General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Can you deconstruct this form of respect for me?

Asked by wundayatta (58638points) December 12th, 2008

So let’s assume that daloon is my first name (which begs the question of what an appropriate last name might be). I stop by a coffee shop on my campus most mornings for, surprise, a coffee drink. The barristas are all students at the university.

Jolande (rhymes with wand, not land) is, culturally speaking, an African-American. Whenever she sees me, she says “Hi, Mr. Daloon.” Well, daloon being daloon (which is to say, me), gets all wierded out by this. Mr. Daloon? Shouldn’t she just call me Daloon? I mean it could be Mr. [daloon’s last name, whenever it is discovered], but that definitely sounds too stiff. It places too much distance between us. If she addresses me by my first name, well, somehow that is too familiar. So Mr. Daloon is kind of a nice compromise….

Except, every time I hear it, I cringe inside. It makes me feel like a spotlight has been shown on me while I’m brushing my teeth.

So what’s your take? Do you ever get addressed in this way? If so, by whom? Do women get called Ms. [first name] or is that something that only happens to men? Is this a new trend in politeness? A middle step between too much familiarity and too much formality? If so, when is it appropriate? Is there a history behind this that I don’t know? What is the social significance or this sort of thing?

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39 Answers

dynamicduo's avatar

I’ve never heard anyone addressed in this way… maybe it’s just that barrista’s quirk.
I do know that when I worked fast food I was more friendlier and outgoing than I usually am, simply because why not, interesting conversations with random customers makes the day go by faster.

dalepetrie's avatar

I don’t know if there’s any social significance. Does Jolande know your last name? I know sometimes people are simply uncomfortable referring to people on a first name basis unless they know that person quite well, and perhaps it’s just culturally a sign of respect. I personally wouldn’t worry about it, different strokes for different folks. There seems to be no shortage of ways people can refer to other people…it’s just their way. I let people call me whatever they want to call me, and I call them what I’m comfortable calling them. Names to me are just labels to differentiate you from another individual…just so we know they are indeed refering to you and not some other “hey, you”.

SuperMouse's avatar

The only time I’ve seen/experienced this is in my kids’ pre-school class – they always called their teacher Miss Debbie. When I worked in those classrooms the kids always called me Miss Super.

Is it somewhat endearing coming from this barrista or is it just annoying?

benseven's avatar

Well, I do get called Mr.Benn a lot, but that’s more to do with my ringtone!

Harp's avatar

My experience is that this tradition of Mr. (or Miss) + first name is a Southern tradition, which traveled with the black community northward. Growing up in Texas, it was common for children (black and white)to refer to familiar elders in this way.

Judi's avatar

I occasionally say “Hey how are you Mr. Scott!” (or who ever) but usually it’s to people my kids looked up to growing up. They sometimes called People Miss or Mr, (first name) if they were good friends of mine. Otherwise adults were Mr. Or Ms. (last name.)

blondie411's avatar

The only time I’ve ever heard of this form of respect was when I lived in the south and young children would acknowledge older teens or young adults they would say Miss Cindy or something. Jolande may not know your last name so that is the way to show respect.

steveprutz's avatar

I’ve been called “Mr. Steve” by folks on occasion, and it’s probably because they don’t know how to pronounce my surname… Nicknames never bothered me.

wundayatta's avatar

Jolande knows my last name the same way she knows my first name: from my id card (which also serves as a form of cash). I never actually had to tell her what it was. On the other hand, to find out her name, I had to ask.

I think this southern practice makes a lot of sense as the source of it.

bythebay's avatar

While growing up my parents insisted I refer to their friends by their surnames; Mr. Smith, Mrs. Parks. Often, these people would say “please call me Steve or Mary. As a compromise, they became Mr. Steve and Ms. Mary. This habit, if you will, has carried over into my adult life. Even as a 45 year old woman I often refer to my elders this way. I’m sure she means it as a sign of respect. If it bothers you, just say “Jolande, please call me ________”.

wundayatta's avatar

@bythebay: you know, I thought about asking her to call me daloon, but that just didn’t feel right. I think she got it right. I’m getting used to it. I think my discomfort is that I feel exposed. Everyone in line knows my name, but I don’t know anyone else.

EmpressPixie's avatar

It’s southern. Very southern. I was Miss Empress to my mom growing up sometimes. I still am. My grandparents too. “Well, Miss Empress, what do you want to do today?” My sister got it a LOT more because her name shortened to something that rhymes with Miss.

All my neighbors growing up were Ms. Lynne, Mr. Allen, etc. It’s just a way of being polite without being too formal. It says, “I know you and can pal around with you, but still respect you as both an elder and someone with authority”.

