• LaLaBoo

    Living in the Heart of Dixie-I was raised to to say yes ma’am, yes sir & so on. And “what?” was also STRICTLY forbidden! I still say it all the time-no matter who I’m talking to; at a drive thru, to strangers, even to my child and she better return the favor!

    I had a friend that moved here in 6th grade. She was from “NEW YORK CITY” and I remember all the teachers giving her the evil stink eye when she would reply “Yeah or yes” There would be a sharp intake of breath from all the other kids waiting for her to be struck by lightning! The “Yankee” ending up becoming my best friend and my mother saw to it that she learned her Southern Manners. And till this day she says “Yes Ma’am”

  • medwards

    I’m from Texas and it’s always yes Ma’am and no Ma’am, etc. I did teach my son to call grownups that want to be called by their first names Mr. or Ms. James. I feel that it gives the adult respect.

    I have traveled through out the world and I always find it funny that some people really take offense to being referred to that way but it’s never stopped me.

  • akonthego

    I am from Minnesota and have recently moved to the south. I find ma’am and sir sort of demeaning and often insulting. But after living here 8 months it seems almost necessary. People seem offed when I don’t say it and it’s the easiest way to communicate here. I just don’t like how it implies that one person is better than the other. When service people call me ma’am I feel like they think I think I am better than them. I hate hearing yes ma’am when I ask for something. It really rubs me the wrong way. Sadly there is no way around it.

  • serenmorwenna

    Maybe it’s a Welsh (British) thing but I have never in my life referred to anyone as Ma’am/Madam or Sir and have no intention of ever doing so. To me if someone where to call me it I would question whether they where mocking me. Friends parents where always referre to by their first names and I always behaved in a respectful way towards them, regardless of what I called them. Yet I can completely see how it is used to denote respect within other cultures. I would also be very uncomfortable if anyone where to call me Ma’am/Madam or Miss Seren. To me that is unneccesary and I much prefure plain Seren.

  • designlove

    Growing up in Louisiana I can totally relate! I’m in my 30′s and still address my elders as ma’am and sir!

  • Yolanda

    I love ma’am and sir and remember having several friends whose parents required the phrasing at home. That is despite the fact that I grew up in Southern California and am the same age as you. But, I’m black and grew up in both military and Filipino neighborhoods, so the social expectations and cultural traditions I encountered were likely more conservative. In my house, however, we were never allowed to call adults by their first names. I still don’t (that is anyone who is may parent’s friends is respectfully called Miss or Mr so-and-so). I follow the same naming convention when I introduce my 2-year-old daughter to other parents my age, “This is Miss Jenny”. Never, “This is Jenny.” I think there is nothing wrong with teaching a level of decorum and hierarchy. I don’t believe that it’s good for children to be given the perception that are peers to adults; and one way to help them understand the delineation is with our language.

  • Rlymoody

    I was in the Military for 20 years. I live in Utah now even though my hearts in CA. I call Men “Sir” but never Ma’m for woman. I was told that’s insulting to people that aren’t military.

    I have a 14 year old now and I don’t agree with sir or ma’m for him. If people try to tell him to do that I reply “He’s not in the Military and we don’t live in the South”.

    He is, however taught manners and to teach people with the same respect he would want to be treated with.

  • freckleface

    I really don’t get people who are so opposed to being called “ma’am”. I grew up/still live in Florida, which is kinda southern but mostly not. I call people YOUNGER THAN ME ma’am, and get called ma’am at least once a month, and I’m only 21 (but have been mistake for 16… sad face). I’ve never even given it a second thought… actually it really irritates me when I hear people talk about the terrible offense that is being called “ma’am”. If you’re that insecure about your age (especially if you’re only in your 20′s and I hear you say “OMG I totally got called ma’am yesterday, I am SO OLD!”) then it’s your issue, not mine.. ma’am. :)

  • izzardgrl

    Born and raised in Northeast Mississippi and currently living in Memphis. I grew up saying Ma’am and Sir, and I still do it to this day. It is a mark of respect, and I will refer to a teenager or a ditch-digger the same way. I do remember calling my best friend’s mom, Ms. Janice way back in the mid 70′s. I refered to all my teachers as Ms. / Mrs. Last Name, right up through college. My friends called my parents, Mr. / Mrs. Last Name or Mr. / Mrs. First Name. In college, my friends started calling my mother (she said it was ok) by her first name, and everytime I would hear it, it would make me pause. Because, she was not Sandra, she was Momma.

