Part of our English classes involved being taught how to write letters and especially formal correspondence: ‘Dear Sir’, ‘Dear Madam’ or at the very least ‘Dear Mr…’ or ‘Dear Mrs…’ or ‘Dear Miss…’
Things slipped a notch some years ago when, so it seemed, females decided they didn’t want to declare their married status and suddenly had to be addressed as ‘Ms’ – but that’s okay.
What I can’t abide is the more recent chumminess of letters and emails sent to me that begin ‘Hi Neil’. It’s so discourteous. These people don’t know me well enough to use my first name, and they are certainly not on such casual terms with me that ‘Hi’ is an acceptable opener.
If I am in receipt of a business letter, I expect it to begin ‘Dear Sir’ – if they have no way of knowing that I am a priest, but even when they do (if they are replying to correspondence I sent to them) far too many people these days appear to have no concept of what the title ‘Reverend’ means and to therefore address me by it. This isn’t a status thing on my part, I am not hung up on my title in that sense, but common courtesy suggests that they at least make an effort – but no, and so the best they can manage is ‘Hi Neil’.
It’s the same with phone calls. It’s very rare that the caller will ask for ‘Reverend McNicholas’ or even ‘Mr McNicholas’. It’s usually ‘Can I speak to Neil’ – and, of course, for a moment you think it might be someone you know and, in that moment, they’ve got your attention. I’ve also had the following “conversation” on more than one occasion: ‘Can I speak to Mr McNicholas?’ ‘This is Father McNicholas’ (emphasis on Father) ‘Yes Mr McNicholas, I’m calling about…’
As I asked above, who makes these decisions? Who decided that a whole history of formal education in such niceties no longer has a place in our society and so has been jettisoned? Sadly what this reflects is the general demise of good manners, regard for others, and common courtesies in so many areas and aspects of life.
Since I reached my “three score and ten” I have become accustomed to those little things that people do that make me all too aware that they see me as an elderly person. At some point my barber no longer asked me whether I was eligible for OAP rates because it had become obvious! I never applied for a bus pass but I now have a Senior Rail Card. Just occasionally someone will hold a door open for me – but then that used to be a general courtesy anyway until it became a sexist thing to do if the “openee” was female.
But how about youngsters stepping aside on the pavement to let adults (their elders) pass? I overheard a couple yesterday who had just been swept aside by a five-wide phalanx of local school kids comment on their daily experience of this happening – an observation frequently made by other adults in town also. When I was a youngster if I had failed to step out of the way of an adult pedestrian, he or she might have given me a verbal ear-bashing (a generation before that it might have been an actual ear-bashing) but you can’t do either one anymore and so pavements – and shop doorways – are a free for all.
Oh, and here’s another example. The other day someone pushed a couple of adverts through my letterbox despite the notice in my porch window saying I don’t want them. This person had found my driveway gate closed when they arrived, but he left it open when he went so I had to then go out in the rain to close it again.
Leaving aside the entertainment value in trying to guess this person’s IQ, what do they think (and of course they don’t, that’s the problem) their thoughtlessness does for customer relations and the possibility of my rushing out to buy whatever the adverts were selling? They went straight in the bin. But, again, it’s the discourtesy and lack of consideration for others.
We Luddites have got to stick together, and to that end I will persist in addressing my correspondence the way I was taught – until, that is, I receive official notification from the correspondence police informing me that I should do otherwise.
And of course, I’ll know what it is when it comes because it will be addressed to Mr McNicholas and will begin ‘Hi Neil’. Grrrr!
Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.