I'm trying very hard not to narrow my eyes when strangers call me sweetie.

I'm trying very hard not to narrow my eyes when strangers call me sweetie.

Narrowing my eyes is what I do in place of rolling them. If I were more outspoken and less good-girl, I'd roll my eyes to a fare-thee-well and then spout my opinions like a bottlenose dolphin.

But I'm not more outspoken, and I'm as confrontational as a rabbit. I'm the type of person who, when a waitress or a grocery store clerk says, "Hello, sweetie" says "Hello" back. Probably with narrowed eyes, but as I say, I'm trying very hard not to do that any more.

"If the worst thing anybody ever calls you is 'sweetie,' you've got nothing to complain about," I tell myself. I know this is true, but let's be perfectly honest: Just because it isn't the worst thing doesn't mean it isn't annoying. And just because my annoyance is mild as opposed to hot, super hot, or Red Savina Holy Moly doesn't mean I'm not entitled to my feelings. And my feelings may be summed up in 10 words: You don't know me well enough to call me sweetie.

That's without putting the whole business in the context of age, though I could do that, too, if I felt like it. I've never asked the ages of people who call me sweetie, and I'm terrible at guessing how old other people are, but I think I'm right when I say virtually everyone who calls me sweetie is younger than I am. Not weeks or months younger. I'm talking decades younger. As my husband pointed out, people who call strangers sweetie tend to apply the endearment either to those much younger or much older than they are. In my case, it's like shorthand for "Oh, you dear old grandmotherly thing, you."

I'll say this: sweetie is better than mee-maw.

I know I sound ungrateful. The world is often an ugly place, with too much name-calling, brinkmanship and outright cruelty. We all know the words that radio guy used to describe an intelligent college student who testified before Congress in favor of something the radio guy is against. Given all that, how dare I gripe about a little misapplied sweet talk?

I dare for several reasons, the strongest of which is that it makes me feel patronized, infantilized and silly. Some people no doubt feel cared for and cozy when someone too young to pass a bottle of wine over the cash register scanner calls them "honey," but I don't, probably because my grandmother, who lived to be 96, had a way of staring down hapless strangers who were too familiar with her. I haven't inherited this ability, but I certainly come by my discomfort with random "sweeties" through the maternal line.

It comes down to personality types, I suppose. I've never been able to call strangers sweetie or poopsie, and those words certainly don't jump to my lips when I'm, say, remembering grapes or rummaging for a particular store loyalty card among all the store loyalty cards I carry around.

Then: "Did you find everything you need, sweetie?" I'm asked. Trust me, I yearn to reply, "Yes, I did, sweetie, and you're just a tootsie-wootsie for asking," but I simply don't have the nerve.

Too bad I haven't been trained as an actor. If I'd had a few New School lessons, I could pull it off, I bet. I might even be able to do it with an accent: "Wha, ahwunt you ahwul jest the swayuh-tust thangs!" but that will never happen in real life. In real life, I'm polite but reserved. I keep certain facts to myself, including that I tend to go around the house making up songs for and about the dog ("I have a dog named Pip, Pip, Pip/ and if he took a dip, dip, dip/He'd be so clean and smell so fresh/We'd take a trip to Marrakesh.") I'm not saying that my way is right and the sweetie-flingers are wrong. I'm just saying.

In fact, I fantasize about speaking up the way other people fantasize about becoming rock stars. "Please don't call me sweetie," I imagine myself saying quietly to my restaurant waitress. And then I add, "Also, think twice about calling me 'you guys.'"

But I'll never do that, any more than I'll ever be so good at rock star air guitar that I could play "Layla" and mow the lawn at the same time. At best, I'll learn to take being called "sweetie" without looking like a gangster or worse, acting like a brat.

Write to Margo Bartlett at mbartlett@thisweeknews.com.