentariat would think about one of my prior employees. He was about 65 and worked as a cashier for those getting cancer treatments. He would regularly use the phrase “young lady” or “young man” in his friendly interactions with the patients or family members cashing out.

    I was uncertain myself, but I never heard a complaint about it, only positive comments and it was used equally on both men and women, but typically only those above 50.
    I never addressed it. Would you have done so?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Cancer patients are rarely in a place to complain about the way a cashier is speaking to them. They’re ill and pumped full of medicine that wrecks their functions…my dad didn’t know a darn thing being said to him and my mom was focused on guiding/comforting him as they went through the motions at a treatment center.

      So he’s being patronizing but tbh when dealing with the ill, soft parental tone and language is comforting to many.

      I get a lot of folks with those bedside manners. Much different than a fully functioning adult talking to another fully functioning adult scenario.

    2. Observer*

      Interesting question. But it does make a difference that he was using it the same way for men and women.

    3. fposte*

      I wouldn’t be delighted with it but I also wouldn’t bother to complain about it. Though given the situation I might at some point respond that I really hope I’ll live to be an old lady.

    4. Oh So Very Anon*

      My mom is in assisted living. She is unable to do much for herself physically. She is tiny (4’7″) which makes people want to treat her like a doll. I have to remind staff regularly that she is an adult, and able to make adult decisions on her own behalf. If she wants to stay up till midnight to watch TV, that’s her choice. If she wants to sleep in and skip breakfast, she gets to do that. If she doesn’t want to have her hair brushed today, leave her the f*ck alone. Being old and cute seems to be a magnet for patronizing behavior.

      1. fposte*

        One of the things I really liked, when my father first looked into continuing care retirement communities, was the one we visited where residents with dementia found wandering were still addressed by honorifics, same as the other residents; just because you weren’t sure which door was yours and what year it was didn’t mean you were suddenly going to get called “Babs” by the staff.

        As it happens, that practice faded for all the residents by the time my father decided to move, but that was clearly an intentional practice of respect for people who often don’t get it, and it did indeed prove to be a good sign.

    5. AnotherKate*

      Maybe. I have to think people just having gotten cancer treatment are perhaps too exhausted to have that fight with someone but may have been put off by the phrase nonetheless.

  40. Kevin*

    My wife and I were checking into a cruise. The young male (early 30s) staff member directing arriving guests to the different check in desks said “you can go to the young lady right there”

    We stood there for a minute trying to figure out what desk he was talking about. Then he said “the young lady with the silver hair right there.” And pointed to an open desk with a woman in her mid 60s who had grey hair.

    I get being polite but it just is patronizing and confusing at a certain point.

    1. London Calling*

      IMO opinion it grates. You know that most of the time they are trying to be polite and nice and think they’re being flattering but YOU know you aren’t young any more – or not as young as you were – and you know they know. It’s a verbal pat on the head, isn’t it?

    2. Parenthetically*

      That is so weird!

      “If you’ll just step to the third desk, Janet, with the glasses, will help you!”

      1. Sunny*

        You can also respectfully say “Janet, with the silver hair, can help” and it wouldn’t be an insult in any way to Janet. Because Janet has silver hair, obviously.

  41. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I cringe to hear “that’s how I was raised” tossed around.

    Right. We were often raised to a certain set of standards and disciplines that become outdated or worse, found to be rooted in sexist or other bigotry practices.

    Ethnic slurs used to be household words we had to erase too.

    1. time for lunch*

      Seriously. “I was raised to believe that I can talk down to certain types of people, and they don’t get any say in it.”

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s reminding me of the co-worker who referred to the two girls as the slur used for those with parents of a different ethnicities! She wasn’t crude or bad just very behind the times.

        My dad needed me to explain what blackface was. He didn’t know a darn thing about it just that it’s wrong and people make the news but didn’t know the history behind it, etc.

    1. Foxy Hedgehog*

      I can excuse Ma’am pretty easily. (a) some kids are still brought up with the “sir”/”ma’am” habit, and (b) even if they are not, after a couple of years in the military it could take a couple more years to get rid of the habit.

      This in no way excuses the patronizing “young lady” thing. It’s just that “ma’am” is required by many parents as well as the USA’s largest employer, and it’s hard to break a verbal habit.

      1. Dragoning*

        There’s also…well…as someone who was working retail recently…if you don’t know someone and certainly don’t know their name, such as a customer, what do you call them to get their attention? I was trying to be conscious about gendered assumptions and age assumptions, but I can’t say “Hey, you over there with the red hat” because that’s…so much worse.

        1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

          “Pardon me”, “Excuse me”, “May I help you?”, “Can I get something for you?”, “Next in line?”, “Can I help you find anything?”, etc.

          1. Dragoning*

            “Excuse me, you left your bag! Excuse me! Excuse me!” gets no one’s attention ever. Ever. I have to call them something or they do not hear me.

            Trust me. From experience.

            1. One of the Sarahs*

              My experience is the opposite – but I can’t understand how people who wouldn’t hear “Excuse me, you left your bag! Excuse me! Excuse me!” as they were walking away/on the phone etc would magically hear you if there was a “young lady” or a “ma’am” tacked on there – especially if it was a woman in her 60s being young-lady’ed, or a woman in her 20s being ma’am-ed.

          1. Dragoning*

            Not when there’s a crowd of people and you need to get one specific person’s attention, if they left something behind, or dropped something. No.

            1. One of the Sarahs*

              But how would saying “young lady” or “ma’am” help here? Unless there’s only 1 woman in your hypothetical crowd of men, or 1 teenager in a group of older people. ESPECIALLY if a woman in her 60s in a crowd had left something behind, saying “young lady” is *not* going to help!

    2. Parenthetically*

      So we have folks in this thread saying “miss” is offensive, and others saying “ma’am” is offensive. What alternatives exist in English?

      1. Lena Clare*

        I’m not saying it’s offensive. It was a joke.
        I don’t really expect men who call me ma’am to kneel.

