2 December 2015

Salutations

How do you feel about salutations? I prefer friends and former work colleagues to address me by my first name. However, my son and daughter never use my first name. They call me Dad. I have come across some families in which the kids are on first name terms with their parents but that practice irks me. It seems so unnatural.

When being served in a shop or eating establishment, I do not want to be "buddy", "mate" or "pal". Instead, I want to be "sir" and that is indeed how I address male customers when I am at the till in the Oxfam charity shop where I work every Wednesday afternoon. It has been the tradition in England for donkey's years and I am happy to play the expected subservient role for I believe that this shows appropriate respect towards customers who are in the process of parting with their hard-earned money.

Nowadays, all of us receive occasional e-mail messages from companies to which we have subscribed including banks, insurance organisations and utility companies. Increasingly, I have noticed how some of these companies are now taking liberties with the salutation. They seem to think that it is perfectly okay to use first names when addressing customers. Maybe I am an old fuddy duddy but I want distance between me and these companies. They are not my friends and I have never given them permission to call me by my first name. They just assumed it would be okay.

Our gas and electricity provider is a growing company called "Ovo". Recently, I sent them this message:-

Dear Ovo,
This is a matter that I have felt like airing before but now I have finally got round to it. I feel most uncomfortable when businesses address me by my first name. In fact I disapprove of this informal, chummy salutation. In my opinion, businesses should still address customers in the more formal, traditional manner - for example - Dear Mr Pudding. I expect family, friends and work colleagues to use my first name but not businesses - including energy suppliers. Please could you ensure that this preference is respected in future correspondence.
Yours truly,
Yorkshire Pudding

Ovo have now replied and basically they say that their computer system is set up to address customers by their first names. They say they want to appear "friendly and approachable". They apologise that it is more or less impossible to alter the computer configuration with regard to salutations. (This despite the fact that naming in several cultures does not correspond with the western habit of first name followed by family name!)

My reply to this lingered on the old truism - "Where there's a will there's a way". I also reflected on the "friendly and approachable" claim, asking what is the point of trying to appear "friendly and approachable" if in the end you ride over perfectly reasonable customer requests? Besides, the "friendly and approachable" style is simply a corporate illusion because at its core Ovo, like other utility companies, is in the ruthless business of making profits. They don't really care as long as they get their money. I doubt that they have ever received a similar response.

Perhaps you think I am being picky or precious over this matter but I think - why should I go with the flow? If nobody makes a stand, the disapproving message will never get through to them. As in many areas of unease and disapproval, it is attractively easy to simply submit, like sheep in a flock. Protesting is surely harder.

30 comments:

  1. I feel much the same as you about proper titles. When I'm at work I address all customers as "sir" or "ma'am" and even if I'm very friendly with regulars I still use "Mr" and "Mrs" followed by their surname if they're older than me. (Unless they ask me to use their first name!) Recently I asked an older couple from South America if I was being offensive to them when I practice my Spanish because I tend to use the informal "tu" instead of "usted" when addressing them. It had suddenly occurred to me that that probably wasn't very good manners! But they just laughed and said," We are friends so it is perfectly fine!" Plus I think they appreciate my efforts to learn their primary language.

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    1. Dear Madam,
      Though you are a youthful filly, it gives me great pleasure to learn that in some respects your values are traditional and that you are sensitive to nuances of language.
      Yours humbly,
      Mr Y.Pudding (Sir)

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  2. You are of course 100% correct, but I fear what your post is most indicative of is your advancing age. If you move to the U.S., by the time you reach my age most store clerks and food servers will address you as "honey" or "sweetie" -- a practice I dislike intensely. They mean well but are misguided. They probably think they are being kind.