    And another thing. I am sorry if some people think it is weird, but my father did not stop being my Daddy when I left school and moved hours away, and got a mortgage. I still call him Daddy. He will always be Daddy to me. If I called him by his first name, he would pull my mom aside and ask her why I am mad at him. I heard that some people think you should call your parents by their first names once you GROW UP, but only if they want you to. My parents are happy with Momma and Daddy, and so am I.

    38 years old.

  • Pippa

    I don’t mind being called ma’am. I’d rather a title than the familiarity implied by first names. I grew up in Kenya where a child never refers to a grown up by their given name. They’re all aunties and uncles; a residue of the days when the village raised the child. People on the bus, in stores etc. will refer to you by a title according to your age. Most people still call me “auntie”, “siste” (for sister) or “mrembo” (means pretty one in swahili) or some variant of a pet-name between strangers especially if they’re hoping to chat me up or overcharge, but the day will come when I’ll be “mama”(a title of respect for a married woman or mother) or “madam”. On second thought, may that day not come. I’d rather be mrembo forever.

  • apostate

    Heather, you were raised right.

    The other day, for some reason, I started wondering why people from the South seem to have such a good history when it comes to manners. (Except for how some people- I’m not saying all- treat blacks and gays, I suppose.)

    I am also in a quandary as to how I should have my children address adults. I would prefer that they say Mr. or Mrs. But I fear that this would result in my friends thinking that they must teach their children to call me “Mrs. [Apostate]” when I don’t really care. But part of me wishes it were the norm here. But then it might be too confusing to the little tikes for them to try to figure out who is a Mr. or Mrs. and who is a “Brother” or “Sister”. (Ya’ll have to be from Utah to understand.)

    I’ve noticed in the past few years that cashiers and waitresses are addressing me as “sweetie” and “honey” more and more often. I wonder where they got the idea that it’s appropriate to call the customer “sweetie”. Do some customers actually enjoy this? Does it cause them to leave a larger tip? I mean, I like it when my husband calls me sweetie. It kind of makes my skin crawl to hear the lady at Applebee’s call me that.

    I’d take ma’am over “sweetie” any day.

  • lindswing

    I’ll admit: I judge women who get all huffy about being called ma’am. For goodness sake, I’ve been called ma’am since I was 16. And lest you assume that this was because I look old for my age, I was still being asked what jr. high I attended at the end of college. Last week, someone assumed I was a high school student. Ma’am is simply a formal way to address women who aren’t children, and to be offended by the pimply grocery bagger who is just doing his job is absurd and childish.

    There was a Postsecret about this topic this week, and it made me so angry. You, like every other person, will get older. Would you prefer it be like Helen Mirren or Madonna? If the latter, then I’m gonna need to see a cone bra so I know to avoid you. It only accentuates one’s age to be sensitive about it.

  • Kim

    I laughed so hard when I read this. I was brought up in the 70s by a West Indian mom, and I was always told: “It’s “Yes, MOM?” not “WHAAAT?”" And I never dared find out what would happen if I said “WHAAAT?” I thought it was pretty harsh, but now that I’m older and I see how rude a lot of kids are, I think she might have been onto something.

  • shambleyqueen

    Your dad is a smart man!

  • FunctioningRageaholic

    This inspired my latest post, appropriately titled Ma’am-o-gram. Check it out!

  • chasingamazing

    I am 35, nigh on 36, and still like to imagine I am cute. Although I try hard to appreciate the respect behind being “Ma’am”d, sometimes nothing quashes my mood so fast as being “Ma’am”d by the cute boy at the Sunoco when I thought I was lookin’ pretty young and spiffy.
    I’d much rather he say,”Thank you, Hot Stuff!” ;-)

  • J. Bo

    When I first went to my new dentist in Chicago, I filled out the usual forms, and got to the last page where I was asked “How would you like to be addressed?” I wrote “Your Holiness.”

