The Other I

September 22, 2011

Frankly, my dear…

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:09 pm
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One of the few things I emphatically like better about living in the States than in England is that there is less prejudice against the elderly in America.

Not, of course, that prejudice against the aged doesn’t exist in the States, and in times of economic difficulties, I know it might get worse.

But for decades, I have noticed a patronizing attitude to anyone over 55 here in England.  It’s almost as if everybody thinks that getting old inevitably marks a return to the innocence and naiveté of a child.  

I noticed it most strongly in the north of England, and thought that it was almost absent here in Cambridge.  My theory is that is probably because of the university.  One has to be careful about patronizing an older person — you might be speaking down to a Nobel Prize winner, or a genius like Newton or Einstein, or these days like Stephen Hawking.

Yesterday, however, I was in a rather up-market supermarket that we often use, and the middle-aged women greeted me at the check-out counter with “Hello, my dear, how are you today?”

I think I smiled.  I tried to.  But make no mistake.  It may have been unconscious on her part.  But in this country, to address an elderly person whom you are serving as “my dear” is patronizing.  She all but added that for a 71-year-old I was surprisingly together.  I mean I even knew how to use my credit card and was able to carry my own groceries to the car all by myself.

I still tie my own shoe laces too.

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4 Comments »

  1. Hear, hear! (as we do not say in the States). Ageism, I find, is as debilitating to its object as is any other discriminatory attitude, but maybe more insidious because we older folk tend not always to recognize its profound effects on us–especially as we incorporate the same attitudes toward ourselves and toward other older people. You might find my essay on the subject, “An Elders Manifesto” of some interest: http://www.eclectica.org/v15n4/hubschman_salon.html I’d love to hear if you agree with it. In any case, thanks very much for sharing your own observation, though I do find what you say about attitudes toward the elderly in England being worse than in the US a bit disillusioning. I tend to think of you English as more “grownup” than youth-centric America. Oh, well.

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    Comment by pianomusicman — October 21, 2011 @ 2:47 pm | Reply

    • I have just read your Eclectica article and I can sum up my multiple thoughts as I read it with a resounding “Yes!” Thank you for recommending it.

      I share your amazement in discovering how absolutely fascinating getting old is. I had no idea. No inkling. What I find disappointing, however, is how many fellow elderly don’t agree with me. “I hate getting old” seems to sum it up for them. I find myself saying, yes, I don’t like the reduced energy or the sore joints, but isn’t it interesting?! don’t you find that there are tremendous compensations? Mostly, they sort of look at me blankly.

      It’s a topic on which I find myself blogging increasingly often – because I’m still so surprised.

      And oh yes – this infuriating equation of youth and beauty. There is precious little evidence that young people are beautiful and old people aren’t. One can be ugly or beautiful at any age. Even physically beautiful. But you’d never guess so from the advertising industry.

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      Comment by theotheri — October 21, 2011 @ 3:46 pm | Reply

      • If the emails I’m getting in response to that essay are any indication, it’s struck a responsive chord. I’m reminded of Gandhi’s observation that in order to get people to act you don’t so much change their minds as appeal to a belief they already have.

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        Comment by pianomusicman — October 21, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

  2. […] wasn’t going to write about ageism today, but a New Yorker made a comment on my earlier post Frankly, my dear, and suggested I might like to read his article,  An Elder’s Manifesto.  I did read it, and […]

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    Pingback by We never had it so good « The Other I — October 21, 2011 @ 8:21 pm | Reply


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