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        Just saying, in the UK it’s very, very rare to be called either of these – they feel like they’re specific to certain parts of the US. In face-to-face conversation with a server, there doesn’t seem to be the same need to add honorifics. There might be some “How’s your day going?” chit-chat, or it might be more straight-to-the-point, but aside from specific regional variations in specific settings (everyone being called “love” in a Yorkshire market, eg, which would be seen as weird in most other parts of the country) there aren’t those standard blanket terms like that here.
        (There might be an “is it ok to call you Sarah?” conversation on the phone, but in a shop or café, there are 1000 ways of being polite that don’t involve either of these words, and it’s pretty fascinating that we use the same language, but in such different ways)

  42. Oh So Very Anon*

    OP, you are my kinda hero! Please don’t stop doing what you’re doing! Person by person, we’ll educate the world!

    My particular button (note that I’m 66) is when people say, “Oh So Very is 66 years young!” Even when it’s said about someone else, it just makes me cringe. I’m the age I am. It’s a neutral fact-based number, based on the number of years I’ve been on the planet. You don’t say someone is 25 years young. What is the magic number that makes this necessary? I am not uncomfortable about my age, why are you?

    OK, rant over…

  43. old enough*

    It’s also about groups. Just as every cohort of people–whether you divide them by age, race, gender, or any other grouping–have words/phrases that aren’t offensive when someone within that group uses them, it’s applicable here.

    I’m in my sixties and look like I’m in my sixties, which is OK with me. When someone my age or older uses terms like ‘young lady’ or ‘girls’ I internally roll my eyes but it’s not offensive. If someone who’s not in my age cohort uses those words it’s condescending as hell and massively inaccurate. How long do you think I’ll live? 200?

  44. Nicelutherangirl*

    I agree that “young lady” is condescending, patronizing, sexist, and just plain odd. One more reason I hate it when someone in a customer service role uses it, though, is that it feels like an attempt at an unnecessary and inappropriate amount of familiarity. Rather than getting caught in a lecture about ageism and sexism (however justified), you might be able to change the offender’s habit by pointing this out.

    1. Dragoning*

      There was a retail worker (older than I) who called me “baby girl” the other day (I’m 25). That felt overly familiar and patronizing. “Young lady” isn’t so bad, imo.

      1. Sunny*

        I got “Hon” the other day from a woman at the bank drive-up window. Not your hon, and you’re handling MY money and looking at MY bank account, so please just smile and be polite without calling me pet names.

  45. Rez123*

    This is interesting since I’ve come across “young man” comments a lot more than “young lady”.

    When I was in customer service I worked really hard to find a way to speak without addressing people as anything. Just avoiding all personal pronouns and any form of addressing a person.
    Sometimes it was difficult and i let polite form of “you” slip out. Oh boy, people really disliked it and commented in it quickly

    1. kittymommy*

      Me too. I actually hear “young man” and then am referred to as “ma’am” by the same people.

      1. Monroe*

        ‘You’ is the polite form of ‘you’. ‘Thou’ is the informal/intimate form of ‘you’.

    2. Brett*

      Same here.
      I’m called “young man” probably 5-6 times a day. (And I am quite distinctly not young.)

  46. HereToMakeMoneyNotFriends*

    As a long-time restaurant manager who has had customer service skills drilled into my skull over a dozen years, I’ve made a habit of interjecting in situations where I see something wrong and have no authority to call it out, but I do anyway. I rudely educate staff and patrons on why what they are doing is offensive, like when people seat themselves at a restaurant. But I’ve realized I’m the one being offensive. You have to pick your battles.

    Being called “young lady” is definitely sexist and ageist, but expecting an old grandfather who has used this phrase for most of his life is unreasonable. He probably genuinely thought he was being nice. Let it go. You can’t really do anything unless you’re this guy’s boss and in charge of his training. Otherwise you’ll come across as rude and will likely make enemies of the businesses you frequent. I’ve learned this from experience. Not worth trying to be a social customer service warrior, especially towards some old guy a couple days from retirement.

    1. Mouse*

      From the OP:
      “Today I went to a store where someone who was in his 20s or 30s …”
      Bit young to be referred to as “an old grandfather”.

    2. OP*

      But I did let it go when it was the older-than-me guy at the farmers market. Being called “young lady” by a retail worker who was younger than my son was what irritated me. Working with someone who used the term and lost a customer because of it was what motivated me to want to give feedback.

        1. old enough*

          Not the OP, but yes. I’m 60+ and will accept (not like) terms like ‘young lady’ or ‘girl’ from people my age or older. From someone younger? Nope, it’s condescending and creepy. Think about words and phrases that are acceptable within certain groups but not from outsiders….same thing.

    3. HereToMakeMoneyNotFriends*

      I see now that I both misread and misinterpreted this (had several AAM tabs open). I still stand by my opinion to not insist on correcting other people’s weird but harmless behavior. They are likely doing what they have been taught or are modeling their behavior from elder family members or supervisors, much like we all did in our teens and twenties. Calling out a 20-something cashier is not going to do much other than embarrass him and make him worry that he’ll get in trouble, not to mention make YOU look like the jerk. You can’t control other people’s behavior or words, just your own.

        1. HereToMakeMoneyNotFriends*

          I respectfully disagree. It was definitely stupid but it doesn’t sound like anybody was hurt, maimed, or killed in this transaction. OP admitted that the employee was upset by her criticism, that he said he was trying to be polite, and that she does this sort of thing regularly. She even said she doubts stores train people to do this, so it’s obviously a dumb one-off. This person did not seem to have any ill intentions. Sounds like OP is looking for a reason to be offended or just likes to debate semantics. If any harm was done, it was to that poor employee’s ego. Poor guy is just trying to be nice and instead gets publicly educated for his mistake. How embarrassing for him.

          1. Elspeth*

            It’s sexist. The OP was not rude, nor did she berate the young worker. Just because you think it’s “harmless” does not make it so.

          2. Totally Minnie*

            Benevolent sexism is still sexism. It still reinforces the system that makes it harder for a subset of humanity to achieve their goals. OP specified that the store wasn’t crowded and there weren’t people nearby, so he wasn’t publicly called out. He was given some relevant information in a very polite way, by a person who wants him to succeed in his future endeavors. If OP didn’t want him to be successful, she wouldn’t have tried to help him understand why this is hurtful.