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    1. Dear Mr Brague,
      Honey? Sweetie? They clearly haven't been following the wry and often vinegary remarks that have been the life blood of "Rhymes With Plague" for several years now.
      Yours faithfully,
      Y.Pudding (Mr)

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  3. In the past year I have noticed grocery clerks call me "miss." As in, "do you need help taking the groceries to your car, Miss?" It totally makes me snicker, as I'm obviously an old lady. It must be the latest thing taught to service employees because I hear it everywhere. Perhaps they think old ladies will be flattered? Any way, I don't care what anyone calls me. I have a dear old friend who still refers to me as Mrs. James, and a new 4 year old friend who calls me Jan. Honey, sweetie, or darlin' work well, too.

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    1. Dear Ms Blawat
      As you don't care what anybody calls you, I will start again...
      Dear Ann Coulter,
      As I have suggested before, California is still overrun with hippies fo whom modes of address are irrelevant as they sit spaced out on their scatter cushions communing with beings from the outer edge of the universe.
      Yours truly,
      D. Crockett (King of The Wild Frontier)

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    2. Random thoughts: Ann Coulter's neck seems designed for a guillotine, or maybe the retro version - an ISIS sword. I could send you raccoon skins for a new hat.

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  4. Your Lordship.

    This is a very interesting subject so far as I am concerned. In the UK In a situation where I am not on friendly terms with the correspondent I tend to prefer to be called by my surname when I'm being talked to in person or addressed in a 'proper' letter i.e. one that is not automatically computer-generated. I really don't care what a computer calls me. In New Zealand, however, the culture is different. I would not expect to be called by my surname in, for example, the doctor's surgery or give my surname if I am ordering a take-away. It would simply confuse the norm. However I was rather taken aback when speaking on the phone to an obviously young person in a Vodafone shop in NZ when she referred to me as 'mate'. That did rather go a little too far.

    I have the honour to be your Lordship's humble and obedient commenter ...etc.

    (With apologies to readers from the US and elsewhere who will not have any idea what I'm writing about).

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    1. Dear Mr Edwards,
      Sincere gratitude for your thoughtful response is now wafting across The Minch to your humble crofter's shack where huddled over your meagre turf fire you shall soon be sprinkled with what Harry Corbett called oofle dust. As the actress once said to the bishop, your input is as always much appreciated.
      Yours respectfully,
      Y.Pudding (Mr)

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  5. As you probably know, the situation in Germany is different because our language is different. We have. like Spanish (as mentioned in Jennifer's comment), the formal "Sie" and the informal "Du". In the working world and between neighbours of a certain generation, there is no question of addressing people any other way than with the formal "Sie" and calling them Herr or Frau XYZ. I am on very good terms with my oldest neighbours (one couple and one lady on her own, all in their 80s), and there was never any doubt about the correct way ot addressing them: Frau Stecher, and Herr und Frau Molfenter, while I am Frau Riley to them. As for the couple in the ground floor flat in my house, they are my age; she is German and he is Italian. In Italy, the formal and informal address do exist, but the informal one is more easily adopted than in Germany. So they are Rosi and Massimo to me, and I am Meike to them.
    With RJ's parents, for instance, until about a year ago I was "Sie" but "Meike" - a combination used when the relationship is not formal enough anymore for the full "Sie" and surname, but not informal enough yet for the "Du". Last year, they offered me the "Du", and now they are Dagmar and Peter to me.

    In all written communication with businesses, electricity providers etc., I am Frau Riley. Same on the phone. Same with all my customers. With my hairdresser, I am on first names terms plus "Du", because we've known each other for ages and she is a lot younger than me.

    It's complicated maybe, but rather reliable. Only some very "hip and trendy" companies (especially in the computer gaming industry, and of course IKEA) address their customers like "friends" here.

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    1. Addressing people in Germany seems like a complicated business but I am pleased to learn that certain elements of formality are built in to your language Frau Riley. Thank you for the lesson in German etiquette.

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  6. A request from a customer should be honoured I think. However, would the company change a standard procedure for one request? Probably not. We are in times were informality rules I fear.

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    1. Dear Madam.
      You have spoken truly.
      Your obedient servant,
      Y.Pudding (Mr)

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  7. My dear Yorkie, (ok perhaps too familiar), i totally agree with people addressing others in an appropriate manner. Times have changed greatly in how familiar we are in addressing people we don't know. Years ago a former secondary teacher was on the board of my place of employment. As an adult I found it very hard to call her by her first name after years of calling her Miss Smith. It felt very odd and I often reverted to calling her Miss Smith.

