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Mar 25, 2014 07:02 AM

Addressing people by gender at a restaurant

A friend of mine and I were discussing why/whether or not it's wrong for folks who work in a restaurant to address people by gender. For example, if two people who look like women come into a restaurant, the bartender calling out, "Good evening, ladies! Sit where you like!" or two people who appear to be male sitting down at the bar and the bartender saying, "What are you drinking, gents?"

I'd like to know where the Chowhounders stand on this. good? bad? indifferent?

Edited to add, for clarification:

As opposed to not using gender at all, as it does offend some people. e.g. "Good evening, sit where you like!"

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    1. re: Harters

      maybe it's my crazy imagination but this made me spit out my coffee.

      1. re: Harters

        "If not that, then what?"

        "Welcome, fellow humans."?

        1. re: MGZ

          Well, I love Big Brother so I vote for "Citizen(s)!"

          1. re: hazelhurst

            I think that's how they address customers in North Korea.

            1. re: hazelhurst

              My soft spot is actually for "Comrades", but it has a lot of negative baggage these days. Then again, in another couple decades, when resources continue to deplete and wealth continues to concentrate . . . .

              1. re: MGZ

                See the "Holy Grail" where Arthur addresses to "Old Woman" who turns out to be "Dennis'

                I didn't know your name was Dennis

                You didn't bother to find out. What I object to is automatically being treated as inferior.

                I am King!


                1. re: hazelhurst

                  I thought we were an anarcho-syndicalist collective!

              2. re: MGZ

                But can one *really* be sure of this?

                1. re: Harters

                  In my line of work, we're allowed a little bit of leeway and it can get a bit, um, CREATIVE sometimes.

                  1. re: POAndrea

                    I'm sorry you can't make a post like this without expecting some jerk like me calling you out on it!! What line of work might that be????

                    1. re: jrvedivici

                      Law enforcement. (Though I should qualify the statement above by adding "as long as it isn't on the radio.")

                      1. re: POAndrea

                        Ahhhhh PO-Andrea....gotcha. FYI my mother was in the first graduating class of female police officers in Newark, NJ. If you don't know much about NJ geography, that's not a desirable place to become a police woman.

                        Yes you are correct, you can get away with a lot more when it's just your word vs. theirs, not on the airwaves.

                        1. re: jrvedivici

                          Hey! No Jersey putdowns outside our forum!

                2. I am firmly, profoundly, and unwaveringly in the "Who gives a sh*t" camp. It's gotta be at least a bit better than calling everyone "guys", but, at bottom, initial communication in social interaction is limited and awkward.

                  Guess you'd chalk that up as "indifferent"?

                  1. I think it would be more confusing if the FOH staff asked everyone what their pronoun was

                    1 Reply
                    1. It's funny that English doesn't offer a good universal way to address a group. There is no second person plural. Y'all serves the purpose, but not used everywhere, obviously (people up here would look at me funny). In turn, I say "you guys" all the time and my southern Aunt does NOT like it! I suppose "you all" is an option.
                      To answer your question, no, it does not bother me.

                      59 Replies
                        1. re: ludmilasdaughter

                          In some neighborhoods, referring to the wrong group as "people" or "folks" can get one shot.

                          1. re: POAndrea

                            Really? Which neighborhoods are those? Where dogs rule?

                            1. re: acgold7

                              Where crips, bloods, stones, popes, vice lords, etc "rule."

                              1. re: POAndrea

                                So what would be the preferred form of address?

                                1. re: acgold7

                                  Good question. Since I never get the response I'm hoping for, I guess I'm still working on it!

                                  1. re: POAndrea

                                    Are waiters generaslly at the same risk of getting randomly shot as Police Officers in their line of work?

                                2. re: POAndrea

                                  and so when I note red or blue bandannas at the host stand I should refrain from "folks"? I'm just now learning this????

                              2. re: POAndrea

                                "Folks" is a gang word? Huh. Never knew.