            And honestly? The only way we’re going to break down the walls that sexism has put up is if we’re willing to do some harm to some male egos. That doesn’t mean being scathing or rude, it means behaving like OP did.

          3. CM*

            So… when someone is just trying to be nice and compliments me on how well I speak English, because they assume I’m a foreigner based on my skin color, I should avoid correcting them. Because I might hurt their feelings. And I guess I’m just looking for a reason to be offended or just like to debate semantics. Their potential embarrassment matters more than my dignity.

    4. Rebeck*

      The person serving the OP was in their 20s or 30s. Not a grandfather (presumably) and certainly not “a couple days from retirement”!

  47. Atlantis*

    The one and only time in a job when I was confortable being called “young lady” was when I was working under a guy in his late 70s when I was a teenager. When a customer would ask him for something he couldn’t/wouldn’t do, but one of the employees could, he’d call one of us over and say something like “This young lady will be able to help you with that”. The reasons I felt okay with that is that was that he also referred to the guys as “young men” in those situations, and we were all teenagers, and so to him we were quite young. You could tell he never meant it in a patronizing way. I liked him as a boss quite a bit.

    Even though I am still quite young (mid 20s), I would feel that people were being condesending if they refer to me in that way, unless they really are that much older than I am. If a boss or coworker referred to me that way now, I’d get really annoyed really quickly. Even my parents never called me “young lady”.

    I agree with Alison’s scripts, and yours as well OP. “What an odd way to refer to a grown woman.” is a great response, especially said calmly and with a raised eyebrow. It puts all the awkwardness back on them without being confrontational. If they then come back with defensiveness or it was how they were raised, then the rest of your response is perfect, OP.

    1. TootsNYC*

      This is interesting.

      To me there is a big difference between being referred to as a “young lady, and being addressed as “young lady.”

      Referring to someone as a “young lady” feels respectful, actually.

      I think there’s some amorphous point when “That young lady over there can help you with that” becomes an inappropriate phrase, because it says, “I notice she is NOT young anymore.”
      Of course, if the speaker (or hearer) is 75, that point will be different than if they are 25.

      And if you are at all peers, then no matter what your age, “young lady” or “young man” is condescending.

      1. Close Bracket*

        > Referring to someone as a “young lady” feels respectful, actually.

        For teenagers, maybe. Not when said person is a grown ass adult.

    2. Susana*

      You were a teenager. Still a bit iffy, but not so bad. I’m in my 50s, and am mostly called “young lady” by men in their 20s-30s. It’s patronizing – it’s a way of saying, I’m younger and less experienced that you are, but I’m a man, and can put you in your place with this “compliment” – the compliment being that I get to judge you by how young you look, because I’m male and you’re female. It’s incredibly disrespectful.

    3. Close Bracket*

      > when I was a teenager

      So when you actually were a young lady? Part of the reason “young lady” is so offensive to grown women is that it is a term of address used for teenagers. It’s a way of minimizing us and making us easily dismissed.

  48. AnonyMouse*

    I’ve potentially been on the receiving end of this “feedback” even though I was not trying to make a reference to the person’s age at all. In my job I have to frequently give presentations that involve Q&A with the audience. Because I’m usually pointing at someone in a large crowd to call on them, and it’s not always clear who I’m pointing to (I also almost never know the names of anyone in the audience), I’ll usually try to reference something distinguishing about the person I’m calling on to make it clearer. Usually it’s their position in the audience and/or clothing (i.e. “in the back in the blue jacket”). Well I called on an older gentleman once who was wearing a gray shirt, so I said “in the gray.” He got all upset and made a comment about how he hoped I wasn’t referencing how old he was. I was like “… I was referring to your shirt.” Those of us in heavy customer service roles can never be perfect, can we?

    1. fposte*

      The fact that people may get upset when they misunderstand a situation doesn’t mean that there are some basic considerations that customer service people would do well to consider. This isn’t about making sure nobody will ever be annoyed; it’s about avoiding some commonly insulting implications. The number of customers who are delighted to be called “young lady” is likely to be much smaller than the number of customers who don’t like it much. And some of the latter aren’t going to say anything–they’re just going to silently move along.

      1. AnonyMouse*

        I wasn’t trying to excuse the OP’s situation with this story, but as others are discussing about how the alternative greetings (i.e. “Ma’am,” “Miss,” etc) can still upset people I thought I’d chime in with this example. Yes, those of us who interact with the public frequently should avoid being jerks as much as possible, but even when we’re trying really hard to not be jerks we’re inevitably going to upset someone.

  49. Ann*

    There is a bagger at the supermarket I work at who asks every woman who appears over 50, “Has anyone told you you look 21?” I hadn’t known why this bothers me until today’s letter. Thankfully, they seem to take it as a compliment. I’m 56 and look better than I did at 21. Everyone wants to look their best, and the “best” isn’t always younger.

  50. NJ Anon*

    As recently as last week an older, male co-worker called me the same. I’m 59! In a joking tone I told him I wasn’t young or a lady, laughed and walked away.

  51. No Longer Indefinite Contract Attorney*

    Man, after finally getting my co-worker to stop calling me “kiddo,” I was really hoping I’d see the end of it! I sure hope not. :( But Alison’s script here is so perfect. I love it. Confused, matter of fact, and startling without taking too much thought.

    This reminds me of a photographer I had started talking to for our wedding. He kept calling me ma’am and *literally* ended every sentence (and sometimes started too!) with “ma’am.” I hate that title, but if someone says it once or twice I leave it. I told him to not refer to me that way and he went off on a tangent about how he calls everyone ma’am or sir. I was so taken aback I laughed uncomfortably and scheduled the appointment. After thinking a bit, I emailed him and canceled the appointment, telling him that he made me particularly uncomfortable by insisting on repeatedly referring to me by a title I told him I did not want to be called.

    It was really bizarre.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      He was pretty rigid about that. Kind of makes one wonder what else he would have dug his heels in over.

    2. TootsNYC*

      to me it would be far less about being called ma’am, and far more about him needing to add it at the end of nearly every sentence.

