Recently I went to a West Seattle grocery after a long day’s work for a few extras for dinner. I waited in the checkout line for the perky, tattooed young cashier to finish his chat with the customer ahead. Done with his talk, the checker turned to me and, loud enough so all could hear, wanted to know if I’d like the “Senior Discount.”
“Why are you asking me,” I inquired. It took him a moment to respond, “I ask everyone.”
“Will you ask the man behind me in line?” “Oh, no,” he replied.
“Then how do you choose whom to ask?” No response.
I complained to the manager, who did respond with an apology for his employee’s insensitive behavior. OK for the manager. He’ll now have signs at the checkout lines inviting those who would like a discount to request it.
I found this episode and others where a focus on age by a stranger both annoying and humiliating. Like the young woman who commented as I power-walked on Alki, “How old are you? I’d like to be as spry as you when I’m your age.” Yuk. May this woman learn better manners long before she reaches my age.
Is anyone who looks different from the usual fair game for being singled out and publicly identified? Is it OK to comment on a person with a disability who uses a wheelchair, on someone’s body shape, or on how a person might look after undergoing chemotherapy?
An individual with gray hair and crinkly skin also veers from the youthful, robust “norm.” True, some may welcome the notice and the benefits that acknowledgment might bring, but others find it intrusive. It used to be that only offering comments to strangers on accessories were acceptable, such as “What a nice laptop case!” or “Those are really cute shoes.” Times have changed.
When I got home, I felt awful for being called out as “old.” I telephoned a now-former friend for empathy. She is known for her recommendations on every aspect of human behavior. “Why do you feel so bad? You should talk to a psychiatrist,” she advised.
Whoa. I am a psychiatrist. And I feel quite fortunate to work at Harborview Medical Center, an institution that values hard work, collegiality and devotion to patient care over and above race, gender, ethnicity or number of facial wrinkles per square inch.
At least in some places, ageism is dead and buried.