Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Mrs. Rosen

Last Thursday was the last day of our second round of swim lessons. We somehow made it through four days a week for four weeks of swim lessons. I think we're all happy to be taking a break from that.

So on the last day a kid in my son's class, Jonathan, came over and said, Mrs. Rosen? Can I give Shalev a candy from my mom? And I thought, now there's a well-mannered kid. So respectful. So polite. And then I thought, wait. My name's not even Mrs. Rosen (I never changed my last name). And here my kids are calling Jonathan's parents by their first name because that's just what we do.

So all this has me thinking about how to call people. Anyone my age called all grown-ups by their last names. The only adult I remember calling by her first name was our piano teacher Jane. And to this day I call my childhood friends' parents by their last names, unless they've specifically given me permission to make the switch, in which case I try a few times, it sounds funny, and I switch back.

Case in point: one of my oldest friends, Jane, had a baby shower over the weekend and her parents were there. So I went over and gave Mrs. Lin a big hug. Hi Mrs. Lin! I think I may have called her May a few times. I'm not even 100% sure that's her first name. But it felt weird. And I called her dad Mike once or twice, in a muttered "maybe he won't hear me" kind of way. Din't work for me. So I decided, who cares. It's OK if I'm thirty-five years old, probably the same age they were when I met them, and I still call them by their last names. They can be Mr. and Mrs. Lin forever.

But in Israel, no one uses last names. I don't even think they use last names in Parliament. In fact, they often use nicknames. Talk about informal. For example, the former Chief of Staff, Ami Ye'elon, went by Boogie. Good grief. Or what about the current Prime Minister, Bibi? My husband tells me that in elementary school kids call their teachers "teacher" and in high school they use first names. That just wouldn't fly here.

So of course our kids call all of our friends by their first names because most of our friends are Israeli. But now that our kids have friends from school and we're becoming friendly with their parents, what the heck are we going to call each other? Because I'll tell you right now, the novelty of Mrs. Rosen wore off pretty quickly and now I just think people are talking to my husband's grandmother. I spoke to my sister-in-law about it and she's in a quandary too. But she learned from her years of teaching and subbing that having kids call you by your last name creates a nice little hierarchy in the class which is useful if you want to, say, garner any respect at all from children between the ages of seven and seventeen. I have other friends who, once their oldest kids were around eight or nine, had a parents discussion and decided that all the kids in their circle of friends would start calling them by their last names. The attitudes copping and backtalk had just gotten out of hand so this was one way to recreate a little rank order among the troops.

I guess we can just asked what everyone prefers to be called and then try to remember it all. Or they can call all the grown-ups "grown-up". Keep it real simple. It is nice to see how comfortable my kids are around our adult friends. I don't remember ever speaking to any of my parents' friends until I was well into high school. Because they were MR. AND MRS. SUPER OLD. The salutation obviously made a difference in my case.


Jules said...

This post was really interesting. I grew up in the south which is a unique mix of being too friendly to say Mr. and Ms. last name to most of your friends' parents but way too traditional to just call adults by their first names. What results is that everyone calls their friends' parents Mr. and Ms. first name. Most of my California friends couldn't wrap their heads around it. But my best friend's mom will be Ms. Renee forever.

Anonymous said...

This is definitely something I think about on a pretty regular basis. Not like a problem I have to fix, but something I noodle over when my daughter is talking to someone who is not a really close friend (because that's all first name) but someone who is a friend. I'm thinking about it again now. I was raised the same way you were- everyone was Mr. and Mrs and still is. Now my daughter is talking to every adult like it's her best friend in the world! Not cool. I like hierarchy. I like a little formality in my life. Still not sure on the cut off with friends, though. Wish this was a common topic of discussion. Instead I would feel so random pulling someone aside and saying "um.... what do you want to be called?" And thank you for the interesting aside on Israel! Interesting! And, now I know that one of my mom's friends won't mind being called by her first name by my four year old!
We still need that coffee date- next week? till then, Linda