    I handed over the clipboard, and continued to flip through the “Highlights” magazines while waiting for my cleaning. Then I heard the office manager shriek with laughter. She stuck her head out the slidey window and asked “Jennifer… excuse me, Your Holiness?”

    Thus began a great good friendship with some lovely professional people who call me “Jennifer” and whom I call “Dr. Jim,” “Kathy,” and “D.J.”

    I love these people, and bring them cookies/cupcakes/garden tomatoes every time I have an appointment.

  • MF Crites

    Being a child of the west coast, we were not taught the “ma’am” and “sir” because of the smartaleckness of it. Then, I moved to the south, and was repeatedly in trouble at school for not saying it . . . although my teachers admitted I was polite, I just didn’t say “ma’am” or “sir.”

    My husband, a southerner, thought my explanation was bizarre and surely untrue. Then, a friend who also grew up on the west coast told him about the first time a student called her “ma’am” and her nearly violent reaction. . . until she realized where she was. Finally, he believed me.

    Now, I’ve finally, after 30 years in the south, picked up the habit . . . but he never knows if when I say “yes sir” to him if I’m doing out of habit or smarmieness.

  • gemandnice

    Christ, Heather. This is so well written.

  • gemandnice

    Christ, Heather. This is so well written.

  • gemandnice

    Christ, Heather. This is so well written.

  • gemandnice

    Christ, Heather. This is so well written.

  • tracythompson

    I grew up in Georgia, not Tennessee, and except for that fact I would think you and I had the same parents. I even had the exact same conversation with MY dad.

    I like ma’am and sir. I would have tried to teach my kids to say this but it’s not the custom here in Maryland, so it would have been odd. I still say ma’am and sir when I am approaching strangers (“Sir, can you tell me the time?” etc) and find that it generally gets a good reaction. There’s not enough courtesy in the world.

    As for being called ma’am–I like it and am always mystified when people take offense. Cheez.

  • gemandnice

    Clearly my iPhone is a piece.

  • karahleigh

    Duuuude!

    I’m from the South, and I despise calling people ma’am and sir. I also despise being called ma’am. (Thankfully no one has ever called me sir. That would be awkward.)

    My brother is teaching his kids to be polite and call everyone ma’am and sir, regardless of whether they want to be called that. He went on a Facebook rant the other day about how he’s JUST TRYING TO SHOW PEOPLE SOME RESPECT, DAMMIT!

    He says “respect”, I hear “hey person older than me”. And I don’t like it.

  • Rebecca-it always comes back to food

    The whole “ma’am” thing has been a big issue for me since moving to the south after being a New Easterner for 40 years. My parents raised me to be respectful of elders, teachers, etc., but the use of ma’am or sir was never part of it. If ma’am or sir was used or heard it was usually with an elderly woman or man… but even that was rare. Given that my daughter was 3 1/2 when we moved here she’s been trained up by her schools into the ma’am thing…and it makes me crazy. Especially when she uses it on me. When I get ma’amed it makes me feel old (though according to my now 9 year old daughter I AM old). I sometimes will get short with her and tell her to stop speaking southern. Then of course she will do it to annoy me. The other thing the kids are trained up in is all women are Miss (first name)…and I am constantly telling kids to just call me by my first name, I don’t like being called “Miss” anything. Though of course I worry about the kids getting in trouble in parents for doing so. I’m cool with my daughter respecting the adults in her world now but I also struggle with wanting to raise her the way I was raised and keeping her connected to our identity and customs as North Easterners…ah, parenting – a lot of grey areas to muddle through…
    Rebecca
    http://www.yikes.typepad.com/italwayscomesbacktofood/

  • JustLinda

    I was out to lunch with my older daughters a couple weeks ago. They are in their 20s. I am, well, NOT. The waiter kept calling me ma’am.

    I finally had to tell him that his tip would be reduced by 10% for every time he uttered that word now that he’s been warned. LOL

    It was done in good fun.

