10 Apr
My Name Isn’t ‘Sweetie,’ You Little Whippersnapper!

Dear Mouthy Housewives,

I have had it up TO HERE with service providers (Starbucks, bank drive-thrus, dry cleaners) who refer to me as “Sweetie” or “Hon.” These aren’t little, old blue haired ladies who should be calling me “Hon.” These are young 20-somethings who should know better.

I’m desperate for a way to deal with this politely. How can I point out that it’s patronizing and off-putting to be referred to in the diminutive by someone who is twenty years my junior? “Shut the F up” just doesn’t seem civilized.

It’s clear these workers are not being appropriately trained or supervised, and I am seriously offended by comments like that. How can I tell them nicely that my name is not “Sweetie” or “Hon” without sounding like a total shrew?

Please help!
That’s “Ma’am” To You


Dear Madame,

Questions like this always leave me feeling conflicted. The aging mother and woman inside me shouts in support of your cause, and wants to start making posters for a protest at the local coffee shop. (‘Hun’ and ‘sweetie’ are kind of hard to rhyme…any chance you’ve also been called a ‘chick’ or ‘lass’? It’d help with my slogans.)

But there’s also a part of me that resists falling into the kids these days! attitude. Because, MY GOD, doesn’t that mean we’ve turned into our mothers?!

That said, I think the solution here is fairly straightforward. First, don’t take the verbiage personally. Of course, this is easier said than done sometimes. Keep in mind that, whether it’s being said sarcastically or not, the quip says more about the speaker than you as a person. (Paraphrased from my therapist. All rights reserved.)

And second, you should absolutely feel free to speak up if this is a persistent issue at a business you frequent regularly. A simple correction of “ma’am” when you are on the receiving end of a “sweetie” should suffice. Or, rather than confronting the pierced teenager who has the future of your latte in his hands, you could always call the manager directly. Approach the issue with a level head, and the person in charge should be receptive to your needs as a valued customer.

Unless the manager, too, is a little whippersnapper.

Good luck, m’lady!

Kristine, TMH

29 Responses to “My Name Isn’t ‘Sweetie,’ You Little Whippersnapper!”


Comment by Sally.

Not long ago, women were insulted by being call ma’am. They said that it was a term reserved for old ladies. Make up your minds!


Comment by Brett Minor.

I have had women get upset with me for using the term ma’am. They claimed that was for old ladies. I was raised to say that to women and ‘sir’ to men. I wasn’t about to change it.

Sweetie and hon is a little different, but it is meant as a polite term and should be overlooked.


Comment by Paige.

I’d err on the “never mess with people preparing something for me to injest” side. What’s a little “Hun” or “Sweetie” compared to a lovely caramel spit macchiato? Yikes.

Kristine Reply:

I tend to agree with this line of thinking.

Muffintopmommy Reply:

So with you. I can’t get jazzed up about being called hon or sweetie—I’ve been called worse! Being from the Northeast, people aren’t always super friendly, and I think I’d actually just assume they meant well and were trying to be friendly. I have a hard time being angry if I feel the person has good intentions. If they were saying it sarcasticly, then that’s another thing and I just might smash them with my muffin top! (After I got my order, of course. Self preservation and all that shizz!)


Comment by Kathy.

There’s really no win for the employee here. I spent longer than I really want to admit doing various customer service jobs so I’ve heard plenty on this subject. When you see hundreds of people every day you just don’t have the capacity of remembering everyone’s name. Generally you pick a term and go with it. No matter what you pick you will make someone unhappy. Ma’am will illicit comments about not being old enough to be Ma’am. Miss will illicit comments about being old enough to be your mother and therefore not a Miss. Hon, Dear, Sweetie and suddenly you’re too familiar. Ms and someone’s going to tell you that’s pretentious or they are not some made up title or they are proud to be married/single. Mrs again makes assumptions of relationship status that will surely bristle someone.

If the service person at your bank/starbucks/grocery store calls you “hon” or “sweetie” and that’s the worst thing that happens to you at those establishments just say thank you and go on with your day. These folks are just trying to do their jobs!

Kristine Reply:

I think this is a great point! I think it’s more about the delivery of the phrase & overall treatment.

BrassyDel Reply:

I had the exact same experience working retail for a few years. No matter what you use, someone gets pissy. I think the suggestion that they are clearly not being “appropriately trained or supervised” because they use a colloquial familiarity that many other patrons prefer is ridiculous. I feel way more empathy with the workers in this one.


Comment by Louise.

I know it offends a few people, but I call women ‘maam’ and men ‘sir’. Occasionally ‘miss’ but hardly ever. I don’t know your name, and if I need to get your attention as I’m serving you what else am I meant to call you whilst still sounding polite!!


Comment by Anne-Marie @ Do Not Faint.

First, I get why you’re offended and will not at any point suggest that you disappear that feeling. That said, I agree with Louise and Kathy–I’ve been called ma’am by unbelievably busy baristas or cashiers, and it really doesn’t make me feel old (then again, I’m 27). But when you’re 18 and being called “ma’am” because you live in New York and there is no service job that doesn’t see hundreds of people in a day, it becomes pretty clear that it has nothing to do with age. It’s a respectful way of getting someone’s attention.

While I prefer “ma’am” and *hate* “sweetie,” I don’t think I would say anything unless I see that specific person often enough to be even remotely memorable. My husband is at Starbucks to study often enough that they know he only ever orders one drink, and if they know your drink, they can probably also learn your name. I like the manager suggestion for places you frequent often. But these places push so many customers through the checkout lines so fast that I can’t help but feel sympathy. At least they’re not just yelling “Hey you!”


Comment by sisterfunkhaus.

