Don’t Call Me ‘Young Lady’

Texas is a state that still prides itself on its manners, a place where you still address people by “mister” or “miss” and reply to elders with a “sir” or “ma’am.” Ruth Pennebaker recently found herself being called something else — a moniker she doesn’t like one bit.

By Ruth PennebakerOctober 19, 2015 9:25 am

Growing up in West Texas, I got used to hearing myself called “young lady.” It was usually some old codger – somebody who didn’t realize how special and deep I was, somebody patronizing me just because I was young. It was awful. I hated it so much, I broke out in pimples.

But, you know, the years pass. Lots of years. Nobody called me “young lady” anymore. If you’re the weepy, nostalgic type, like me, you start to miss things. In fact, if you’re the weepy, nostalgic type, you’re capable of missing anything, even a mild case of acne.

Anyway, this whole weepy, nostalgic business got bad when I was in my 40s and our kids were young. Sometimes I found myself driving to a full-service filling station close to our house in Dallas. There was an attendant there who was in his 70s or 80s.

“What do you need today, young lady?,” he’d ask.

Young lady! This electrified the whole car. I’d ask him to “fill it up, please,” all the while reveling – just one more time, just because I needed it that day, dammit – in hearing myself called “young lady.”

Sure enough, though, the years kept on passing. The full-service gas station is now a restaurant and our kids drive their own cars. But the moniker “young lady” is enjoying an unfortunate resurgence when it comes to my Baby Boomer generation.

Young servers at restaurants and bars call me and my cohorts that – because why?

It’s chummy? Cute? Funny?


“How was your meal, young lady?” the young server asked me this week.

I drew a deep breath and counted to 10. Well, maybe, to two.

“I know you mean well,” I said. “But a lot of people my age object to being called that. It’s really kind of insulting.”

He stopped and looked at me – really looked at me – for the first time. “I’m going to have to think about that,” he said.

All in all, it was a nice moment. But I should have told him something else. Young ladies rarely tip well. Older women, though, when treated with deference and respect, have been known to tip quite well.