                                1. re: ludmilasdaughter

                                  It's not a gang word, but I believe what the person upthread was implying is that it's how African-Americans have been referred to, either at some point in history, or currently, e.g. "black folks." I hear "white folks" just as frequently, and again, have no dog in this hunt, but potentially, an AA person could take offense to it and I think that's why the upthread poster was saying "folks" isn't a good term to use. I think that's a little ridiculous, but I'm not AA so it's not really for me to say.

                                  1. re: rockandroller1

                                    The Folks and the People are two rival gangs. Knowing the difference in my blighted bit of Chicago in the 80s could keep you from getting shot.

                                      1. re: JungMann

                                        Yeah I've met quite a few members of the Folk Nation while I was in the military.

                              3. re: julesrules

                                "Y'all serves the purpose, but not used everywhere, obviously (people up here would look at me funny). In turn, I say "you guys" all the time and my southern Aunt does NOT like it!"

                                Youse guys???

                                BTW, "Y'all" only covers one or two people. For a larger group the proper term is "All Y'all".

                                1. re: PotatoHouse

                                  I think "all y'all" is more a younger generation thing, because it was definitely looked upon with derision in Virginia in the 1980s. "You" covered one or two, and "y'all" covered groups (three or more). The handful of times I heard "all y'all", it was roundly met with disapproval.

                                2. re: julesrules

                                  I thought "you" was both second person singular and plural?So "Good evening, sit where you like" works for individuals and groups equally well.

                                  1. re: julesrules

                                    "It's funny that English doesn't offer a good universal way to address a group."

                                    Simply not so. The mileage you can get out of "folks" may vary from region to region, but I used it liberally ten years a waiter in the Midwest.

                                    1. re: julesrules

                                      'you guys'
                                      'youse' (Philly)
                                      'you folks' (midwest, maybe other places)
                                      'y'all' (south)
                                      'you all'
                                      'yinz' (western PA)

                                      The problem with English isn't that there is no second person plural. It's really that the second person plural varies by region and some people get all up in a huff like you spit on their shoes when someone uses a regional variant that they don't favor. Also, because it varies by region, there is no second person plural that is especially formal sounding... which further exacerbates the ire of people who's day is ruined if they are addressed in a way they feel is incorrect.

                                        1. re: PhilD

                                          Depending on where you grew up, "y'all," "youse," "yinz," etc, may be more common, more accepted, and less apt to create confusion than the plural "you." There is no universally correct dialect of English.

                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                            Are they not colloquialisms...? And I though that English standards were established in dictionaries etc and core of the language was universal so "you" works everywhere whilst "y'll" is best used in Texas.

                                            1. re: PhilD

                                              "You" as second person plural is far more likely to be misunderstood (usually as singular, referring to one out of a group) than 'y'all' in places where the locals all say 'y'all.' It's not technically incorrect, but it's certainly not the least bit more correct than 'y'all' is either.

                                              "And I though that English standards were established in dictionaries etc and core of the language was universal"

                                              "Are they not colloquialisms...?"
                                              English is a language of colloquialisms and appropriated words.

                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                yeah, go write a tearful missive to the ghost of Samuel Johnson </snark>

                                                I was NOT raised to use it but adopted y'all at some point when I became aware that other languages don't have the ambiguity English does in the word 'you'.

                                                it just seemed more efficient and who cares if somebody thinks I'm a bumpkin.

                                                1. re: hill food

                                                  "yeah, go write a tearful missive to the ghost of Samuel Johnson"
                                                  I'm only on my first glass of bourbon for the night, but if I decide to have a few more... I've done worse at 3 am.

                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                    tell him I said 'hi' and I'm still ticked off. he'll know what it's about.

                                                  2. re: hill food

                                                    Hill food, not sure what you mean about "other languages don't have the ambiguity English does in the word 'you.'" Although it is true that many languages have a different word for the second-person pronoun that is uniquely singular, in most of those languages that form is reserved for use with persons with whom one has either a familiar relationship or where the speaker is in some way of higher status.

