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For a long time now I’ve been thinking about how people address each other. Specifically how people in various industries address customers and/or members of the public. I’m recently back from the States and this post has been made more prominent in my mind as a result.

There seems to be a growing trend to address everyone as ‘Mate’. Personally I dislike this from people I don’t know. Even more so I dislike it from people in shops.

There are, of course several definitions of the term mate, but the two that are relevant here are

“Mate – UK Informal – a friend”

and

“Mate – UK Informal – used as a friendly way of talking to someone, especially a man”

Personally I don’t believe that either of these applies to a situation where someone is dealing with a customer, unless there is already some form of ‘relationship’ already established. (An example would be a builder or plumber you use regularly and chat to about things other than the work they are doing).

For me it’s too informal and while not necessarily disrespectful, doesn’t create the right relationship between the company and the client. I’m not, for a moment, suggesting that one shouldn’t be friendly but for me there is the difference between friendly and being too relaxed. It’s possible it’s the way in which it’s said. Often it’s said quickly with little thought and perhaps that is why it leaves me with the feeling that there is little care or thought for the person being addressed.

In the States it’s noticeably different. I cannot remember a time where I have been addressed as a ‘mate’, even by people I know well. I suspect this is more because it’s not a term regularly used there, but what is interesting is the way people are addressed there. Any time I’ve been addressed there, be it by airport staff (including customs officers), shop staff or restaurant staff, it has always been ‘Sir’.

This is no way a class thing for me. It’s more a politeness thing. While I’m not suggesting that people are purposefully being rude, I believe that a more formal way of addressing those you don’t know provides a more respectful relationship between people, and one where potentially, people feel more valued.

I doubt that I’m going to be starting a sea-change through the nation as I’m prepared to accept it’s just me, but how I address people I don’t know is based more on my experiences in the US and I find it nicer than ‘Mate’!

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