A FEW years ago, I wrote a column on the deteriorating dress code in our society. While many segments of the society have succumbed to sloppiness, the professionals - physicians, lawyers, accountants, business people, and the like - have resisted the temptation to jump on the bandwagon of extreme casualness.
Then I saw one of my surgeon colleague making hospital rounds in shorts. Granted the shortest route between a golf course and the hospital did not pass by this physician's home, but still, bringing outdoors to the indoors in such a setting was inappropriate. A few of my colleagues told me to mind my own (expletive deleted) business.
As a writer, I consider it my business to observe what goes on around me and, when appropriate, to write about it. Of late, it is not the sloppy dress that has attracted my attention - the dress battle is lost I am afraid - it is the way we interact with each other in a clumsy and disrespectful way. A sloppy informality - I call it artificial familiarity - pervades our daily interactions.
Telemarketers intrude on your privacy and want to address you by your first name. Never mind that you are on a no-call list. This Alex or Robert sits in India or some other country pretending to be an American. It is interesting that while they take on a different persona, they still talk in a singsong south Asian accent that one can spot from 8,000 miles.
Then there are those telemarketers who use the religious and ethnic angle to get close to you. They will greet you in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, or Spanish and when you ask them to speak English they find it more convenient to hang up.
The biggest culprits, however, are not the Kumars pretending as Roberts or Rehanas pretending as Nancys but the staff in doctors' offices, dentists' offices and in the hospitals. While one can terminate conversation with a telemarketer, how do you hang up on a receptionist standing in front of you at a doctor's office? They excel at reducing their clients (they were called patients at one time) to Bob, Ben, Mike or Millie, Ruth, or Julie. They believe it is their right to dispense the niceties and start calling people by their first name. They think they are being friendly but in reality they are not.
A number of years ago, I was one of the two clients - permit me to use the detested word - sitting in the waiting room of an orthodontist's office. The other was an elderly lady by the name of Mildred Johnson (not her real name). After the preliminary verification of insurance, etc., a young girl, hardly 16, appeared in the waiting room and called for Amyad in a loud voice. I did not respond. After a while she came over to me as asked somewhat indignantly if I was Amyad.
To you young lady, I informed her politely, I am Mr. Hussain. And, by the way, my first name is pronounced just as it is written. Her transition from teenage years to a professional office must have been rather short because she used the oft-repeated all-encompassing teenage refrain "whatevvver."
A while later, I heard her call for Mildred. Somehow she had missed the point. I wonder if she would take those sloppy liberties with her grandparents?
When we enter a hospital, we feel obliged to leave our civil liberties and our personal dignity at the front door. Our hospital room becomes a thoroughfare where any one wearing an ID badge and uniform can enter at will without asking permission and address you by your first name as if they are your personal friends.
By contrast in a court of law the judges and the lawyers address even convicted felons with due respect enunciating their full name with the proper appellation of Mr., Miss, or Ms.
Studies have shown that wearing a uniform, commanding a camera, holding a microphone, or flashing a badge somehow empowers some people to direct and dictate to others. The worth of a person, however, is to have all those empowering tools but still act subservient to those who directly or indirectly pay for their livelihood.
So here is a modest suggestion for the health-care industry. Your next ad blitz should not be limited to how good your facility is and how many super-duper, high-tech toys you have. It should emphasize how respectful you are of your clients. It will, however, require retooling the "whatevvver" attitude.