EmpressPixie's avatar

I’m also Miss Empress everyday when I come to work. The super nice security people tend to call me that. I think it is much the same thing—I’m friendly to them and throw them a smile and say hi everyday and in return, they call me by my first name but add “miss” because they are getting my name from my badge when I swipe in—I haven’t told them my name.

bythebay's avatar

@daloon: Embrace the thrill of being well known in the establishment. I was going to say the most powerful, but surely the barristas holding the coffee hold the true power!

wundayatta's avatar

I am well-known, perhaps because I do try to learn all the barrista’s names, and talk to them a little. One of them used to always say, “here’s dangerous daloon” when he saw me. I’m not quite sure where that came from, and whether it was ironic, or just silly. When I’m drinking the same thing all the time, as I did for about six months, they would call my drink the “Mr. Daloon special,” or the “dangerous dalloon special,” depending on who was at the register.

Recently I had to change up my drink, and now, it seems, they aren’t quite sure whether to check with me, or to call out my drink. Unless talking to them has made me memorable, I don’t know why they remember me. I am unremarkable, unless you talk to, I think, and often I am unremarkable even if you talk to me. If I were famous for something, I could see the attention, but since I’m not, it always feels slightly ironic, like I’m being made fun of.

tinyfaery's avatar

Just don’t call ma’am

EmpressPixie's avatar

If you go in every day and order the same drink and are polite, no matter how unremarkable you are, they will remember you. If you go in on some schedule (every monday, tuesday, friday) and order the same drink and are polite, they will remember you. The thing about being remembered isn’t that you do something special, it’s that you do the same thing at an easily judged interval and are polite. Or a jackass. Either way, if you are regular, they’ll remember you. But they’ll be nicer if you’re polite.

MissAnthrope's avatar

I’m going to agree with everyone else that said it’s a Southern thing; I lived in the South for years and it’s considered a form of respect. It’s really common, actually. Usually, it’s for when kids address adults, particularly if the adult isn’t married and/or is a teacher. But I have also experienced adults using it with other adults, so I think the habit/tradition carries forth as the southerners get older. If I had to guess, I’d say that “Miss [First Name]” is less stuffy/more cordial than “Miss [Last Name]”.

I got used to being called “Miss Alena” on occasion, but it wasn’t that hard.. actually, I think it’s a pretty cute and charming custom. I have to say that I really like the tradition of raising kids to be respectful of their elders. I wait tables, and far more parents in the South actively try to teach their children manners, such as responding to me when I speak to them. I’ve witnessed a lot of parent-child corrections, where the parent urges the child to use the respectful title; “Yes, ma’am” instead of “Yes”, for example.

Judi's avatar

Since your “story” as described on other posts seems so similar to my son, I am assuming that, like him, you are probably somewhat charismatic and they remember you because they see your spark and like you ;-)

susanc's avatar

I’m smiling reading Mr Daloon’s account of himself as unremarkable. I think we can all
agree that this is as unlikely in person as it is in writing. Mr. D, you tend to work harder at engaging with people than most people do, you know. Could this be the key?

funkdaddy's avatar

I call people Ms./Mr. <first name> pretty consistently when I’m greeting someone in public. If I try to break it down it’s basically a respectful and familiar way to address someone where others aren’t going to get the wrong idea. It’s like a nickname others don’t have to be familiar with. I’m not sharing any secrets, but I consider you a friend.

When I waited tables, it was no biggie. When I got in financial services, people took notice a lot more and depending on their own personality, the reaction could go either way.

You brighten her day, and she likes seeing/talking with you. Or maybe you just remind her that people care sometimes. Whatever it is, she’s just trying to return the favor. Congrats on making a small difference.

wundayatta's avatar

I thought I might get challenged on that “unremarkable,” and I know that sometimes or maybe often I put myself down in unrealistic ways, but on that one, I think I was being honest. Of course, none of you can see me on the line, and neither can I, so none of us can do more than guess.

I suppose it’s possible that I have charisma, or that I brighten someone’s day, but…. well, it does no good to say I don’t feel charismatic, or I don’t feel like I could brighten someone’s day, because I’m clearly a biased observor (giving myself less credit than perhaps is warranted). I think I’m really different, personality-wise, here. I feel a confidence here that I don’t feel in the real world. I think it’s a mistake to try to imagine my real world self based on my online self.

Online, no one thinks twice about “accosting” a perfect stranger and trying to engage them. Or maybe they think twice, but it is easier. It’s what we’re here for. But in real life, if you approach someone, you often get a cold shoulder, or a look of fear or discomfort. So I’m pretty sure that if you saw me, you actually wouldn’t see me. I’m afraid to stand out, even though I’d love to do that.

