By Hannah Reich Berman

People often do not say what they mean, nor do they mean what they say. I offer as an example the fact that, in a local pharmacy, I am now referred to as a guest. Waiting in line for an empty spot to open up in front of a register, I was finally called over by one of the cashiers. “Will the next guest please step forward,” she called out.

The first time it happened I thought I was imagining it. But, while my imagination is good, it isn’t that good! And my hearing is just fine, so I realized that she had indeed referred to me as a guest. How about that! And all along I thought I was a customer. When I finally made my way up to the register, I couldn’t resist asking, “If I’m a guest you must be the host and, that being the case, why am I expected to pay for these things?” She didn’t laugh or even crack a smile. Apparently not everyone has a sense of humor.

My assumption was that this meshugas of referring to customers as guests was restricted to the drugstore, but I recently discovered that this is not the case. Upper management, in other stores, is apparently training employees in the art of being gracious. I know this because I was in another local store a week later when it happened again. As I pushed my shopping cart to the front in order to fork over my money, I got the same spiel. Here too, when I was called to the register, I was referred to as a guest. This time I decided to skip the humor. There’s nothing more frustrating than having one’s humor go unappreciated.

It’s not only store workers who use irrelevant words. There was a time when people used more formal speech and, when wanting to express surprise, they would say “My, my” or “You don’t say.” After a while those expressions were no longer commonly used. Instead, to express astonishment or disbelief, people would say “You gotta be kidding.” Some took it a step further and said “Get outta here” or “Go away” or even “Get outta town.”

Clearly, those phrases are all figures of speech, since nobody really wanted anyone to leave or to get out of town. But even those figures of speech have evolved, and the latest expression to hit the ground running is “Shut the front door.” That phrase is not only used to express surprise, it’s also used to express unbridled joy. Why? I don’t know! I have no idea what the front door has to do with anything, nor do I know why it has to be shut, but who am I to criticize? It’s no more senseless than “Get outta here,” which is what I still say despite the fact that the phrase dates me.

Of course, not everything changes. Some words and phrases remain the same but their meaning has changed. Kids still say things they don’t mean, especially kids who are newly licensed to drive. “Mom, do you need anything at the store? Huh? I can get it for you if you want.” The kid who says that actually hasn’t got the slightest desire to run an errand for anyone. He (or she) simply wants the opportunity to drive the family car without an adult to accompany him.

I know this because one of my grandchildren, the one who most recently got a driver’s license, has suddenly begun to offer all types of assistance, not just to her parents but to me as well. For years she would call periodically to see how I am or to chat or to tell me what was going on in her life. But the last call I got from her was different. It involved a car–her parents’ car, not mine. And she was anxious to be driving it. I picked up on that as soon as she asked, “Savta, do you need anything? Can I take you anywhere or pick up something for you?” She was willing to do anything I asked if it would put her behind the wheel of a car.

As I’m still self-sufficient, I gave a resounding no to her offers of help. This was undoubtedly a huge disappointment to her. And eventually it may come back to haunt me because, by the time I do need to be driven anywhere or for someone to bring something to me, the thrill will have worn off and her desire to drive will be long past. Showing off her newfound independence will become old hat and she will no longer have the need to show her friends that she “got the car” and is driving it somewhere.

At that point I may regret the change of status, both hers and mine. But all is not lost and there is hope on the horizon because, as I age, so do my grandchildren. In a few years’ time, when the youngest ones get their driver’s licenses, they too will be delighted to be my chauffeur or to run errands for me. But, for now, I still do my own thing and so I usually refuse offers of assistance. Recently, however, because I knew how much it meant to this grandchild, I accepted her offer to buy a quart of milk for me and bring it to my house. Undoubtedly she was thrilled because she hung up quickly, before I had a chance to change my mind. She was alone in her house at that time, but seconds before the phone connection was broken, I heard her say, “Shut the front door!”

Telling it like it is, is very important to me. So, when I recently had preoperative testing and the doctor said that he would tell me exactly what he was going to do before he actually did it, I gave an unusual response. I let him know that I didn’t want to hear one word about “a little pinch.” I was very direct: “If you intend to stick a needle in me, please say so and don’t give me any nonsense about it being a pinch.” The poor man nearly choked, but he did as I asked.

And I didn’t stop there. I also let him know that he was not to say, “This will be a little uncomfortable.” When I’m too hot or too cold I am uncomfortable. If the waistband on my skirt is too tight, I am uncomfortable. But when something hurts me, I am not uncomfortable, I am in pain. And I insisted that he let me know when he would have to hurt me. After spending so many years using medical euphemisms, it must have been a difficult thing for him to do, but he did it. He told me what he had to tell me, and that was just what I wanted. I thought to myself, Shut the front door! That’s the way it is with some people, and that’s the way it was for me. v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.

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