If it weren’t for that whole British Empire thing, after having lived in London’s East End in the late 90’s and recently read The Help, I would be tempted to assert that Britain and Ireland have a better human rights record than the United States. (Actually, if it weren’t for the whole Irish history thing, too . . . )
Be that as it may, I’ve got to say these little islands don’t quite go in for political correctness in the same way Yanks do. It’s there. It’s just that in the United States I don’t think people could get away with some of the terms that are used over here.
In the United States, when you turn 50 or so, you are eligible to become a member of the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons). Even with this fairly innocuous title (let’s face it–you can retire at 30 if you make enough money), people absolutely freak out when they receive their first missive from said association. Usually it’s kind of a self-mocking freak out, but it seems, all the same, that everyone I know who’s received one for the first time has to tell all their friends and relations about it, with a sort of “Whoa is me–they’ve found out I’m old,” kind of air. I also don’t know anyone who has immediately subscribed when they receive this initial communique. Perhaps that’s why the AARP starts so young (I don’t suppose anyone over 30 genuinely thinks 50 is old, actually)–because they know you’re going to resist it at first, and they want to get you sometime.
I don’t know when “senior discounts” start in the United States–maybe at the same time you get your AARP mailing, or maybe a little later, but in any case, you would never call an old person an old person. You don’t say the word old at all. It would kind of be like swearing. People of a certain age are seniors (as if they are in their last year of high school) or senior citizens, maybe. The thing is, once you start substituting a politically correct term for a politically incorrect one, the politically correct one takes on all the associations of the politically incorrect word you were trying to avoid, so then senior citizen starts to sound rude as well.
Here in Ireland, and in Britain, too, they just don’t seem to worry about that. Maybe they assume old people don’t have feelings. Or can’t hear. Or they all just have a stiff upper lip. Anyway, the general term for people over 65 is old age pensioner. There’s just nothing euphemistic about that. The best they manage is abbreviating it: OAP. But the words are all still in there.
I wonder which is better, and if there’s any discernable difference between how people on either side of the pond feel about aging. I can’t say I’ve ever noticed it, but you never know. I think I’d be willing to put up with some frank language for the regular discounts, though. What do you think?