this too
Thursday, February 17, 2005
  Informality


This week the pharmacist from whom I’ve long been picking up my repeat prescriptions for migraine medication suddenly, unprecedentedly, called me by my first name. I was affronted. Now, I’ve no time at all for formality and don’t equate it with respect. I’ve never, ever asked anyone to call me anything but Jean. I’m with Nelson Mandela, who came out of prison and scorned smart suits in favour of those bright, wild shirts. Life’s too short to stand on ceremony. But apparently I don’t want to be on familiar terms with the man who gives me drugs, who stands between me and pain. I wonder why.

The pharmacy is a beacon in a mass of urban symptoms. Despite rampant gentrification, my bit of South London has yet to attain - or perhaps I should say yet to recover - an ambiance of overall glossiness. Once a gracious area of Victorian red-brick suburbia, it's long been a disjointed place where commerce ranges from the shiny, transient emporium of the useless to the shabby, dispiriting excuse for a food or hardware store. But here is something else. A big, light, double shop-front, it was recently refurbished so a ring of comfy seats encircles the central pillar. The shelves and carousels are stacked with sumptuous toiletries, both conventional and organic. As well as all the usual over-the-counter drugs, there’s a large selection of simple herbal and homeopathic stuff. Helpful leaflets are spread out to take away and the noticeboard announces a cross-section of local complementary therapists. A quiet, serious man, Mr Patel is often to be seen dispensing kind advice. Polite, gentle young people serve behind the counter – not the norm around here.

I like the place. I like the pharmacist. So why don’t I want to be more friendly? I suppose it has to do with fear, vulnerability, being seen as a person in need. I suppose it is my problem. If he calls me Jean again, I probably should ask him what *his* first name is. But then he might think I’m flirting.
 
Comments:
How terrific! Here you are! Welcome to the other side of the comment boxes; I hope your blog brings you as much happiness as mine has brought me, mainly form coming to know people like you.

Isn't it odd that we know you only as Jean, and that's fine, but from your pharmacist, who perhaps knows certain aspects of you more intimately than you'd like, it's not especially welcome. So it's not the first-naming, per se, it's symbolic. I don't want to be wholly known in most places either.
 
I think Beth put her finger on it: your pharmacist already knows "too much" about you, medically. So it's comforting to feel like it's a professional relationship, and Mr/Mrs keeps that boundary in place.
 
Hi Jean; and welcome!!
I'm a woman with all my identity
in my first name - Suzanne
proud of being a crone

(the dismal young man at the gas station I frequent refers to me as
"everyone's favorite witch";
I call him "Mr. Happy")

having worked at a medical college/hospital for many years
I also call all the doctors I have dealings with
and thankfully not many of them
and not often
by their first names

Obviously it's a very personal thing
how you weant to be called
by whom

I just signed up with Blogger yesterday so I could post comments
so I have a lair here
mind midden heap
but it is currently unexcavated;
the place I call home
in cyber-space is
http://suzannagig.journalspace.com

I hope you take great pleasures
in your blog
I can attest to there being
marvelous human beings
roaming these spaces
 
Actually, all the doctors at my National Health Service General Practice *are* known to their patients by their first names, except the older Dr Gupta - it's a father-and-son practice - who is quaintly known as 'Senior', and they only call their very oldest patients Mr or Mrs. I've never reacted to this. I think it was the sudden change to a more familiar tone that alarmed me. As if the pharmacist has seen me looking ill and shaky so many times and doled out so many 'life-saving' pills which I took with fervent gratitude that he now feels implicated in my life. That's a nice thing in some ways, but not in all ways...
 
To me it's that he who calls your name lays claim to your soul. And claim to my soul is not something I readily give.
 
Oh, by the way, I love the details of cityscape you're including....
 
If he calls me Jean again, I probably should ask him what *his* first name is.Maybe this is the root of the discomfort? Informality is one thing: non-reciprocality is another.
 
And today my dental hygienist lectured me about my brushing habits, then was offended when I suggested that at age 50 if lectures were going to work...they probably would have by now. So please stop. Why does this feel like the same experience to me as being addressed too intimately?
 
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