Living Between the Lines

Making Assumptions

Jumping to conclusions, making assumptions – all can be embarrassing. We all do it to some extent I am sure.

The other morning I was in a well-known Chemist’s in town with a colleague who is also a good friend. Paying for a small number of items I then waited for my friend to pay for hers. This particular well-known store has a points card system. My friend had lost hers and suggested she put the points on mine. (I was happy to oblige).

The young sales girl smiled and took my card, saying to my friend,

“You are going to put it on your mum’s card yeah?”

My response was automatic,

“Oh, I’m not her mother,”  I laughed and my friend endorsed this as though the thought was absurd. This was hardly fair of us since there is an age gap and who knows how old anyone is these days?

The sales girl was mortified and we were at pains to put her at her ease.

“I am so sorry, I just assumed – honestly, I am terrible with ages!” she blurted.

“Well, you could have been a teenage mum I suppose though fourteen is rather young,” my friend observed, grinning at me.

“Oh dear, I feel awful now!” the girl pleaded, obviously feeling exactly as she sounded.

“Really, don’t worry, I do have a 30-year-old daughter,” I said, as though this made a difference.

“It’s probably because you don’t look your age,” the girl told my friend, “I mean, the way you dress and your hair style…you look much younger than you are,”

As she slowly dug herself a new hole, into which she clearly wished to sink, we deemed it only kind to leave.

My friend and I can only wonder if she will ever dare to voice such an assumption again.

It did make me think about the passing of time though because about nine or ten years ago we were on a business trip and had stopped for lunch at a pub on the way home. There were several people in the restaurant but only one took any notice of us as we walked in.

This person was an elderly lady who was possibly both a little senile and a little deaf. Her companion (without making assumptions I could not say whether she was friend, daughter, sister or carer) spoke to her gently and helped her decipher the menu.

I could hear the elderly woman talking very loudly about the food and the staff and I could see from where I sat that she kept glancing across at us and frowning but both my friend and I paid little attention.

“Do you see those two girls?” demanded the woman suddenly in an extra loud voice, pointing directly at us. Her voice rose an octave.

“They are obviously sisters. One is very  attractive and – the other one is quite nice too,” she conceded.

I wont get into an argument about who was ‘very attractive’ and who was, “quite nice too,” (I would have to make assumptions to do so!) but the lady had assumed we were sisters. That alone was flattering to me, being the elder of the two.

We are both quite slim and we both have short dark hair so the assumption was not altogether an odd one though I don’t think we look at all alike really. Still, she had made her mind up. Sisters we definitely were.

Now, faced with the girl in the chemist who had taken me for my friend’s mother, I must mourn the passing of that time for something must have changed. Or, could it be that age changes our perception of youth so much that the young subconsciously categorise anyone over 30 as ‘old’ and the elderly, anyone under fifty as ‘young’?

The fact that I have a teenage son as well as a 30 year old daughter (with three others in between) makes it hard for me to picture myself as any older than I have ever been but of course, the passage of time affects us all in the end.

My husband is four months younger than me but for the early part of our married life, new acquaintances assumed that I was married to a much older man. This, was for no other reason than that his hair was greying early. (He was totally white in his thirties). This assumption amused us it has to be said.

We can’t help making assumptions. It is part of human nature just as is curiosity – discussed in my last blog. (Anyone might be forgiven for thinking that this week I am carrying out a study of human behaviour!)

I probably make assumptions that later prove to be wrong as many times as I make those that are right. I have just learnt to be careful about voicing them. The women who peered into my barn had probably assumed that the barn was empty. I daresay they learned something from the result.

I bet that sales girl will now think twice before voicing that particular assumption again. As for me, I know that if one presumes to assume then one must be prepared for the consequences.

Thank heavens for a sense of humour!

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • cj Schlottman

    This is so very true. I find myself biting my tongue when I see a couple who are obviously far apart in age. I guess it’s because my husband was 14 years older than I, and that I have always looked young for my age. I HATED it when people assumed I was his DAUGHTER!

    This is a well thought out and nicely crafted post. I enjoyed reading it.1


  • Patricia

    My youngest child just turned 25 and when she started school I can not tell you how many folks said, “Oh it is just so lovely when a grandparent can bring the children to school and parent help – you are so fortunate.”

    I was white haired at birth, then it went almost black but by 3rd grade it always has had white streaks in it. I am not as white haired as my black haired mum, dad, and brother.

    I was an older mum, and resonated more with the parents of my oldest daughter.

    I was never offended and just thought the harried mother’s dropping off children and racing to work were envious. I felt abundant in my ability to stay home.

    What is harder now, is all the folks who say,”Why did you not do a real job with health insurance?”

    I have only not worked the last 3 years since my mother died – but I have never worked just one job at a time, or one with any benefits. I wonder why none of those people are not willing to pay me for all the hours of listening to their children read and caring for them after school so they could work and amass funds? and have health care?

    Assumptions are necessary to keep us from diving into unknown pools of water, but they should also be used as warning signs that we need to clarify and think before we speak.
    Great story telling here

  • Katie Gates

    Hi Debbie, I think you’re onto something with that suggestion that the age of the viewer (or, in these cases, assumers) skews their assumptions regarding the persons they view. I have a dear LA friend who more closely resembles my sister when she was five than my sister does (I hope that makes sense!), so when people have assumed that my LA friend and I are sisters, I’ve totally understood where they are coming from. Thanks for dropping by my SITS day. What wild traffic, huh? Have you signed up for that one?

    • Deborah Barker

      Hi Katie – I signed up a while ago – just haven’t been a frequent visitor of late. I didn’t grab the badge before – it is now on my blog. I look forward to exploring SITS more 🙂

  • Hilary

    Hi Deborah .. sometimes we just open our mouths .. which is unfortunate .. mostly for the person who says the things! The rest of us – pass it off, create a story, or jot down a new character ..I have no idea how old anyone is … I know I look younger than I am and definitely act it ..

    Just good for a laugh .. poor sales kid .. bet she too is dining out on the story?!

    Cheers – Hilary

  • Deb

    Great story here. Assumptions always get us into trouble because they come from our own experiences alone. And the stories of others, while they may hold similarities to our own, are always far more interesting than we can imagine. And still, it’s part of being human I guess that we need to apply our own stamps on other people’s lives.

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