Addressing “Aegism”

Dear Mrs. McVeigh,

Can you please address the issue of “ageism?” I was with some ladies in a social setting, and one lady continued to mention how young another lady was. It was like an overweight person telling a thin person, “you are so thin,” over and over. What is the thin person supposed to say back? It’s uncomfortable. My husband used to have this problem early in his career. He was in charge of people a lot younger than he was, and he constantly got comments about his age. Please give your opinion from an etiquette point of view. Thank you.


Dear G.P.,

People who make comments about other people’s age often make the person feel like their opinions, skills and talents are not as good as someone older or younger than they are. This is “ageism.” I had this experience at a job when I was in my 20s. My boss always said I was so young, and the context that she said this meant I was naive, and clueless. The same happens to our elderly. Etiquette is about making people feel comfortable. If we point out how people are different than we are, it can be taken in a negative way. Age is especially a sensitive subject for a lot of people. It is something that we cannot change, and the amount of years that we have been alive does not always correspond with what other people think that our skill level should be, or our worldviews. People have very different backgrounds and childhood experiences, and some people mature a lot faster than others. (For better or for worse.) We should all be consciences of discussing things with people that they are not able to change (such as age, height, and ethnicity). Even if you do not mean it in a negative way, you are not sure how they are going to feel about your comments.