      It would start to feel controlling, or something.

  52. TGIF*

    Flip side being, when I worked in customer service, I had the odd customer or two who said that calling them ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ made them feel old. There is just no pleasing some people.

    1. Parenthetically*

      Yeah, there just flat is not a good alternative to “sir”/”ma’am.” I’m not one to tell people to deal with it when it comes to stuff like this, but “sir”/”ma’am” have a long history of being used as polite forms of address for people whose names you don’t know, and are better than the alternatives.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      “Most certainly, if I had know that would offend you, I would not have said that.”

      The stop talking.
      Clearly the next sentence would be, “How do I know who will be offended and who won’t be offended?”

    3. AthenaC*

      I certainly remember those days, and as Parenthetically said, sir / ma’am is really the best option, even if some people don’t like it.

      When I got that response, it was relatively easy to say, “Well, I’m sorry about that – anyway, what can I help you with?” to then transition back to the business conversation.

    4. CMart*

      “‘Sir’ was my father” grump grump grump.

      “Okay dude, is Mr. Sir around to accept this double vodka rocks then?”

      Bartending had me hearing it all, and let me get away with a lot, ha.

  53. Ann O'Nemity*

    I recently read a research study about the proliferation of elderspeak in Western culture – talking to the elderly with baby talk like they are really young or stupid. Slow speech, lots of repetition, and inappropriately calling them “honey,” or “little girl.” Of course, the recipients find this condescending, patronizing, and upsetting. Not only that, it can have health consequences! The article was mostly focused on this happening in healthcare and caregiving, but it’s more widespread than that.

    1. TootsNYC*

      interesting about the health consequences!

      My mom started getting “elderspeak” from her colleagues, so she dyed her gray hair auburn, and it stopped.

  54. Cat Fan*

    A guy who works in the cafeteria of the building where I work refers to everyone as young. He’s probably my age (mid forties) or a little younger. Every woman is “young lady” and every man is “young fella”. I have been annoyed in the past by certain people calling me young lady, but since this guy does it equally to everyone I never really think much of it. I suppose he is patronizing all of us, really. He makes a good egg sandwich and that’s what matters most to me.

    1. Urdnot Bakara*

      “Young fella” is such a hilarious alternative to “young man.” Tempted to call everyone this from now on.

    2. Close Bracket*

      Oh, I love “young fella.” I have “young manned” men who call me young lady, but it’s not the same. “Young fella” is a much better equivalent.

  55. Susana*

    This make some nuts, and it seems to be happening more recently – like the memo went out that middle-aged women all want to be called “young lady,” and will giggle and blush at the reference. And not just customer service, but people like airport security or passport control, where you feel like if you make a stink, it’ll create problems.
    I’ve just started saying: “Ma’am. Please.” Calmly. But directly.

  56. Jennifer*

    My mom hates this too, along with being spoken to like a child or called __ years young. It’s so condescending.

  57. AthenaC*

    OP, I can see how your comment can come across as jarring, and possibly not achieving the intended outcome. You acknowledge that it’s likely learned behavior with benign intent (in my experience, anyway), but that doesn’t mean we don’t want it to change!

    My suggestion would be –

    Clerk: “Young lady …”
    You: *insert mirthful laughter here* “What an odd thing to say!” (amused tone of voice)
    Clerk: “It’s just the way I was raised …”
    You: *more laughter* “Oh you dear little boy – now about (abrupt change to Actual Business Thing) ….”

    I think that’s how you get the message across in a nonthreatening way without taking up too much time, and you even get to throw a totally-not-infantilizing term back at them. It’s a win-win!

    1. LadeeDa*

      In the South, we would replace ” “Oh you dear little boy” with “bless your heart” or even “bless your pointed little head” HAHA!

  58. Michaela Westen*

    I decided to stop covering the gray last year and it looks great coming in. I get lots of compliments, often from younger men. :D If that helps…
    I rarely get “young lady”, haven’t in years, and then only once in a long while. I wonder if it’s a regional or cultural thing? OP, if you don’t feel up to correcting them in the moment, you could make an effort to avoid stores where people treat you like this.

  59. Christine Dutton*

    I also dig your recommended word choice to address this. Pair it with a quizzical/this is confusing look. That will help with the person not being offended and more likely to take the comment to heart. Word choice, body language and tone are key to a successful interaction!

  60. Alex the Alchemist*

    I guess what I’m confused about, is if someone wants to compliment someone, there are much less potentially fraught ways of doing it. I understand if someone originally didn’t realize that saying, “young lady” had difficult connotations to certain people, but after that point, why not just say something like, “I love your hair!” or “Your shirt is so cool!” or something like that. There are so many more nice things to say to someone that don’t have sexist/ageist baggage.

  61. Micromanagered*

    I’ve taken to just “Oh please, I’m [age]” with a flat expression when I get any kind of comment that’s supposed to make me feel good for being “young-looking.”

  62. Marvelous Mrs. Manager*

    This makes me feel so icky. It’s ingratiating and insulting at the same time and immediately makes me think the deliverer of this line is sexist, ageist, and a narcissist. It also reeks of insincerity and would make me doubt EVERYTHING this person said to me afterwards. I’m in my late 30s, so I still get “legitimately” addressed as “young lady” by older men and it’s still gross! It signals that they immediately only notice your gender and age.

    1. Close Bracket*

      so I still get “legitimately” addressed as “young lady” by older men

      No. No, you are not “legitimately” addressed as “young lady” by older men. You are a grown woman regardless of how much older than you they are.

  63. Urdnot Bakara*

    This is so strange and I’m at the age where it’s almost on par with being called “sweetie” or “honey” for me. Why can’t they just say, “How can I help you today, sir/ma’am?” This accomplishes the goal of being polite without being weird!

    1. JustMyOpinion*

      Because many people find that offense–and it doesn’t stop many comments on here that the first thing they noticed was your gender.

  64. Jen*

    How is this work related? Honestly, service and retail workers are just doing their best- give them a break. I had so much grief from older customers when I worked in retail, and often it was unnecessary.

