DEAR ABBY: I am a 50-year-old male. When I interact with a woman whose name I don't know, I address her as "Dear." Surprisingly, many of them respond in a negative way, regardless of age. Is it wrong to call someone "Dear"? And if so, what should I call them if I don't know their name?

-- Unsure in Iowa

DEAR UNSURE: The women may respond the way they do because they consider being called "Dear" by a stranger to be overly familiar or even condescending. (Other titles to avoid would be "Honey" and "Young Lady," if the woman appears to be past the age of 30.) Be safe — and respectful — by addressing them as Miss or Ma'am.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.