                                                    E.g., in French "tu" is used to address, in the singular form, friends, family members, and children. If used to address an adult stranger, it is typically meant to be insulting -- e.g., how one might address a beggar. Where one's relationship is more formal, the form of "you" that is used for the singular is identical to the plural "you." That is, "vous." And this usage is common in other European languages as well (and perhaps non-European too; I just don't know any.)

                                                    In other words, in both English and French, an individual restaurant patron or a group of patrons would be addressed with identical form of the second-person pronoun by a waiter or host - "you" in English, "vous" in French, etc.

                                                    Edited: I do realize that Spanish has different forms of "you" for the singular-formal and the plural (usted/ ustedes) but I believe this is unusual among European languages, although I do not pretend to be sufficiently schooled in enough languages to make categorical pronouncements on the subject. Suffice it to say that many other languages, besides English (e.g., French, Italian, Russian) use the same word for the singular-formal and the plural "you.")

                                                    1. re: masha

                                                      Many languages and cultures have traditionally made the distinction between the likes of "tu" and "vous" when it comes to politeness and decorum, including many Germanic languages. Using "Sie" in German, "ni" in Swedish, etc.

                                                      1. re: masha

                                                        masha - yes I bungled that and this still isn't articulate, I think it was when I started being aware of other languages having a familiar vs. formal that I felt English ought to have one that is clearly a plural since it's all familiar and has to be considered contextually.

                                                        1. re: hill food

                                                          Understood Hill Food. I think it is fascinating how different languages evolve so that some have more precise/ multiple words, whereas others have only a single word for that concept -- e.g., that the Eskimos have 28 words for "snow," although I believe that's a myth. But, for example,Russian has "multi-directional" and "uni-directional" verbs for activities that involve movement, so that there are 2 different words for "walk," "carry," etc.

                                                          Of course, English does/did have a singular-form 2nd person pronoun that connotes familiarity -- "thee" -- but it is no longer used in common speech.

                                                          1. re: masha

                                                            I think the Inuit might very well have at least that many. in the novel "Smilla's Sense of Snow" the Danish author devoted practically a chapter to the different ways a Greenlander might describe ice and snow textures and densities.

                                                            1. re: hill food

                                                              A terrific book. But I read it a long time ago and don't remember that passage

                                                    2. re: cowboyardee

                                                      Who mentioned correct? I am not arguing you don't use the other expressions, just saying that "you" is universal, and is it really true people don't understand it when its used after all its pretty common on TV etc.

                                                      Are you really saying the core language is not universal - if it wasn't it would be very tricky.....!

                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                        "Are you really saying the core language is not universal"
                                                        Pretty much.

                                                        More precisely:
                                                        - The core of the language is only universal if you define 'core' to mean the parts of the language that are universally understood among English speakers (let's assume said English speakers are fluent in at least their own regional dialect)
                                                        - Those parts of the language that are universally understood are fewer than you seem to realize, and have little to do with dictionaries.
                                                        - The second person plural 'you' is not universally understood among English speakers.

                                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                                          Surreal - if people from many countries can communicate easily in English how can it not have a core? I think you need to travel more if you don't think "you" is not well understood.

                                                          1. re: PhilD

                                                            I may have created some confusion earlier when I emphasized what is 'understood' - that's a bit imprecise. In many cases you can understand a dialect of English you don't speak simply due to context. For example, if it is clear that a speaker is referring to a group from the context of a conversation, then the plural 'you' may be understood even by people who don't use it in their dialect.

                                                            Filling in the blanks via context and inference is generally how people who speak different dialects of the same language can effectively communicate with each other. In conversation though, you're often not conscious that you're doing it.

                                                            That said, you seriously underestimate how difficult it sometimes is to understand people who speak a different dialect of English from your own. In addition to Chowrin's example, you might find yourself having a very hard time following a conversation in certain parts of Scotland, among some subsets of the working poor in England, some Caribbean Islanders, or among some South Africans. And there are many other examples I'm less familiar with. It's tempting to assume this is all because of accent or pronunciation, but if you listen closely, you'll find variances in word choice and sentence structure that go far deeper than accent alone.