    1. Babylonian*

      They’re at work. She’s a customer/client. Hence, it’s work related.

      Why are so many people struggling with this concept today?

      1. Jen*

        Doesn’t the fact people are saying this indicate something?

        To be honest, aside from the post’s relevance, I’ve been really upset by the response in the comments. Usually I think everyone is really smart and compassionate here but retail is hard and the people working there don’t deserve to deal with personal grievances. This situation is really not a big deal – let it go and let the person do their work. Believe me, they’ve probably been snapped at multiple times that day already.

        1. Wulfgar*

          I’ve noticed that the replies have been vehement. The comments toward people who don’t find “young lady” offensive, sexist, or demeaning have, for the most part, been rather vitriolic. Although we are in the minority, it’s how we feel, and we have the right to feel that way.

          1. Mellow*

            Well said, Wulfgar, and I’m surprised some of those pro-OP comments have been left published. Calling someone a whiner and challenging their reading comprehension skills are personal attacks, and I thought those kinds of thinsg weren’t allowed here. Alas…

            1. Jen*

              What part of my comment said any of that? From my POV, the vitriol has been completely out of proportion on one young salesperson.

              1. Perse's Mom*

                The personal attack was a different comment further up, aimed at someone else, that’s what Mellow was referring to.

  65. My Brain is Exploding*

    I have’t had time to read all the comments yet, but for years I’ve saved this quote from Miss Manners, which was included in a discourse on how older people are treated…such as calling an elderly woman “young lady.” “To be told that one is what one is obviously not — as when a smart woman is told that she ‘thinks like a man’ or an American that being cultured makes him seem more like a European — denigrates what one actually is.”

      1. My Brain is Exploding*

        FYI… Depending on the combination of conditions/people involved, I might let this pass, or I might just ask the person to call me something different, or I might make more of an issue of it.

  66. Anxious*

    Why does everybody look forward to being a “grouchy old curmudgeon?” I see people say this everywhere.

    I for one look forward to being a pleasant old fellow that can lift the spirits of these poor people trapped in their soul-sucking retail jobs.

    1. LadeeDa*

      My 95 yr old Southern grandma, who used to be the epitome of grace and charm, now says whatever she wants. A couple of years ago I asked her “at what age do social graces no longer apply?” She looked at me long and hard, and said “You are not old enough, young lady”
      Me “yes ma’am”
      LOL!

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Because people, especially women socialized to set aside their own feelings in favor of not “making waves” or “causing trouble” or “making a scene,” look forward to the liberty often granted to older folks to say what they think with fewer social repercussions.

    3. fposte*

      In my experience, most of the people on those retail jobs don’t want their spirits lifted by customers. They want customers to avoid being PITAs by being pleasant, polite, and fast; a lot of times the people trying to lift their spirits are more annoying than the people who just silently pay and get the heck out.

      1. Anxious*

        That’s all I mean. When I worked retail any time a customer would say “hello”, “how are you?” “please” or on the rarest occasion “thank you,” it would raise my spirits. I’m not talking making a big production or anything.

    4. Anna B.*

      As one of those “poor people” (patronising much?), please don’t bother. I don’t want my spirits lifted. I just want you to be polite and, most importantly, quick. The ones who try to be all cheerful and spirit-raising are so annoying!

      1. Anxious*

        …that’s literally what I’m saying. Customers can be ‘curmodgeons’ or they can be polite. I’m going to choose to do the latter.

  67. LadeeDa*

    Once my husband and I were talking to a contractor, a gentleman in his early 50s- about 10 years older than me, about some work on our house, and the man referred to me as “Wifey” I said “It is LaDeeDa or Mrs. X.” He said my name about 40 times over the next hour. When we got in the car , I mentioned it and my husband said “Oh yea, you teacher voiced him. He was SCARED.”

  68. BeachMum*

    My accountant called me ‘young lady’, although I’m a few years older than him, for months, even after I’d asked him to stop. He also tried giving me a nickname. For that reason, among dozens of others, he’s not going to be our accountant for much longer.

    I find ‘young lady’ to be totally dismissive and sexist. Until I said those words to him, he couldn’t manage to remember to use my name.

  69. Quake Johnson*

    I’m a male in my mid-20s and I absolutely hate when men 30+ refer to me as “buddy.” I’m not a friggin middle schooler anymore!

  70. E.Maree*

    Not sure if this is a UK regional difference, but as a cinema usher I was trained to use “sir” and “ma’am” and had customers:
    * Assume I was American and start shouting at me for using such an American address.
    (…I have a broad Scottish accent, but it scans as American to some people for reasons unknown.)
    * Stand shouting at me for five minutes about how “ma’am” was condescending and “as bad as if I was calling her ‘ducky'”.
    (Ducky? Really?)

    Honestly, for service staff there’s no winning. Please don’t shout at service staff. Our roles usually require us to show subservience and respect, and there’s apparently no way to do it without getting it in the neck from somebody.

    1. E.Maree*

      Apologies, I don’t mean that last paragraph to imply OP shouted at the staff. ‘Please assume the best intentions in service staff’ is better wording. There’s a lot of awkward scripts and unfortunate rules that staff are forced to comply with to keep their jobs, especially when they’re young and potentially in first jobs and/or jobs that turnover staff rapidly.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I don’t think “some people object to common forms of address” is a really good rejoinder to “I don’t want this odd and demeaning term used toward me.” It’d be like if I decided that some customers hate ma’am so I’m going to start addressing everyone as “yo b***h.”

      1. E.Maree*

        @Countess Boochie Flagrante I really don’t see how it’s like that at all–it’s quite a leap for you to assume I’m telling service workers to swear at customers.

        If you use sir/ma’am, someone will object to it. If you use miss/mister, you run into the old Mrs/Ms debate. If you use young man/young woman, you run into this post. And god forbid, in a service position, you try to use something chummy like ‘buddy’ or ‘friend’….

        I’m not saying the OP is wrong to dislike the term, but when a service or retail job demands you use a subservient form of address for the customer, you have to use *something*. And a lot of workers are stuck with whatever upper management has decided is the ‘right’ script for the job, and they can’t deviate from the script without risking their job.