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    1. I bet Miss Smith called you "The cheeky one who chewed bubble gum, stared out of the window and wore fishnet stockings!"

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    2. Gosh , how did you get my school report ......

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  8. I agree with you on some things. I don't like children referring to parents by the first name. On the other hand , I don't like being referred to as sir at all. I'm going to throw up some day when somebody gives me, our computer is programed and we can't do anything. That's a crock.

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    1. The last sentence is a bit rich coming from you.

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    2. Dear Sir Red,
      I am afraid I didn't understand your last two sentences and humbly suggest that you lay off the "Seagram's" before bedtime. A gentleman of your senior years should consider cocoa instead.
      Yours affectionately,
      Lord Pudding of Yorkshire

      Delete
  9. I don't want to be called "sir"....I'll clear that up from the start.

    I prefer being called "Lee" at all times...that is my given name. Even when I was married I'd cringe when called "Mrs"...not for any feminist reasons; I'm not a flag-waving feminist..I just preferred being called by my first name. I'd ask the culprit to call me "Lee"...not "Mrs" as "Mrs" wasn't/isn't my name! Simple!

    Even from when my niece and nephews were little I asked them to call me "Lee"...not "Aunty Lee"; and similar applies with their children; and it applies with the children of others...of friends.

    It doesn't upset me if I receive an email addressed to me...by my first name; and particularly if it's one from PayPal...at least then I know it's not a scam (with PayPal. Only legitimate PP emails address you by your name...if you receive an email supposedly from PP...that says "Dear Customer"...it will be a scam...so don't open it...delete it immediately).

    If I'm a diner in a restaurant, or a customer in shop etc., and they call me "Ma'am" or whatever else, I pleasantly and politely give my name...and ask that they call me by it! It is who I am...I am no other! Easy-peasy. :)

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    1. Dear Ma'am,
      You antipodeans are so...so informal. It's rather endearing.
      Yours condescendingly,
      Sir Pudding

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    2. Lighten up, Pud! Stop standing on ceremony....he don't like it!!

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  10. I agree with you completely, Mr. Pudding. I always made it a point of having friends of my children not use my first name. When in employment, the people who worked with me and for me were close enough to me to use my first name even tho most were younger than I. But the students who we served were encouraged to address me by my last name.

    Now if we could just get wait persons or sales persons to say, "You're welcome", instead of "no problem" when you have said "Thank You." Where did that shite come from all of a sudden?

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    1. Probably from Australia Mistress Thyme!

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    2. And that is bad...how?

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  11. Everyone, including you Mr Pudding, is entitled to their opinion; whether others agree with it is another matter, as you have discovered.

    I have friends whose kids called them by their first names, even as toddlers. I figure you have only one mother and father, they play a particular and relatively important role in your life so address them as Mother/Father, Mum/Dad - and keep first names for friends and others who fit into the first name category.

    I'm not in favour of calling parents by their first names.

    I note that these kids, now adults in their late thirties, now refer to their mother as Mum or Ma, though their father, who died some years back, is still referred to as Tom.

    Ms Soup

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    1. My esteemed Lady Soup,
      It is with enormous relief and gratitude that I hereby receive your considered permission to voice my opinion - in which matter you have now granted me entitlement.
      Your humble servant,
      Y. Pudding (Ostler)

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  12. Is Mr Pudding your real name?

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    1. No it is not Mr Ward. It is a pseudonym, deliberately chosen ten years ago to thwart potential searches by recalcitrant former pupils. Our friend and teacher Carol in Cairns, Australia has discovered to her distress what can happen when rats get on board the ship.

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  13. At my 50th high school reunion, we were joined by one of the teachers we had. He's only 7 years older than we are, and we're all old now, but everyone still called him "Mr. Jones." His wife, who is a few years younger than us, thought that was pretty funny.

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.