Chris Maclean: When 'sir' doesn't mean 'sir'

By Chris Maclean

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Abuse

This afternoon I was accused of being obsequious. I had to check in my dictionary: n. obedient, dutiful, servile, fawning. Excessively eager to...

This afternoon I was accused of being obsequious.

I had to check in my dictionary: n. obedient, dutiful, servile, fawning. Excessively eager to please or obey all instructions.

I though they were insulting me. Maybe they were but I'm not sure.

The fact is, for many people the very idea of such behaviour is abhorrent. Too many people consider such actions to be demeaning and beneath them. Such behaviour, they would say, belongs to the era of masters and servants and has no place in modern society.

But I work in a service industry, an industry increasingly referred to as the 'hospitality' industry. An industry where people's leisure time is spent in our company and it is only by our contribution that their experience is a pleasure ~ or otherwise.

I am pleased to use terms like 'sir' or 'madam'. It does not suggest that I am demeaning myself. I hope my eagerness to help and assist will benefit me by encouraging these people to spend time, and money, buying my products. It is disarming and, I believe, courteous.

But the use of such language doesn't come easily to some younger staff. It's a pity.

But another customer spotted another one of my mannerisms that I hadn't noticed. One I'm a little embarrassed about. It is a form of 'offensive obsequousness'. I use the term "sir" to some effect when I am being rude and bitterly ironic. For some customers whom I wish to discourage I often use the disarming "sir". When a drunk walks in or when I have to discourage someone from staying I might say "Perhaps sir might be better off going to another establishment?" It is a useful tool. Apparently the more I say "sir" generally the ruder I am being although I stress I never set out to cause offence.

Such knavery is not easily taught to staff. It has taken years of fine tuning to get it right. When "sir" needs to leave the building I can assist them with a smile. I've no wish to disgrace them. I always try to maintain their dignity. But I reckon I've got it pretty close when a drunk I am ejecting says to me "thank you". And then I will bid them a cheery "goodnight sir" without malice.

Obsequious, me? I don't think so. But pay attention if I start saying "sir" to you too often.

Related topics Legislation

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