Sunday, April 17, 2011

Old people behaving badly

I am surrounded by old people. I live in a town where it's the place you go to retire. I work in a rest home. I am exposed to old people probably more than the average person. So let me share an insight with you.

Old people are incredibly rude.

Now before you all jump down my throat and tell me about all the wonderful old people you know, how old people fought for my freedom, how your Nana used to bake you and everyone around you cookies, realise I know those old people too (especially the last example!) and I love them!

What I want to expose is the dark side to old people, the hidden side that only a select few get to see.

There is a running joke in my industry that you know you work in a rest home when the most cutting thing that has ever been said to you is uttered by the tiny ninety year old woman in a wheelchair. Here are some actual real life examples of nasty things old people say to their caregivers and nurses:

'You must be such a disappointment to your family' (said when I mentioned I had been a caregiver for 10 years)

'You are so fat you need to stop eating' (said to my friend who is a size 14)

'I don't want a black nurse' (said to my Samoan friend)

'Just as well you are funny because you are ugly' (said to me when I laughed at HER joke)

The list could go on and is regularly added to by my friends and me after each shift and each outing to the supermarket. Do we take it personally? No. Do we wish it would stop? Sometimes.

Another example happened to me yesterday in a cafe. An old lady yelled at me to 'control my children' when my two year old squealed with delight at the lollipop given to him by the owner. I went over to the offending old lady's table and apologized TO HER! If she hadn't been old, I would have cussed her out so bad her head would have spun! But instead I felt like I had to be nice and not call her out on her rudeness. And yeah, I felt dirty doing it. But I was compelled to apologize. Why?

Why do we allow old people with complete mental competencies to be rude to us? Why do we excuse this behaviour as we would if they were a toddler with no concept of what they are saying? When does it become okay to say to an old person 'Don't be rude to me'? I'm actually starting to wonder.

Respect for old people is a good thing. Anyone who is cruel to an old person, be aware there is a special place in hell for you. But in saying that, I have always believed that respect is a mutual experience. I don't think it is okay to be treated badly by anyone who knows what they are doing. And yet, there appears to be exceptions.

The other question that could be asked is what makes old people become rude? When does the switch change when they lose all sense of what is and isn't appropriate to say? I'm assuming they haven't always been this way (as I am told regularly by embarrassed family members of my residents) so what happens?

I think there is a certain level of 'pack mentality' involved. This is obvious at meal times where I work. If one person starts to complain about the soup, everyone starts to complain about the soup. If one table gets served before another table, all hell breaks loose. And don't get me started if the tea isn't strong enough. It would give you nightmares.

I also think there is an attitude of 'Screw it I can't be bothered being nice anymore'. Theirs was a very suppressed generation who sacrificed a lot. I think they are just over it now. This is obvious from a lady in the supermarket who said to the checkout lady 'And why not?! I want THEM and I want THEM NOW!' when the checkout lady said they didn't have her brand of cigarettes.

Whatever the reason, the secret I give to you is that old people are ruder than you could possibly imagine. They are portrayed as loving, almost religious icons in their own right. But DON'T BE FOOLED. That's when they get you!


  1. Yeah I've never understood it. I have a bunch of old folks that I see on a daily or weekly basis and there is a handful that think they can get away with saying anything.

    I walked out of one lady's house because of the way she spoke to me. I flatly refused to go back to someone elses house after their slew of racist comments about my coworker. I told them off and then left, never to return.

    It's a great sense of entitlement, manifesting in rude ways. You want my respect? EARN IT. Just like everyone else. I couldn't give a rat's ass if you're 8, 18, or 80...bloody well earn it.

  2. I love your cranky flag waving! I am so glad it's not just me that just thinks there has to come a time when we no longer allow people to be rude just because they are old. But how to do it without being accused of being terrible people? I'm not sure...

  3. My grandfather, 91 years old, is notorious for saying really cruel things to his family members. Then he wonders why nobody wants to visit him on the holidays.

  4. excellent blog...yes its its dam true. we face dis situation in day today life. and we just cant fire back because as per the societal norms that would be extremely rude. perfectly written.