THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
When will they ever learn?
Delusions of importance

Are they rude, or am I out of date?

Crossing the UK border by car today, the young immigration officer asked me if Mrs P could look up and take off her sunglasses. His view of her in the passenger seat was blocked and he needed her to lean forward so he could do his job. Fair enough. Except he referred to her by her first name.

Mrs P. gets annoyed if I indulge in sarcasm like "You know each other! How nice. Where did you meet?" There was a time when I could not have resisted, but she's not well and I don't want to upset her. I bit my lip and drove on brooding, but I despise myself for it.


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Mike Cunningham


Point 1. 'Crossing the UK border by car' Crossing from the Irish Republic to Northern Ireland?

Point 2 Couple of years back, I was in hospital for major surgery. As I was being escorted to my ward bed, I was asked, "So how do you wish to be addressed? Jimmy, James, Michael?"

My reply was short, but pointed, "My name is Mr. Cunningham. I am in here because of a surgical need, not to widen the circle of my acquaintances."

I believe that my surname, marked above my bed, was the ONLY patient surname in the whole of the hospital. Gone are the days when an elderly person such as I was automatically addressed as 'Sir'. These days, one is lucky to be called 'Mate', if spoken to at all!


"Ropeable" - a wonderful new word! A quick online search suggests it's the Australian (not Canadian) version of "fit to be tied". Thank you. I do love the fertility of the English language. Good to see you here again JMB.


Sighs. The North American over-familiarity has spread to the UK now. Anyone who addresses me by my first name gets the same treatment from me, no matter how important they think they are.

Although to be honest, immigration officers of all countries seem to think they are some kind of special breed. Once a US officer asked me why I had not ever become a Canadian citizen. (Until less than 10 years ago the Australians did not allow dual citizenship, but of course when they changed that law I promptly became one.)

I was ropeable. What business was it of his? The OS was kicking me, thinking I would be rejected and not able to visit our daughter ever again.


No excuses, dear boy. The English language has many more words than French. He had more options open to him than the various hoteliers, waiters and sommeliers who had been gracious to Mrs P. in so many different ways during the short trip from which we were returning.

For example, he could have said "Please ask the lady to show me her face, sir". Is that so hard? If he was going to use any data from the passport to address her, it should certainly have been her surname.

Suboptimal Planet

That's a fair point, Diogenes. Even 'Ms' isn't neutral, since the choice between it and 'Mrs' is personal.

It would have been far better if the Miss-Mrs distinction had never existed.

The Americans seem to manage well enough with Sir and Ma'am (weird as it sounds to us), but you're right that it becomes ambiguous with more than two people in the car.


These people spend all day addressing cars full of people with the same surname. Do they know for a fact that your wife is your wife not your unmarried sister? should they ask? should they assume? They are in a bit of a no win situation.

Their purpose is to determine with certainty your identities. Your names are no mystery to them, they have your passports in their hands.

Uniquely, amongst public servants, I would allow them this small impertinence, because I don't want to be queued up behind a people carrier full of Mr Smiths.


They don't teach manners at schools any more and even UK call centre operators now have to be coached how to deal with other people in routine public situations.

I fly quite a lot - mainly medium / long haul and I've found them mostly quite civil - but inevitably you get the occasional real git. If not encumbered with fellow travelers who could be inconvenienced by it - I rather enjoy spats with over pushy uniformed UK officialdom when I am confident of my ground.

However, after reading the tales of UKBA malarkey over at Nothing 2 declare it would seem we can count ourselves lucky that we weren't suspected of buying tobacco in Europe...

Henry Crun

Best not to piss off the Border Stasi - they have no sense of humour whatsoever.

Suboptimal Planet

I can't say I'm surprised, though thankfully I haven't experienced it yet. I've taken the necessary steps to avoid cold-callers, at home and at work, and I don't really have much contact with random people who know my name but aren't my friends.

However, when it does happen, I will certainly be annoyed. And I hope that I'm not out of date at 32.


I am relatively young and hate people I don't know calling me by my first name - I particularly hate being asked how I am by call centre staff who do not know me and obviously couldn't care about my state of mind!


Nope, you are not past your sell-by date - they are rude, but unknowingly so.

You see, in your absence they have had all this equality drummed into them and not been taught about respect for their elders or how to address those that they may only meet once!

Welcome to England!

Richard B

Both: you (and I) are out of date, and they are rude.

I see this at its worst in hospitals, where elderly people, some of whom have lived lives of great pride and dignity, are called by their first names by staff a fifth of their age, and cannot complain.

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