Thursday, April 13, 2006

Patrons, Dealing with Elderly

Listen hear, deary Not surprisingly, I am an ardent Agatha Christie fan. One of her most beloved characters is Miss Jane Marple.

Miss Marple contends that people are of a type...meaning nothing can happen without reminding Miss Marple of some similar situation in her village of St. Mary Mead. People are archetypical.

I whole heartedly agree with this sentiment. I seem to meet the same people over and over again. Which in reality, makes them much easier to deal with.

Like Miss Marple, I grew up in a small town. I was observant enough (yes, I've always carried a little black Moleskine - though admittedly, I didn't start using a fountain pen until I was 11)to jot down what I was thinking when in different situations. It helps to be a keen observer of human behavior. I was also fortunate to be surrounded by lots and lots of old people. From these adventures in observation, I learned a terrific number of things. Without digressing into how generous I am, I will share with you a few of these personalities:

The Spinster Aunt: Quit clothes shopping when her husband died. Recounting the past is important, things were better then. Doesn't care for small children. Smells reminiscent of mothballs and rosewater. Sensible shoes, and never ever puts her purse down.

To deal with: Enjoys follow up letters recounting the visit. Enjoys sounds of agreement when in conversation. Use phrases like "Really, its no problem..", or "Let me take care of that for you". Fairly easy to deal with.

The Gardener Grandmother: Enjoys clothes with pockets, and smocks/aprons. Knows everyone's business because she is always in her yard - another keen observer of human behavior. Cusses politely in mixed company, drinks from cups in saucers, not from mugs. A bit earthy, might put left over lady fingers in her purse when no one is looking. Smells of lilacs, and sunblock. Sensible shoes, her purse probably has everything from tissue to a car jack in it.

To deal with: Listen, don't talk. Don't flatter her, she knows what she looks like. Game to share garden cuttings, and mention the neighbors business in passing. Use phrases like "Nice weather we're having" and "So I noticed the _______'s got a new car?...." Knows what she wants, and will ask for it when she wants it. My favorite to deal with.

The Drunk Uncle: Rosey cheeked, and happy. Prone to crying if you are too nice. Often, ready for a nap. Enjoys pants that are pulled up to high, and has a preference for plaids. Usually wears glasses, and keeps the case in a top pocket. Orthopedic shoes, black dress socks visible due to pants lack of length. Smells of bourbon, Jack, or canned beer.

To deal with: Smile a lot. Point out a comfortable chair and get him the daily paper. Find books with more pictures than words, he's come to get away from it for a while. Make sure he knows where the bathroom is. Can be tough to deal with, depending on how much he drank for breakfast.

Grandpa Politics: Clean shaven, perhaps a pencil moustache. Ironed dress shirt, and wing tip shoes. Probably carries a handkerchief in his pocket. Clearly remembers the last "good" President, and will share it. Odd familiarity with local government. Starts sentences with "I remember when..." and "They would have never....". Does not reveal political party affiliation. Smells like Bryll cream and aftershave.

To Deal With: Acknowledge him by name, and nod when he walks into the room. Firm handshake may follow. Don't mention international politics unless you have at least 20 more minutes to spend with him. Eye contact is important. Will tell you what he wants, no need to ask. Challenging to deal with, but rewarding.

Dear Old Auntie : A propensity for flowered dresses, may have a wandering eye. Blue hair, or grey. Must wear glasses to read, often misplaces them. May forget what she is talking about mid sentence. Cat hair on her lapels. Smells like dusting polish and BenGay. She probably hasn't ironed anything she has on, and her hair is out of place. May wear old costume jewelry. Too much lace. Smiles at odd times, or giggles for no real reason. Wears scuffed open toed heels, with stockings. Purse is surgically attached to the crook of her arm.

To deal with: This is the one I deal with first, to get it over with. Coaxing with suggestive phrases such as "...and then...." and "you don't say?" Will have forgotten where she set her glasses down at least 2 times before she leaves. Smile like you are looking at a child.

I'm only 30 Great Aunt: Dresses much too suggestively for her age, make up is evident, because its filling in the cracks on her face. Found "her look" several husbands ago, and kept it. Hairstyle from highschool graduation photo is still well kept and colored. Smells like strong perfume. Shoes look painful to wear, but very expensive. Avoid eye contact, do not smile when addressing her. Will want to talk at length, may strategically say extremely personal things in "passing".

To deal with: Keep talking, and feign getting back to what you were doing. Do not entertain her by giving her the attention she is desperately seeking. She doesn't mind, she's just on her way to flirt with the next person in the room who makes eye contact with her. One of my least favorites to deal with.

Gay Uncle: Immaculate, smells of expensive department store cologne. Crosses his legs, and pinky's up when having tea or coffee. Not a talker, an observer. Mentions wonderful vacations, and has the tan to prove it. Likes nieces and nephews, and always has a peppermint for them. Never puts the host to any trouble, and always brings flowers. Expect a thank you card 2 days later, signed in a neat hand. Black patent leather shoes, black leather belt. Probably a navy sports coat. May have a "friend" who is equally eloquent, who shows up for holiday dinners and important family events.

To deal with: Take notes. He's the one I wanted to be. Delightful to deal with. Knows when a conversation is supposed to end, no awkward pauses. Nice archetype.

Mind you, these are just a few of the "old people" observations. There are so many more. If you can deal with them, you can deal with anyone like them. We do really meet the same people over and over again, its sort of a relief at times. On occasion, I'm put to the challenge of dealing with a type I've never dealt with before, but how exciting.

A new archetype is born.

Moral of this blog: Play it again Sam.

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