I can stand out amongst friends, because I already know they like me, or, at least, don’t dislike me. Among strangers—and there are a lot of strangers in the coffee shop, I really don’t like having any attention paid to me. I just like things to be pleasant, and I like knowing people. I feel bad, though, for the barristas, because they are paid to be pleasant to us, and I know that must be tiring, especially with some of us. I don’t want to be one of those awful people. That’s all I shoot for in public: not being awful.

kfingerman's avatar

One more possibility to throw in here…Is your first name a common one where you live? There are cultures where the name order is reversed with family name coming first (e.g. the basketball superstar Yao Ming would be properly addressed as Mr. Yao not Mr. Ming). In some cases what you’re seeing could be a misguided attempt at cultural sensitivity. I know nothing about you Daloon, but is this a possibility?

wundayatta's avatar

@kfingerman: no, that could not be happening.

augustlan's avatar

My husband is a manager at a landscape company, where his employees are largely Mexican immigrants. Without fail, they have always addressed him as ‘Mr. Mark’. It used to make him quite uncomfortable, and he tried to get them to just call him ‘Mark’. They would/could not. To them it is a matter of respect, and he has finally come to accept that…and even appreciate it.

PS: I think we should all have the goal of ‘not being awful’! The world would be a better place!

Darwin's avatar

I live in South Texas, an area both southern and Hispanic. It is considered a civility to address someone you see frequently and view as being a pleasant presence in one’s day with Mr. or Miss followed by their first name.

If they don’t know you well they will use Mr. or Miss or Mrs. with your last name. If they don’t know you at all, or don’t like you very much they won’t use any form of your name.

If they really don’t like you they will go on break every time you walk through the door.

Sloane2024's avatar

My English teacher has never ever referred to any of his students as anything but Miss or Mr. [last name].... and, yes, I live in the South, so, it’s just a preference when referring to those younger, or inferior, to you. With those in authoritative positions, I always refer to them with a Ms. or Mr. in front of their name… It’s just polite. ;)

Knotmyday's avatar

I grew up in Southern California, so sometimes it’s refreshing not to be referred to as “dude.” “Mr.” just seems polite.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Oh, definitely a Deep Southern thing, and definitely a term of respect and affection. All of my sister-in-law’s step-children and step-grandchildren call me “Miss Alfreda” because they know me too well to call me “Ms. Prufrock” and I’m too old to be treated as if I were an age-mate.

All you have to do is to say, “You may call me Daloon” and she will stop, because there is an unwritten permissions based code to familiarity. You would, in essence, be granting permission for her to consider you a friend.

laureth's avatar

Another vote for Southern, and it would make me cringe too. It sounds too much like Miss Scarlet.

Darwin's avatar

Hey, that’s our dog’s name – Miss Scarlett, the American Bulldog.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Lordy, as I’m reading this I can hear my friend Claude’s low Louisiana voice asking if he “can get Miss Alfreda a beverage,” in an affectionately mocking tone. :-) Generations of life with Sunday dinner with fried chicken, polished silverware, lace tablecloths and dressing for dinner went into that question.


kruger_d's avatar

I agree that this is a southern custom. Kids raised in southern states also tend to use sir and ma’am more than other regions.
While you have the right to be addressed as you prefer, this is case in which your comfort might come at the expense of hers. I personally think it’s nice to have a way of expressing both respect and familiarity.

rowenaz's avatar

When we are somewhere and the person has a name tag, with their first name, I encourage my children to address them as Miss or Mister First Name as a sign of respect, because they are older, but using the first name, since that is only what is available to us.

deepseas72's avatar

Down here in the deep south, that is an entirely common occurrence.

Jeruba's avatar

As a Northeasterner and now a Californian, I am not accustomed to this form of address myself, but my mother coached us most particularly to greet her elderly Southern friends this way (and to curtsey!) when they came to visit. Whenever I am in the South, I just love being addressed this way, and it always makes me wish we had a little more of that gracious gentility in other parts of the country.

Interestingly, though, my former manager, from the state of Maine, referred to me as “Miss <Jeruba>.”

Your young barista Jolande is probably doing this as reflexively as a newcomer from Japan starts to make a little bow. In time they will both probably lose the habit. Too bad.

wundayatta's avatar

I doubt she will stop doing it. At least, not to me. Once you start something like that, you can’t take it back.

Jeruba's avatar

@daloon, I meant after some years, most likely some time after she leaves the coffee shop. It’s a conspicuous relic of another culture, and without reinforcement by the behavior of others around her, it’ll gradually be extinguished. Just speculating, of course.

wundayatta's avatar

Well, neither us will probably be in a position to find out, so we can forcefully argue either point of view, and never be shown to be wrong! I have come to like it now that I’ve asked this question. I no longer feel weird now that I understand where it comes from. ;-)

Actually, I asked her if she or her parents were from the South, and she said no. But if might have been something passed through her family for generations.

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