                                                            1. re: cowboyardee

                                                              Not really my experience. Grew up in various areas of the UK with strong regional dialects, lived in a afro-caribean area as a student, worked in Eire and Scotland. Lots of colleagues in Italy, Germany, France and Spain, and now live in Asia and travel extensively to 14 countries. So lots and lots of experience of speaking English to people from many countries., and have just returned from a holiday in South Africa.

                                                              Certainly word choice, and sentence construction can vary, for example Indian English has a lot of quite old fashioned English phrasing. But across all these countries the core of the English language remains and that is why its simple and easy to communicate. And I can't recall anyone (including colleague in the US who didn't understand you in the singular and plural).

                                                              For example: could you turn off your phones please; could you be outside the hotel to catch the buses; can you turn to page X; you are invited to the football tonight; make sure you are checked out of the hotel by 9:00am; could you be outside the hotel to catch the buses. Are all pretty common expressions used at meetings (in the US) with groups of colleagues from lots of countries. Do you think they didn't understand it was addressed to them as a group rather than to a single person?

                                                              English constantly evolves, see the latest words in the OED, but that doesn't mean the fundamental core changes, certainly it slowly evolves, with words coming and going. But the core grammar and usage is pretty consistent.

                                                              1. re: PhilD

                                                                "Do you think they didn't understand it was addressed to them as a group rather than to a single person?"
                                                                I'm sure they did understand. But why? There are so many possibilities you're not considering.
                                                                - I never said the plural 'you' isn't common. Just that it's not universal. Likely enough it was already a part of their dialect.
                                                                - They understood from the context alone. If it is already obvious that they are being addressed as a group, then it's easy to infer that 'you' is plural even if you're not familiar with that usage.
                                                                - They were international businessmen who were already exposed to and versed in the most common dialects of English spoken in business settings.

                                                                "But across all these countries the core of the English language remains"
                                                                Which part is the 'core'?

                                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                  So people across the world understand "you" in its plural context but its not standard (nothing is universal as its an absolute) English...doesn't that strike you as odd? Maybe I should reverse the question - what do they use instead or is a gap in their language - I get y'all but is obviously used by a very small minority of the approximately 1.5 billion who speak English as a first or second language.

                                                                  Which part is core - well that is the part that is standard and as its a fluid language some of that will change as the language evolves. Is "core" 70%, 80% to 95% I do't know. All I can say is that it is substantive because the billion plus people can speak to each other.

                                                                  1. re: PhilD

                                                                    "Maybe I should reverse the question - what do they use instead or is a gap in their language"
                                                                    I listed a bunch of alternatives in my first post of this subthread.

                                                                    "Which part is core - well that is the part that is standard"
                                                                    So, which part is standard? It sounds like you just picked a synonym for 'core.'

                                                                    We can agree - if that's all you're looking for - that there are parts of the English language that are widely used and understood by MOST English speakers in conversation or writing, especially if those English speakers have experience in talking to people who use other dialects.

                                                                    I object, however, to the notion that there is a core set of English rules, a standard English language, and that dialects simply take these rules and make superficial changes like they were hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree. That's not how dialects evolved (be they Cockney, Ebonics, your dialect, or mine). And it's not how they work. What you're taught in school as a 'standard' English language is really just an arbitrary dialect that is readily understood by other educated English speakers... because they were taught the same arbitrary dialect in school.

                                                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                      "What you're taught in school as a 'standard' English language is really just an arbitrary dialect that is readily understood by other educated English speakers... because they were taught the same arbitrary dialect in school."

                                                                      Puzzled why that doesn't create the "core" English language. I didn't use standard as a synonym for core it was a very deliberate choice of word as above.

                                                                      I don't see how your point about a dialect conflicts with the notion of a core language. Some dialects vary from the core a little, some a lot. All will have words and grammar standards unique to the language and some of these will morph into the core or standard English.