I see it as a nicety, especially as someone living in Texas where it’s impossible to go a day without hearing those two words at least 10 times. I really don’t think that the service providers are trying to belittle you. They are just terms of endearment more or less. You are just choosing to interpret the words in a negative way.It’s not like they are calling you bitch every time you get service.

I would let it go if I were in your shoes. You can’t control other people.


Comment by Wendi.

I know a few people who are also bothered by this type of thing because it can sometimes come off as condescending, esp. when the person saying it is decades younger. But it’s still better than, “Here’s your latte, asshole.”

VG Reply:

This made me LOL!


Comment by Megan.

This doesn’t bother me in the least, but there was a time when it did – but that was back when I was working in a service business and people would say it to me because I was girl.

My solution? Hand it back to them. Thank you, babycakes! Always worked for me. I even got a couple of apologies.

My guess is they don’t even realize they’re doing it.


Comment by Mellowdee.

A couple years ago, at the Costco checkout my MIL said to the cashier, “Thank you Ma’am.” The young cashier quickly corrected her, “Don’t call me Ma’am.” To which my MIL replied, “Would you prefer shit head?”

That being said, unless it’s uttered in a sarcastic tone, I don’t take it personally when someone who doesn’t know my name calls me hun, Ma’am, sweetie, etc. Just don’t call me shit head.


Comment by Am.

I agree with everyone here; while it may not be your cup of tea, individuals providing customer service (and perhaps while not being “professional” to the hilt, are just warm/friendly personalities) battle all types of people…so to be singled out for a friendly term is a bit over-much (unless it is condescending)? We all gripe about businesses being too impersonal (automated customer service on the phone, which yeah, pain in the ass!), but yet we over-share on facebook, twitter, four square…So smile and go on with life?

Otherwise, I would totally have gone WWE smackdown on my (very polite) server, who called me “Madam”…I’m 28 and she couldn’t have been more than 5 years younger than me!


Comment by VG.

If it bothers you that much, STOP GOING THERE! There’s worse things to get your panties bunched up for. Chillax!


Comment by vodka tonic.

Sweetie Pie needs to get some real problems in life.


Comment by Cait.

When it comes to “ma’am,” you’re not allowed to call me that unless you’re over 50 or from south of the Mason-Dixon line. Sweetie, honey, and darling are reserved for church ladies with blue hair and plastic rain bonnets or family. I was called babe by a 19 year old waitress the other night and feel I would have been justified in punching her in the nose.

Louise Reply:

What would you like retail staff/anyone who serves you ANYWHERE that doesn’t know you personally to call you then without being rude? We don’t know your name, and on occasion need to get your attention, yet you seem to have cut out any form of polite names for a complete stranger to call you.

Cait Reply:

To get my attention a simple excuse me works. If there is a need to address me by a title, my obvious lack of wedding ring indicates that Miss is appropriate. Although I don’t like to think of myself as a relic (even though I am a whopping 31!), I think the whole issue of what to call customers is a generational (and definitely regional) thing. I was brought up understanding that the title “ma’am” is earned with age or rank. I’m personally just not ok with a complete stranger addressing me with a term of endearment such as sweetie or honey.


Comment by Marinka.

I have to stand up for those who don’t like being called “hon” or “sweetie” because I detest it.

I find it condescending and annoying and it doesn’t help that it’s mostly women who are called that.

And I don’t take comfort in that it’s preferable to being called a curse word. Since when is that the standard in customer service?


Comment by Cate8.

So disappointed by this…. I thought the young lady was hitting on this old broad… dang


Comment by Deb.

Gosh – let it go! Life is too short to get upset by someone trying to be nice. I would much rather have someone call me sweetie or hon and be pleasant that someone rude that hardly looks at you. I’m in the south and everyone calls everyone sweetie and hon. Professional? Probably not. But worth getting all worked up over? nooooo.


Comment by MJ.

I am 67 and detest an 18 year old calling me hun or sweetie. It is condescending and sounds like she is addressing a little old lady in a nursing home who has dementia. I once had to chastise a receptionist because she kept call the female VP of Warner Bros. dear. If you want my attention say excuse me. Call me Madam or even lady but for God Sake don’t talk down to me.


Comment by Nicole.

Uggghhhh… this again? You know what? I have had it up to HERE with women who get annoyed by this. Why, why, WHY?
I am with the group that wonders, isn’t it better than being called bitch, asshole, shit head or shrew? I happen to use ma’am and sir with everyone (including to the 17 year old girl who rang up my groceries tonight) but I’m certainly not bothered by someone calling me sweetie, dear, or darlin’. In fact, the only time it bothers me is when I know someone is using it condescendingly, not in an attempt to be kind or nice. Get over yourself!


Comment by He's Not Your Goof! | The Mouthy Housewives.

[…] Personally, I’m not a fan of labels. Although they definitely save a lot of time. Goof, geek, nerd, techy: most of us use these words and even those who don’t, get an instant descriptive image.  But what the labels leave out, and what as mothers we may object to when they’re applied to our babies, are all the other qualities that our children have that go unrecognized. Because our children, like all people, are more than a series of labels. […]


Comment by Nikki.

I just turned 26, and even I hate being called “Hun” or “Sweety” by people who are my age or younger. If I was 30 or older I think it would annoy me even more.


Comment by Allison.

Calling someone dear, sweetie, hon, etc. is rude and disrespectful, I don’t care how old you are. I always say that my name is not dear (or whatever) loudly and firmly. At my daughter’s wedding reception, the caterer addressed me as “sweetie” and my ex-husband as “sir.” I let it slide only because it was the kids’ special day and I didn’t want any sort of unpleasantness. Even worse is when my 84 year old father is addressed as “honey”, etc. by his caregivers. I tell them his name is Mr. Smith.

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