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Pulling the “Old person” Card

By Ann Richardson February 09, 2023 Lifestyle

I am on the phone to a major department store in London from which we have just bought a new television (current one bought in 2006, so it was well time).

We think we may need an additional part, but we’re a bit unclear, so I try the telephone “technical” department. They couldn’t help. I am told we need “customer service” and the call is transferred. The new advisor tells us we were right in the first place, so I phone back, get a different advisor and finally get the information I needed.

In other words, the usual run-around that one expects more from government (central or local) departments than from commercial enterprises.

I am tired and fed up. With each discussion, at some point, I mention, “My husband and I are in our 80s. This is really too technical for us, and we just need some help.”

In other words, I pulled the “old person” card.

And each time, it seemed to work. There was a softening in the voice, a greater appearance of the wish to help and a concern that it should be sorted. The issue wasn’t sorted any faster as far as I can tell, but I gained sympathy and general helpfulness.

Was I right to do so?

The Old Person Card

The existence of a special pass applying to old people is not something that is much discussed.

Yes, we know that if someone has cancer, they can throw this into some conversations and get additional sympathy. And sometimes additional services when they would otherwise be refused. This is often called “pulling the cancer card” and makes sense up to a point.

But cancer is something that only some people get, and everyone tends to feel that people with cancer deserve priority in many circumstances. It does raise questions, of course, of whether there should equally be a “chronic diarrhoea card” or an “OCD card” or all the other conditions one could suffer from, but I will let that pass.

The thing about being old is that it comes to us all and therefore, it could be argued, does not single us out for special attention as such. Moreover, emphasising such a “condition” only serves to turn old age into something that deserves sympathy, whereas my general view is that it is a lovely time of life.

I felt there was something ‘cheap’ about using it to attempt to gain some sort of special attention. Indeed, it reinforces prejudices (in the sense of ‘pre-judgements’) about age that I would prefer to dispel.

But many people would argue that old people are frail and less able to cope with modern life and therefore it is reasonable to ask for the extra mile in our favour.

What Is Old?

Perhaps the question comes down to what do we mean by old?

In most societies these days, the specification of ‘old’ begins at 60 or, at most, 65. Perhaps there would be – and should be – less sympathy for anyone pulling the ‘old’ card when he or she was a mere 61.

As we live longer, the concept of ‘old’ crosses a wider span. 20 years ago I was 61. So what about 70? Or 80? Is it OK then?

My friend who is in her late 90s and fighting fit declares that no one is old until they are 90. If so, I had no right to pull the “old person” card.

Moreover, I am hale and healthy (and stand on my head, as I have written before), so why should I expect more sympathy because of my age?

It is a genuine question. The truth is that I don’t expect more sympathy in most circumstances – queueing for an hour might be different. But we all use whatever ammunition we can muster to get a desired result.

Was I right to do so?

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you ever pulled the “old person” card? How did you feel about it?  Did it help you to get what you wanted?

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Many complain about “ageism”, being treated in some discriminatory way simply because of age. This is real and if we are to make progress in lessening attitudes of ageism in society than we cannot also “pull the age card” (for no real reason – though perhaps there are legitimate reasons to do so, at times ).


well you only di so bc you were getting the run around, in many cases we seniors don’t understand the jargen or the tech stuff. as long as we don’t use the “old card” too much. also i prefer to say i’m older not old!

Adriane Christian

Right! I don’t think people are expecting special privileges, I just think people are trying to get some type of reasonable consideration from customer service.


I am a 62-year-old disabled veteran. I also have issues with short-term memory. I was not raised in this technological world. None of this stuff existed when I was growing up and going to school. If there was a computer it was a Mainframe in the school. Us kids never saw it. Now I consider myself fairly savvy because I am willing to learn, but, the more technology advances the more difficult I find it sometimes. I will simply be honest and tell someone I do not understand this and I need help. I also have a niece and nephew I can contact who are in their mid-20s. But they have their own lives and I don’t want to bother them. I am perfectly capable of using Google. But I also have a 56-year-old girlfriend and technology is not kind to her. When it comes to using technology I have much more ability and knowledge than she does to comprehend it. She has a high school education and a little bit of college just as I do. She’s definitely not a stupid person. I think when it comes to technology it’s just a little bit overwhelming to a lot of people over 50. So in that case pulling the old card is not a bad idea. It doesn’t mean that it’s a negative thing if you simply explain you don’t understand and you did not grow up with this technology.

Deb S

I have always admired cultures where elders are revered. Rather than sympathy, the Old Person Card should garner respect and a sincere desire to aid one’s elders

anya west

I have used it on occasion. More for garnering the benefits Deb S mentions. Not sympathy. And I don’t think we should get too resistant to this idea to the point that any older person fears asking for help. Nope. That’s not a good attitude to cultivate either. If we let concern about how we are perceived by the younger generations impact our decisions, we are then sticking our heads in the sand. Those kids can’t stand us. But the WW2 group couldn’t stand us either! I just don’t care what the kids think anymore. I will proudly say I am 75 and i ask for help if I need it. I should add I am never treated meanly nor rudely and I never feel I’m perpetuating bad stereotypes about older people. I’m pretty nice. A person has to be quite a meany to treat me disrespectfully.

anya west

I believe that this is the case many many times. I see the ugly stuff on line. And some of those young women can be brutal towards us, but I absolutely NEVER run into it in person.


Amen !!!

Nancy Van Landingham

Good job. Hahaha …


You are absolutely right to do so! And, depending on the situation, ANYONE can pull the old person card, even a 35 year old depending on what they’re being asked to do! Every situation is different. Loved this article!


I sometimes use the built in bias about seniors to my advantage. Since I am unlikely to change the bias I do “play the old person card” from time to time. And I do so happily.

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The Author

Ann Richardson’s most popular book, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head, offers a series of reflections on growing older. Subscribe to her free Substack newsletter, where she writes fortnightly on any subject that captures her imagination. Ann lives in London, England with her husband of sixty years. Please visit her website for information on all her books:

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