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:-
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.
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.