Mister, Mister

Here's a little game I invented the other day after phoning the water company to complain about my bill and hearing an overly-chipper woman say, "Hi, Peter. How may I help you?"

Increasingly I find that strangers who address me by my first name are the very people from whom I'd prefer an ounce of respect in the form of the honorific "Mr." On the other hand, the folks who graciously call me Mr. Funt are usually the ones to whom I immediately say, "Oh, please, call me Peter."

I'll get to the game in a moment but, honestly, how did we manage to become so careless and casual in greeting one another? I taught a journalism class for high school students last winter and about fell over when two students addressed me repeatedly as Peter. I wish I'd had the presence of mind to give them the Prof. Kingsfield treatment: "Mister Hart!" Then again, "The Paper Chase" film came out in 1973 and today Kingsfield's students would probably reply, "Well, Charles..."

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