Monday, August 15, 2016

To Ma'am or Not To Ma'am? Depends

Sgt. Joe Friday: Just the facts, ma'am.*
Yesterday I posed the following question on Facebook: Do you like being called "ma'am" and if not, are you a Southerner? What would you prefer if you don't like it?

There was a lot of response and it was all over the board, as I suspected it might be. I call the female of the species "ma'am" regardless of age because my mother taught me--and strongly emphasized--that it is a sign of respect and that I should use "ma'am" until I am corrected. She said the same thing about small courtesies like opening the door for others. Do it until there is an objection. Being on top of things culturally is extremely difficult, as you can see from the responses below.

One very real consensus: Women who responded do not like to be called "honey, sweetie" or other familiar endearments, unless it's by somebody who has earned the right to call them that. To my surprise, nobody said anything at all about waitresses calling everybody at the table "guys." That one grates on this old head.

One small point my dad always made: The most important thing you can remember about anybody is that person's name.

My intention in general with the use of ma'am (or not): be respectful. Beyond that, I need cooperation. Here are some of the responses (by and large unedited): 

Anita Firebaugh I say it, also, as that is the way I was raised. (I also use "sir" frequently.) I admit I cringe a bit when I hear someone call me "ma'am," but the older I grow the more I appreciate the respect it entails.

Emma Lam Beall I think it is respectful - I use it and I like it- southerners definitely raised on it - like sir and y'all lol

Robin Barnhill I say it and I don't mind it. I am a transplant to the South at age 13. I picked up "Yes Ma'am" - my mother thought I was being sassy.

Bobbi Hoffman Tried to post on your blog, but it didn't take. I hate being called "ma'am," but I'm a Yankee.

Debbie Rudolf Stevens not a southern woman. didn't grow up with ma'am. don't like it :(

Kathy Perdue I'm a transplanted Yankee and don't mind being called "ma'am." I do bristle at being called sweetie, honey, darlin', or any other term of endearment by relative strangers.

Susan Johnson Cloeter I'm a native Roanoker and I appreciate being called ma'am. Taught my children to use it, as well.

Janis Jaquith Not liking it to be called "ma'am" makes me think of women who don't want to be called traditional grandmother names, like "Granny" or "Nana" because they think it makes them sound old. I figure "miss" is for women/girls younger than, say, 21. Not sure when such women are willing to claim adult womanhood.

Vicki Stone Harwell Ma'am and Sir were taught to me as a child as signs of respect. I am nearly sixty now and those terms are still part of my interactions with others, particularly when addressing people who are older than I. As an adult, I was surprised when I encountered people (usually from a different part of the country) who found it offensive. I understand a personal choice not to use those terms, but I have little patience with those who take offense. But I've also learned - some people just like to be offended.

Terry Lyon I don't like being called ma'am one bit, no sir!

Gailen Miles It's OK to call me ma'am now. But a few years ago it would have hurt my feelings.

Diana Christopulos To me it is entirely about context. From some people in some situations it is polite and respectful. In others it is a way of putting me in Other category. In business settings, I am particularly suspicious.

Cristina Siegel I don't mind, and most often find it is used respectfully. I grew up in a military family, and sir and ma'am were the way it was. It's not just a southern thing; it's a military thing too.

Jeanne Fishwick I wasn't raised with it, didn't raise my kids with it, don't use it, don't like it. It always sounds like Eddie Haskell to me.

Dreama K Lay ...on the fence...makes no difference to me. Just call me for dinner!

Mark McClain In the military we were taught to address officers as sir or ma'am, depending on their gender. Not just in the south. Queen Elizabeth is addressed as ma'am.

Hope Player I was taught to say sir and ma'am and appreciate it when it is directed to me. As a Southern girl living in NJ, I still follow that rule and I love the reactions it draws. Respect is important whatever you live.

Debbie Brake I like it!

Jane Gabrielle I prefer it to "Hon" or (shudder) "Sweetie" from someone much younger than me. And I will correct a server that uses those nicknames for me, with, "I prefer ma'am, please."

Mary Barfield Croft So long as the attempt is to be polite, I will be polite right back.

Kate Petrella I like ma'am used affectionately by friends (yes, that means you, Dan!) and in most other cases, the exceptions being smarmy or condescending tones. Then again, I don't want to hear much of anything in those tones. I also like the mostly Southern Miss or Mister preceding the first name when being addressed by children (and certain friends!).

Kathy Shipman I like the respect...and saying ma'am or sir softens my harsh Yankee yes or no answers!

Sara Bemiller A contraction of madam, its first use in the 1600s was reserved for married women, later royalty. Now, it seems to be used in a hierarchical context or by those whose families felt it was the proper way to address elders. One's instincts usually inform whether its use is meant in a respectful way or otherwise. My experience has been its usually a good thing. More important is the conversation in which "ma'am" is just one of the elements.

Caroline LaRocca Hammond Ok... NYC girl here: I DO NOT like to be called ma'am. I just don't. And... I would never expect my kids to call me anything but "mom." I don't get the whole calling parents sir and ma'am thing. That's so distant and formal to me. 