  71. TootsNYC*

    Or there’s this:

    “When you call me ‘young lady,’ it tells me you have noticed my age, and you think I’m old. It doesn’t actually come across as a compliment.”

  72. AnderL*

    I absolutely *hate* being called “young lady” and did even when I was one. It’s condescending and patronizing. It’s also only a term I’ve ever heard men use, at least socially. Ugh.

    My favorite response is to give them a quizzical look and say “no one’s called me that in a very long time”. Like they’re kind of weird for saying that, but we can move on.

  73. Thursday Next*

    I wish in English we had non-gendered terminology for these kinds of interactions, because the concerns regarding ageism reflected in the “ma’am/miss” split are not mirrored in “sir.” Sure, the term can be dispensed of altogether—unless you’re trying to get the attention of someone who is walking away, for example. We don’t have a non-gendered “honored customer” term for that.

    Separately, not everything needs to be—or qualifies as—a teaching moment; I’m referring to some of the comments here more than the OP. Not tipping a waiter because he addressed your party as “girls”? By all means, walk away from the table before placing your order, but don’t make him do the work and rob him of his pay. That’s not an ethical response to gendered language.

    I’m a middle-aged women who gets called “miss” and “ma’am” in equal measure. CS reps and servers are just trying to use a form of polite address when the language we have doesn’t do the work of taking ageism off the table. I’ll admit I don’t get called “sweetie” or “dear” very much, and when I do it’s usually by elderly people I’ve just done a favor for. I’m fine with that. If my students all decided to call me “Hon” or “Dude,” that would warrant a response.

    1. nnn*

      I was just thinking that – or make it polite to simply not use anything in those places at all, e.g. consider it polite to say “Hey you! In the red shirt!”

  74. LadyCop*

    Some people would consider me a young lady…but even if I were 21, this would piss me off. I do think the OP needs to take it less personal…but unfortunately, such things are not restricted to those who are not “young”.

  75. LQ*

    Said with joviality “Only cosmically!”

    Customer service folks have a tough job and I know some people who really do take great delight in things like that. It’s not great, it definitely highlights a larger societal problem, but if it’s just the guy at the store I stopped in for something quick, I don’t have the energy for that battle, and he’s likely not going to hear it. (Hopefully what I do say will warm him up to it by someone else, which I think is often the goal of things like this. One stranger saying something like this once will rarely change someone’s mind. But lots of people subtly and directly both pushing back can.)

    If it’s someone I have to work with frequently, either work or in a place I routinely went, I might stop and have a conversation. It’s still likely not enough to sway, but maybe enough to get them to think for a few moments.

    I think your phrase works pretty well to start a full conversation.

  76. Dr. Doll*

    I guess we could go for universal and neutral: Comrade.

    *I* wish the people at the place I take my car would stop calling me a “guest.” Being a loyal customer or client would suit me fine, but if I’m a guest why did you just charge me $800 to sit in your lobby for 5 hours?

    1. Close Bracket*

      In the right circumstances, I go with, “That’s Dr. Young Lady.” Obviously a customer service interaction isn’t right for this, but in anything professionally related, I pull out the “Dr.”

  77. Come on*

    I’m as woke as the next person, but this does strike me as a bit of an overreaction, particularly since it was directed at someone in sales who is just trying to chat up a customer to make a sale. It might be different if it were a boss or a co-worker trying to gaslight you but, honestly, it is a little extreme. In fact, I am not even sure what it is doing on AAM since it has nothing to do with your work environment.

    I guess you have to ask yourself how you want to live. Do you want to be constantly offended by trivialities or just be a happy person. For me, I try not to assume malice.

    1. fposte*

      It doesn’t sound like she does assume malice. She’s just pointing out that their sales line doesn’t work. Are you suggesting she’s obliged to find it delightful and hand over her money?

      1. Seacalliope*

        “Today I went to a store where someone who was in his 20s or 30s looked at me and said, “How can I help you, young lady?”

        No one is an obligate consumer, but that also was in no way a sales pitch.

    2. PlainJane*

      “Do you want to be constantly offended by trivialities or just be a happy person. For me, I try not to assume malice.” So much this. Thank you.

  78. JustMyOpinion*

    Just a broad sweeping generalization, but I feel like when people focus on such a little thing…it really causes them some unhappiness in general in their life. It just seems like a really small issue to be so upset about.

    1. Dasein9*

      It’s not. It’s one example of systemic ageism and sexism that sometimes gets taken for granted but has tangible impact on people’s lives and well-being.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yeah, I’m not a fan of this logic. I’ve seen someone say this about a man literally groping women at a conference. (“back in my day, we didn’t make a big deal out of it, but these days, people are so easily offended”) We are evolving, and learning to be more considerate of our fellow humans, and to treat everyone equally regardless of which group they belong to, and I for one fail to see how it’s a bad thing.

        1. JustMyOpinion*

          I’m all for evolving and treating people as human beings. That is not what this is about. This is someone off-hand calling someone young lady. Would you have the same reaction to someone being called “ma’am”, “buddy”, “sir”, “miss”? This are all phrases which at some point in my career someone has been offended with being called.

          This isn’t groping, this isn’t a personal slight or offense at all, this to me is an overreaction. If it really bothers the recipient this much, their response isn’t any better, because they are responding as if the person meant malice or ill intent. Instead–a quick neutral toned “hey, don’t call me that” or “hey, most people, including me, wouldn’t want to be referred to that way” would be the best way to handle it.

          In general, most people in customer facing jobs are grasping at a way to be respect to customer without offending them. Hey you simply doesn’t cut it.

    2. dawbs*

      See, I’d say when people refuse toi consider the opposite in such a little thing, when they insist on the rightness (or the “why should i have to change? “) it’s evidence of their place if privilege and that they’re ideologically invested in the status quo.

      And people are invested in denying the microaggressions the inflicte are part ofdeath by a thousand paper cuts.

  79. MaureenC*

    OP, may I chime in with a suggestion?