                                                                      So "you" as a plural is generally understood by English speakers as a plural. The examples you give in your earlier post are examples of dialects or other expressions of the plural, so not all English speakers understand y'all but all will understand you all (as it's standard English as the "all" adds emphasis). I would understand all your examples except yinz, and interestingly youse is in common use by Lebanese Australians and Glaswegians - "what youse looking at pal" (being a common invitation to have a fight) - although it's usually singular.

                                                                    2. re: PhilD

                                                                      Wherever there's a perceived gap in a language people will fill it with something. In someplaces it's y'all, in others it's just you...
                                                                      If the gap doesn't get filled, it's not perceived to exist.

                                                                  2. re: PhilD

                                                                    Listen to some Cockney Slang for a bit. (yes, it's deliberately hard to understand by outsiders). And I haven't even broached thieves cant.

                                                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                                                      Now my old china cockneys still spoke English and some of their words came into common usage in the UK e.g. to call someone a berk, or to take a butchers. Certainly there are true secret languages but are they not languages rather than dialects and the evolve for a specific purpose.

                                                            2. re: PhilD

                                                              AAVE has an entirely different grammatical structure, based more on west african grammar.
                                                              No, English is a trade language, just about nothing is standard, and nothing be universal, capiche?

                                                              1. re: Chowrin

                                                                Well put. Even those things that may presently appear "universal", are undergoing changes constantly.

                                                                1. re: MGZ

                                                                  Definitely changing, definitely evolving, its a living language - but its at the periphery its not to the core of the language.

                                                                2. re: Chowrin

                                                                  AAVE is a distinct dialect but doesn't it share a lot of its core with mainstream English?

                                                                  As an aside English in Africa can be a lot more precise (in terms of pronuciation) than English in England, in some respects some African English has stayed truer to the original than the UK.

                                                                  So yes I get that the English language has a lot of variation and variety. But to say nothing is standard is simply wrong. English has a core that is why we can understand English speakers in other countries

                                                                  1. re: PhilD

                                                                    Core word choice? sure. But the grammar is quite different.

                                                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                                                      A lot of AAVE grammar reflects slightly archaic forms of historically English grammar--such as expanded use of the subjunctive.
                                                                      Example: ...he be...
                                                                      Vs. I recommend that he be...

                                                                      1. re: Chowrin

                                                                        Really depends on the level of mutual intelligibility as to whether it is a English language dialect or a new language.

                                                                  2. re: PhilD

                                                                    I'm 100% with you on this, Phil. "You" is both singular and plural. There needs no other modifier to indicate plurality. To a group: "Good evening. Would you like to sit at the window table?" addresses the entire group.

                                                                  3. re: cowboyardee

                                                                    As for "appropriated" words, of which any form of "you" is NOT, I think the word you want here is "calque". Nothing resembling "you" is a calque. I disagree with you from a fundamental standpoint in most all arguments you propose.

                                                                    "Ya'll" is not universally known.

                                                                    "You" is.

                                                                    Ya'll is not a colloquialism, it is part of a dialect. "Snogging" is a colloquialism.

                                                                    Related to food... "guys", "y'all" etc. when asking for orders as a server is just poor manners on the servers' parts. There is no linguistic implication in that other than being too oblivious to use "you". Why complicate matters?

                                                                  4. re: PhilD

                                                                    The english from the dictionary is ain't (12th century or so). And pea is still a backformation (the original word was pease).

                                                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                                                      Chowrin - OK you proved your point - I don't understand your last post.

                                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                                        Pease sounded like a plural, so they made up the singular "pea".

                                                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                                                          And your point is....? I agree language evolves, I suffered through Chaucer at school, but all languages have a common core. The core will evolve slowly, the periphery will evolve faster.

                                                            3. re: julesrules

                                                              Actually "you" is the second person plural, it just gets used all the time as second person singular having pushed "thou" aside.

                                                              1. re: Wawsanham

                                                                Thou was second person singular, Informal. There's a reason the King got ticked when Penn called him "thou"

                                                              2. Honestly, does that offend you? I see no problem with it at all.