I am often "honey" when I am out and about. Waitresses and store clerks are most likely to use the careless endearment. Tonight it was the counter girl at the local pizza place where I stopped to get M some cheesy bread. Approximately half my age and she called me "honey" twice!
You could suppose that these folks have adopted artificial friendliness as a customer service strategy, except that it happens to me when I'm the one providing the service as well.
As a medical student, I was often caring for elderly patients and was called "honey" by them all the time. When I finished my residency and became a real doctor with little patients of my own, I figured my "honey" days were over. Now I was a professional, a dignified figure of respect, right?
Nope. My patients don't call me "honey", but their mothers do! Not just once, and almost always by somebody who I know is younger than I am. What's that about?
When I was learning about how to talk to patients in medical school, I was warned to never use endearments. They would make my patients feel talked down to and interfere with the cooperative relationships I was supposed to be building with them. Old school paternalistic doctors might call a patient "sweetheart", but the younger generation was expected to treat people with more respect.
It's harder than you might think. Not to treat patients with respect, but to avoid all endearments. When you are feeling empathy for someone's suffering, it is easy to slip into the language a mother might use to comfort a child. When you have to hurt someone as part of your treatment, saying "sorry, honey" seems very natural.
I clearly remember performing a painful procedure on an older woman and accidentally throwing in a "sorry, honey." My supervising attending reprimanded me immediately and my patient got a second apology.
She smiled and said, "I don't mind it at all. It makes me feel like you care about me." And I did care, that's why I said it. Like her, I have chosen to accept random endearments from strangers as affection rather than condescension.
Of course, in my office, I throw endearments around with reckless abandon, one of the many benefits of working with little people. My patients are "sweeties", "lovies", and "eenie-weenie jelly beanies". Little boys are often "mister man" and ornery children are "boogerheads".
You can bet your cardiologist will never call you a "boogerhead." Of course, cardiologists don't get to blow raspberries on their patients' bellies either. I'm really not sure why they bother to go to work at all!
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