    Next time you get “young lady” from someone where “young” isn’t even relatively accurate, tilt your head towards them sympathetically and say “I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by it, but I think some people might think you were being sarcastic.” (I’m guessing most of these salespeople aren’t saying “young lady” in a “we’re all friends joshing around” tone of voice.)

  80. Lis*

    I agree tone matters but people should work on never using it because it is offensive when applied to women and particularly older women. I don’t as a general rule object to being called anything not pejorative. I’ve not objected to darling, dear and many more when it was obvious the person meant no harm but young lady is minimising and disrespectful. I had a temporary manager who called me young lady and it was so disrespectful. I said to him (after letting it slide for like 2 weeks) “Please don’t call me that, we are of the same age” and when he continued I said “I’ve asked you not to call me that” he replied “no disrespect thats what i say to my daughter” like that helped the situation? I said “No that is disrespectful and you need to stop” I was fully prepared to go to HR if it continued after that but luckily a raised eyebrow if he started saying it after that stopped it entirely. And stopped it quickly, he knew he was in the wrong but wanted to minimise me until he was called out. Mind you the same guy yelled at a woman who phoned him that “how dare you talk to me directly you should have got your (male) manager to contact me” which is so far outside our culture it’s no wonder his contract didn’t get extended. He’s from the same culture so totally indicates he had some issues. But young lady to anyone who isn’t 10 or less (and even then I think it is demeaning) is disrespectful.

  81. McWhadden*

    Sure, let’s make life even more difficult for people in retail or the service industry who are just trying to be pleasant.

    1. CMart*

      Not calling older women “young lady” is not a burden on service workers. Being told it’s not a compliment and maybe they should stop would be good feedback.

      Sincerely, someone who once was lectured by a group of women for calling them “you guys” while acting as their waitress. Were they rude about it? Yeah. Were they right to point out people might be put off by it? Actually yeah. Did I stop? Yes. Was it a burden? Not at all.

  82. kobayashi*

    I agree that comments like “young lady” for grown women are a bit condescending, and slightly sexist since “young man” isn’t commonly directed to actual grown men. That being said, my initial reaction to the original poster’s response to that comment was to cringe a little. I think Allison is right – it’s going a bit too deep. Customer service people already have a tough job dealing with customers and the public every day. If I felt the need to educate someone about how they said something — when they are saying it in what I presume to be a good-natured way, with no ill-will — I’d try to find a gentler way of doing it (especially when it comes to talking to people who already have to put up with a lot of grief from people). Perhaps something like, “Thank you, young man, but I’m older than you.” Or something about being proud of the experience you’ve gained on this planet. Something that doesn’t automatically make the person out to be a jerk (when they didn’t mean to be) and still gets them to think about it. Again, this advice is context-specific for this situation — the often battered customer-facing employee.

  83. Quake Johnson*

    Not trying to be rude at all with this question:

    This letter brought up an interesting issue and the advice in the response was excellent. But it had nothing to do with work, offices, management, etc. Are we able to write in with general life advice questions now? I’d be all for it!

    1. Elspeth*

      It does have to do with work – the cashier (the young man) was working when he spoke to the OP.

      1. Ry*

        I totally agree, Quake Johnson, this letter seems like it would be much better suited to Dear Prudence or Captain Awkward.

        I get that the cashier was at work, but he isn’t the one asking for advice. LW isn’t navigating a work situation, she’s just being a retail customer, who can get away with all sorts of bullshit that doesn’t fly in an office. You could call him a little shit with no long lasting ramifications for you (maybe you are asked to leave the store, at worst) and certainly no professional ramifications. And she’s asking for just general advice for dealing with everyone, not just retail workers. It’s an odd letter to run when surely there is a large backlog of questions in the inbox.

        I’m not complaining, it’s Allison’s blog she can do whatever, I’m just expressing confusion.

      2. Quake Johnson*

        Eh that’s kind of a stretch. That’d be like writing in for dental hygiene advice because when you’re teeth are being drilled into the dentist will be working.

  84. Noodles for Dinner*

    This comes across to me as saying, “Awww, let’s make the old lady feel better by calling her young so she’ll feel pretty again.” Ugh, no thanks.

  85. Bobstinacy*

    This is a cultural thing, as such there is no right way to do it.

    I grew up in rural Canada surrounded by blue collar people and calling people older than you “young man/lady” is really common. It’s less usual with women because its assumed that we’re all sensitive about our age.

    If I get called ma’am it raises my hackles because that kind of formality is blue collar Canadian for “I don’t like you so I’m going to keep you at arms length”. I live in a city now surrounded by white collar people so I just deal with it because they’re being polite according to their own culture. The teenaged son of the guy who owns my neighbourhood corner store calls me auntie because that’s how he was raised to address older women.

    Sometimes you have to go along to get along.

  86. Ciela*

    I’ve lived in the Deep South for a very long time, and only 2 men have referred to me as “young lady”. One of whom is at least 30 years my senior, and the other at least 15 years my senior, so it’s not inaccurate.
    I find infinitely more likely to be addressed, by people of any age or gender, as “Miss Ciela”, rather than just “Ciela”.

    But I can certainly see myself in a few decades acting confused if I’m still being called “young”

  87. WickedWindyGlider*

    I’m in my 60’s as well and I despise being called “Young Lady”. That was my In Trouble name as a child and yes, I grew up in the south.

    I’ve told my mother how much I hate it and she, who is 86, says “just wait until you are my age and people start calling you “Honey” and “Sweetie”.

    Grrrrr.

    1. Quake Johnson*

      Huh. People where I live are constantly calling each other “honey” and “sweetie” all the time, no matter the age, the gender or how well they seem to know each other. It kinda boggles my mind that a) someone would reserve those terms for elderly women or b) someone would ever take offense to it.

      Regional vocabularies are weird.

  88. Mirea*

    This has happened to me. This has happened to me and my mother (50 and 80-something, respectively). It’s grating. Sometimes I ignore it. Sometimes I laughingly say “I haven’t been called ‘young lady’ since I was a teenager getting in trouble” but when I’m feeling prickly, I’ve said “I am neither.”

    Eh, I’m not proud of that last one but no one’s always on their best behavior.

