ON THE RUN - Do I qualify for seniors' rate? Are you kidding me?

Although many of us speak about aging gracefully, there is something quite disturbing about being considered old before our time.

This is why clerks should think carefully before they ask a customer if she qualifies for the seniors' rate. For someone who is between 45 and 60, that one simple question can launch her into a major age crisis.

Friends should be prepared for the day their pal for no reason turns to them and asks, "Do I look old? I mean do I look like I am a senior citizen?"

Obviously, there is only one answer to this question and when you have given the proper response - "absolutely not. That's ridiculous" - then you may ask why they are asking.

Inevitably, your friend will have been about to pay for something when the young clerk - and they are always young - suddenly asked the shocking question.

"It was just a terrible experience," said my friend. She said she immediately went home and studied her face under the harshest of lights. She was particularly appalled because she is a person who dedicates hours of her life to fitness and a lot of money to personal appearance from lovely clothes to high-end facial products.

In fact, she does not look like a senior, except to someone who is 22 when anyone over 40 appears elderly.

Another woman who is under 50 but is making the mistake of allowing her hair to turn grey - and I only say 'mistake' because people automatically associate grey hair with the aged regardless of how young a person's face might be - was equally crushed when she was offered the senior's discount.

She is more practical than Friend No. 1 and will continue to frequent the business. Friend No. 1 will never return to the shop where the supposed slight occurred. She feels the manager should have had the foresight to place a large sign near the cash register advertising a seniors' discount so his staff members need never ask the dreaded question.

Ironically, this same person had been getting into the movies on the seniors' rate for a few years. For her, it's quite different when she says she's a senior then when someone else concludes it on his or her own.

Not everyone, though, feels so offended by the question. My husband, for example, was surprised anyone would mind.

"Really?" he said. "I ask. 'Got a rate for us old guys?' It makes a big difference at the golf courses. In the U.S., it's about 30 per cent less."

He misses the point. It's not about the money. It's about perception. These young people see us as old when we have not yet reached the age where we can be legitimately considered elders.

It's not even about being old. It's about looking old. Some, not all women, don't welcome wrinkles on their own faces as a sign of a life well lived. They try to cover them up or ignore them and so it's discomforting to have them exposed with one small question. "Do you qualify for the seniors' discount?"

It's a tough situation for a business. While half the customers might consider it a rude question to ask, the other half will be annoyed to miss out on the deal.

To put a more positive light on the situation, it could be these young clerks who have no concept yet of the angst that can comes with aging are actually being considerate. They want to help the buyer save money.

Personally, and I know it's silly, I would rather pay the extra few dollars than be asked the dreaded question. That's why I'm blond instead of white.

It really all comes down to labels anyway. We rush to place people into categories. He's middle-aged or she's a senior citizen or, worse, elderly. And with those categories comes discrimination.

Rather than appreciating the experience of age, younger people, even if they are only a few years younger, adopt a superior attitude to an older person.

Teenagers are not the only people who think they know. People in their 40s do the same thing to those in their 60s and people in their 60s chuckle patronizingly at those in their 80s and on it goes.

The arrogance of youth is rampant, which is why we all want to cling to it as long as possible. And why wouldn't we when we know that one day we too will be the ones who are considered too dotty or physically incapable of handling tasks we've done all our lives?

Since it's unlikely that attitude will change to where we all embrace our elders as the pillars of our community that they are, it's a good idea to do what we can to stay youthful as long as we can.

If that means more of us will stay fit, eat healthy and take care of our personal appearance, then perhaps it's a good thing when we rebel against the seniors' discount before our time.

Susan Duncan is city editor of The Daily News. Her column appears Fridays. Email her at sduncan@kamloopsnews.ca.

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