Mike Kennedy Mom and Dad were ma'am and sir where I was raised. Haven't done as well with my hellions.

Heather Yvonne Brush I'm a Yankee, you know, and I have never liked being called ma'am. It was a kind of snide remark made in school, growing up on Long Island, when responding to a teacher we didn't like. "Yes, ma'am," was a snotty retort hidden in formality. So, no, I've never liked it. I also don't like when kids are instructed to say, "Miss Heather," to a teacher or girl scout leader, as I also was. You can call me Heather, or Ms. Brush, but it is a contradiction to me to put a title of respect with a first name. I'd rather just be called Heather. I NEVER liked being called Mrs. (not saying it) because I hated my mother in law, and I just wasn't about being the same as she. I also could not WAIT to change my name back after the divorce. If I were to re-marry now, I'd likely happily take his name. It seems I have a lot of opinion about this! My favorite endearment was being called, "Love," by my grandma, and anyone anywhere can call me that, because it reminds me of her.

Trish Melton Frazier I am southern and I love being called Ma'am. I've earned it. ;) I think it's so charming, especially when my Grandson says it. I was raised to use Ma'am and Sir and I still do. 

Becky Mushko Ma'am is a badge of honor. Proud to be called ma'am!

Celia Leftwich McCormick I'm with Trish!

G Chico Harkrader If you are taught, as a child, a young man, or the military--to use ma'am and sir, it is tough not to continue that embedded protocol. Concerning Southern, so called endearments....I prefer not to be called Hon, Honey, Sweetie, etc. by those that I don't know...nor they, me. Sorry to get of subject. Peace.

Belinda Ayers Responding to ME using ma'am.....Get NO REPLY!! Major pet peeve of mine, And NO I am not a southerner, I am a northerner.....Can ya tell? Is my "attitude" showing? LOL!! That's what I get from the southerners here....."Belinda you have an attitude" And all I did was say Hello to them LOL!!

Caroline LaRocca Hammond I wish to slightly change my position. (A woman's prerogative, I suppose). Being called any of these terms (ma'am, hon, sweetie, etc) totally and completely depends on who's delivering and how they are delivering it. I could love it or hate it. Oh, the other thing that could impact my like or dislike is the mood I happen to be in at the moment.

Betsy Robinson Whitney Born and raised here but I think of Virginia as a mid-Atlantic state rather than "Southern". And I do not like to be acknowledged as ma'am. To me, it feels as if I'm being separated and held at a distance.

Kathy Bibb Even though I'm certainly old enough to be a ma'am, I'm not fond of "ma'am."

Michele Rice Carpenter I grew up with ma'am. It does not bother me in the least. It is, in fact, respectful.

Jane Rorrer It makes me feel old but it is a sign of good manners and I'd much rather someone use "ma'am" than honey, darlin', sweetie, etc.

Erin Rafferty Jane Rorrer just said exactly how I feel!

Julie Snowmen I've come to accept that Ma'am is voiced out of respect. It took me a while, but I get it. I'm not offended at all when I'm referred to as Ma'am.

Anne Piedmont Born in Roanoke, but spent part of my youth in NJ. Don't really like being "ma'amed," unless it is done sincerely and politely by a young child. The other night I called a local pizza place to inquire if they delivered. During the course of the conversation, the young man must have used it in every sentence. I asked him not to do that twice. They wouldn't deliver beyond 10 minutes and the guy really pissed me off.

Julie Snowmen PS: Your own attitude can determine how the Ma'am is used. Politeness is a two way street.

Jeanne Bollendorf Southerner, raised to use it and I do. Don't mind ma'am too much but it does sometimes make me feel old. A very disturbing trend I've noticed is being called hon, honey, sweetie by women in customer service. I absolutely despise it. It sounds so incredibly rude to me.

Lynn Dudley Ma'am is so much better than some younger waitresses, sales clerks and even nurses who call me honey or sweetie. Or worse yet, call men honey or sweetie. I am with you, Jeanne Bollendorf. It is rude.

Pamela Golden whenever someone calls me Ma'am I say that is my mother - in - law - not me! I don't like Ma'am

Linda Shockley Miss is always better than Ma'am.

Mary Bishop Sure beats "honey" and "darling" from female sales clerks I don't even know.

Lora Katz Ma'am works OK for me but honey and darlin is a little creepy.

Bobbye Buckner From the South, I prefer Ma'am to sweetie or baby but I prefer my name!

Becky Hepler It used to make me feel old, but now there is an elegance to it that I appreciate, and given the coarseness and incivility that's rampant these days, perhaps it would be best to encourage a little more formality.

Brucie Boggs I prefer Your Royal Highness, but I just can't get it to stick. Okay, for real . . . One thing I find quite charming in the South is when children of close friends call my husband and me Mr. Chip and Miss Brucie. It's familiar and respectful at once. 

(*If you're old enough to know who Joe Friday is, you certainly are a ma'am.)

(Photo: memecrunch.com)

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