  89. Mx. Mix*

    My coworker had one of my favorite retorts — granted, she was comfortable enough with her client to use it in the first place:

    An older male client of hers would constantly call her Sweetie on the phone. She very much hated it, and finally one day responded, “You know, only one man can call me Sweetie, and that’s my grandpa. And he’s dead.”

    No more Sweeties.

  90. Woman of a certain age*

    I’m 66. When a guy older than me calls me “young lady,” it’s cute and a bit flirty and I don’t mind, really. We’re both in the same boat, and it seems friendly. However, when a YOUNGER guy calls me “young lady,” it IS offensive, because it contains the assumption that NO woman would want to be older, and further, that my self esteem comes from whether this 20something cashier would want to flirt with me. (Imagine saying it to a powerful CEO, “Why good morning, young man,” and it’s very clear it’s not a sentiment of respect.) I laugh and say, “Oh, I’m an older lady, that’s fine with me.” or (breezily) “I’m not a young lady, and I’m VERY happy about that.”

    But it also depends how it’s said. I work out at the gym twice a week with a trainer, and I’m pretty much a chatty Cathy so I’ve made a bunch of friends there. The other day a 40 something guy who works there, who’s a real sweetheart–we’ve even treadmilled together sometimes–came over to me and said, super sincerely, “I just want to say, it’s SO inspiring to see you here. I mean, there you are, YOU, out on the floor, doing deadlifts, squats, the whole thing, and it’s so inspiring.” Which of course, means “AT YOUR AGE, it’s SO AMAZING, I mean if YOU, this feeble, antidiluvian, wheezing crone, can hobble out on the floor, ANYONE could do it!!!” But I knew he meant to say something nice. (I had a good laugh about it with my trainer.) Intent is everything.

  91. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

    There’s a homeless man who sells _Street News_ in my neighborhood. He calls out to everyone who walks down the street, with either “Good afternoon, sir” or “good afternoon, young lady.” I assume he thinks that will get him better results than using “sir” and “ma’am,” but it doesn’t feel at all respectful, to the point that I am very unlikely ever to buy his newspaper.

  92. Grocery Store Survivor*

    Having worked for a grocery store chain that was very big on being known for “southern hospitality”, I can say that this is quite possibly something they are trained/told to say. There are certain grocery store chains whose idea generators have incredibly warped views regarding acceptable forms of customer engagement.

    For example, I about had a fit when corporate passed down a new set of guidelines that encouraged employees to establish physical contact with customers (i.e. touching lightly on the shoulder in a “companionable” way) in an effort to seem like the neighborhood grocery store so as to differentiate the chain from other “fake” southern stores. The directive also instructed employees to address guests as “sweetie”, “honey”, etc. Myself and several other employees wrote in to corporate to explain why this was a horrible policy, but we were met with standard corporate responses rife with empty platitudes. It was no surprise when the incidences of stalkers went up, but that wasn’t enough to sway the big wigs in HQ that convinced them to squash that brilliant idea—it was the sudden flood of customer calls displease by having their personal spaces violated.

  93. IcarusTyler*

    In a job I once had my coworkers had the habit of addressing /every/ male person as “young man”.

    This lead to several situations where up to 6 “young men” of ages 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 stood next to each other and I had no idea who they actually meant :P

  94. RUKiddingMe*

    I freaking hate, hate, hate this, almost as much as I hate “Miss.” I am a grown ass woman, I know how old I am, and while like the OP I don’t look like death warmed over or anything, it is quite apparent that I am not a “young lady…” something which should stop being said to young *women* by they time they reach 18 or so.

  95. Bowserkitty*

    But there’s at least as much chance that you’ll just be written off as “grouchy old curmudgeon” (an identity I look forward to, personally).

    This in particular has me fangirling you today, Alison.

  96. Curmudgeon in Califormia*

    “Young lady”??? IMO, that’s only appropriate for a girl under the age of 13. (When I was a teenager I hated people pointing out that I was ‘young’.)

    Anything else is, quite frankly, extremely patronizing unless the person is at least your parents’ generation or older.

  97. CanadaTag*

    Heh. I actually had this happen (the “young lady”) from one of the workers at my local corner store (like very local, just in front of my side of my building’s parking lot local) whom I regularly chat with for a couple of minutes when I stop in. I kind of went, “Young?!” in surprise. Not that I necessarily consider myself “elderly” (though I’ve got some of the aches and pains that come with age, as well as the silver hair), but I’m in my forties and he’s definitely younger than I am. I’m pretty sure that’s the only time he’s said it to me. ;)

    Now, that might also have been a cultural difference (or he could have been trying the expression out), because he’s a student at our local university who comes from somewhere on the Indian subcontinent (can’t remember which part of it, but he’s mentioned flying home to see family and not being used to winters until he moved here). *shrugs* I don’t know. But given he’s not called me that again, I’m good.

  98. Sheila*

    I’m 68. Old men call me young lady and it’s like flirting. My grocery cashier is a lady older than me and she calls me young lady, so it’s like a joke. I’ll probably be rude the day someone a lot younger cals me young lady!

  99. Anoncorporate*

    “When you call me young, it makes me think you immediately notice how old a person is before you consider them as an individual.”

    Stealing this.

  100. Anoncorporate*

    My version of this experience is “hello there beautiful lady” from random dudes I’ve established NO camraderie with whatsoever, and sometimes in very inappropriate situations (like professional interactions). But I already know what responses I would get if I protested: “But I was just trying to pay you a COMPLIMENT!”

    Barf.

    1. Anoncorporate*

      Actually, come to think of it, “young lady” is more demeaning, especially when said to a grown adult. They’re intentionally infantilizing you.

  101. Stephanie*

    WOW. I actually think OP’s reply was on point. I remember being called “young lady” when I was in my early to mid 20s and working as a server, always by middle aged or older men. I thought it was completely patronizing and had wished that I could respond by calling them “old man”, but, of course, I was not in a position where I could do so. If I were a customer in my 60s and someone in his 30s or younger said this to me, I would absolutely put him in his place. This is incredibly sexist and disrespectful. I’m very, very curious as to how the offender could possibly think that this was good manners.

Comments are closed.