Rounding Third: The problems of being persnickety

We went out to supper last week and I did something obnoxious. I couldn’t help myself.

We were reading the menu when the young waitress bopped up to our table, all fresh-faced, smiley. I thought to myself, how nice. And then she said, “Are you guys ready to order?”

My spine stiffened, but I still had a smile on my face as I asked, “What is your name?”

I have changed her name here, let’s say it was Mary. “Oh, it’s nice to meet you, Mary.” She was still smiling. And then I said, a little more seriously “Mary, I’m going to be paying the check for tonight’s supper. I will increase your tip by 5% if you don’t call us ‘guys’ again.”

It took a few seconds for it to sink in. She checked my expression, reassured herself that I was still smiling, and said, “Oh. OK. Sure.” And then she took our order. Dear Richard had a fish sandwich, and I had been salivating over the idea of liver and onions all afternoon.

I’d had a busy day and Richard had worked at his part-time job. Feeling guilty that I wasn’t offering him a hot, home-cooked dinner, I’d said, “How about we go out for dinner. My treat.” That got his attention. “Sure. Wherever you want to go.” I like that he’s flexible. About some things, anyway.

But poor Mary. She had unwittingly walked into my growing intolerance for this frustrating habit that has taken over our language. It’s been over twenty years that servers have been calling us guys. I’m not a guy, I don’t have any desire to be one, and hate being referred to as one. When I said something to a young server (always nicely) a few months ago, he said, “Well what do you want me to call you?”

“You don’t have to call me anything. You can just say, ‘Are you ready to order?’ No names. It’s not necessary to call us anything.” He looked very confused. It occurred to me he might have been trained to say that. Oh, I hope not.

Well, back to Mary. She brought our dinners which were piping hot and smelled wonderful. She put them down, we said thank you, and she responded, “No problem.”

Oh no. Not my other pet peeve, too. I should have warned her at the same time as the “guys” comment. But I didn’t, and she was just saying what everyone else says these days. “No problem.”

NO, NO, NO. It’s not supposed to BE a problem!! The answer to “thank you” is, “You’re welcome.” Period. And it shouldn’t be a problem to say so. But it has almost disappeared from our language.

A few weeks ago, out for fish fry, we had a young waitress who responded to my “Thank you” with “You’re welcome.” I almost fainted. “Sherry, who taught you to say, ‘you’re welcome?'” She said, of course, her parents did. And since we’d had a nice banter back and forth, she asked me why I had inquired. I told her about my “thing” – my complete frustration – with the laziness in our everyday spoken word. Sherry, a smart girl, agreed. Sherry is gonna go far.

Back at our fish and liver suppers, Mary was doing an efficient, speedy job.

But when she brought more water, and I thanked her: “No problem.”

When Richard thanked her for his to-go box: “No problem.”

When she left the dinner check with me, and I thanked her: “No problem.”

With my teeth set on edge, I pulled out my bank card. Our service had been friendly and comfortable. I thought, You can’t take your “No problem” mania out on this nice young woman. And by the way, Stupid, you can’t teach the whole world. Get over it.

Then, as I was beginning to sign the tab, I hesitated. The tip.

Wait! This isn’t her fault – I had made a promise. So, I added a nice tip and then added another 5%. She never knew there was an issue. And she probably never will. I couldn’t be doubly obnoxious in the same evening.

I know, I know. As nuisances go, this is small stuff. It’s annoying, it’s frustrating, it’s the price of living among other people. But just because I have to tolerate it doesn’t mean I have to like it. I think most people have little quirks that irritate them. These are two of my Big Three.

The third one, you may ask? Oh – that is baseball caps in dining rooms. And if the offending wearer has the cap on backwards, I automatically deduct 10% from his IQ. But I can’t go into that now. I’m out of space. No problem.

Marcy O’Brien can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.


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