Thursday, June 26, 2008

Didn't Your Mother Ever Tell You....

The other day while I was at work, I was checking out this woman's books when she commented, "You don't look any older than 15."

I said nothing, just continued checking out the books. She looked at me for a moment, then said, "Are you older than that? Not by much, surely. Sixteen?"

The woman was clearly in her retired years, so perhaps anyone younger than 40 looked infantile to her, but we'll ignore that for now. And we'll ignore the fact that no teenager would ever be working behind the reference desk at a library (at least not at mine). We'll also ignore the fact that, regardless of how someone wants to look when they are 40, it's quite rude to tell a 20-something that they look like they're in high school (Think about everything a 15-year-old can't do that a 20-something can. And honestly? Who are you more likely to respect?).

But we'll ignore those facts, because there's something else that was bothering me more. When I was a child, I was taught that there are three questions that you never (NEVER EVER) ask an adult for two reasons: A) It's none of your business and B) It would be rude.

How old are you?
How much do you weigh?
How much money do you make?

There is exactly one reason (and one reason only) that you should be asking a stranger any of those questions: if it's an integral part of your job (The sales clerk at the liquor store has the right to know). Otherwise, regardless of how old you are, or how old the person you're asking is, you NEVER EVER ask these questions of anyone. I don't know the ages of most of the people I work with -- and I'm on first name basis with all of them.

So, since when did growing older excuse people from basic politeness? So this woman was old enough to be a grandmother. So what? Does that mean that she can just ignore basic rules of etiquette? In fact, if she was indeed a grandmother, then it stands to reason that she was responsible for installing manners into at least one other person, which means she should be familiar with the fundamental laws of decorum. And if she feels that she can go around asking complete strangers their age, I shudder to think how her child was raised.

So if you happen to see someone who you think doesn't look their age? Unless it is your responsibility to make sure they are old enough to do the activity they're trying to do, keep your mouth shut. Whether they look their age or not, IT'S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS how old they are.


Marcie said...

I used to get that all the time! And not just from senior citizen types. It's annoying, but I liked seeing their faces changed when I explained that I have a master's degree.

The most annoying time was when I was apparently mistaken for a 12-year-old -- when I was 30!

Kelly said...

I AGREE! Why is it acceptable to exclaim and comment about how young somebody looks, and why am I supposed to take it as a compliment when someone tells me that I look like I'm in high school? Miss Manners addressed this once. She said the best reply, if one is absolutely necessary, is to simply say "You must be mistaken. I am an adult."