    He did slip and call me ma’am one more time, but fortunately I’m so old that I forget about docking his tip. ;)

  • Rebecca-it always comes back to food

    The whole “ma’am” thing has been a big issue for me since moving to the south after being a New Easterner for 40 years. My parents raised me to be respectful of elders, teachers, etc., but the use of ma’am or sir was never part of it. If ma’am or sir was used or heard it was usually with an elderly woman or man… but even that was rare. Given that my daughter was 3 1/2 when we moved here she’s been trained up by her schools into the ma’am thing…and it makes me crazy. Especially when she uses it on me. When I get ma’amed it makes me feel old (though according to my now 9 year old daughter I AM old). I sometimes will get short with her and tell her to stop speaking southern. Then of course she will do it to annoy me. The other thing the kids are trained up in is all women are Miss (first name)…and I am constantly telling kids to just call me by my first name, I don’t like being called “Miss” anything. Though of course I worry about the kids getting in trouble in parents for doing so. I’m cool with my daughter respecting the adults in her world now but I also struggle with wanting to raise her the way I was raised and keeping her connected to our identity and customs as North Easterners…ah, parenting – a lot of grey areas to muddle through…
    Rebecca
    http://www.yikes.typepad.com/italwayscomesbacktofood/

  • Ray1987

    Funny that you mention this because I was thinking about this the other day. I was on a train and I asked this woman next to me if the train went to a certain stop. I referred to her as “ma’am” out of respect. But then I thought, “she’s not old enough for me to call her ma’am.” I guess if the woman is young enough you can call her, “Miss” and if she’s older you can call her, “Ma’am.”

    I’m only twenty-two and I’ve been called “Ma’am” before. Of course I took no offense to it (because I’m still young), but I guess I could understand why some women would.

    To each their own I guess. I mean at least you’re being respectful right. Even if other’s beg to differ.

  • HelluvaMormonFan

    If you have a southern accent, you can call me whatever you want! I’m a sucker for that accent….

    A few weeks ago, I was going off to friends about having been called ma’am….it made me feel old and who wants that?

    Know what’s strange, though? My in laws think it’s weird that in MY family, the aunts and uncles are just called by their first names. No aunt so-n-so or uncle-this-or-that, it’s just their first name. Apparently the in law family doesn’t like this practice, which makes me like it even more…

  • Chasha

    Ma’am has to be accompanied by a southern drawl to sound right. But I’ll take anything over strangers calling me Honey or Sweetie.

  • eliz

    When I get called “ma’am” I want to cry because I’m an unmarried 27 year old (and look about 18). It sounds really insulting, like the person is implying I’m some old hausfraus. Oh, and I live in (and am from) Oregon, if that matters.

  • The Bold Soul

    I’m from New Jersey, and very distinctly recall the first time someone Ma’am-ed me… it was the young guy at the gas station while he was filling up the tank (in NJ we’re not considered bright enough to pump our own gas. Apparently.) I was MORTIFIED because I was 32, and it DID make me feel old.

    Having said that, I used to travel to the South (NC and TX) a lot for my work, and I never felt offended by a Ma’am THERE. I also kind of liked the tradition of being called “Miss” Lisa by any young children. I thought it was both sweet and respectful, and what woman over 30 could object to being a “Miss” (even if you’re married)?

    Now, I live in France (http://theboldsoul.com), I’m almost 49, and I am “Madame”. I am actually married now, so “Mademoiselle” wouldn’t be appropriate. But in France, when in doubt of your marital status regardless of your age, they just say “Madame”. You enter a store and it’s considered polite to greet the workers/owners with “Bonjour Madame/Monsieur” and they will do the same to you. You also say “Au revoir” when you leave – again, basic minimum standards of polite behavior in this culture.

    Interest topic, Heather, because it really shows that even within a country, the cultural standards for what is polite can differ.

  • Pixie Mama

    Wow…..I was brought up in the SOUTH…. the Dirty South…. otherwise known as Atlanta…but, I was brought up by my grandparents- my grandmother had been raised here and my grandfather was Cuban……and boy were they ever strict!!!!

    I had to (HAD TO) say Ma’am and Sir.

    My son is almost 8 years old and we are (still) living in Atlanta. I DO NOT make him say Ma’am or Sir. I would rather hear him say “Please” and “Thank You.”

    I am anal about manners, as I am sure most Southerners are….however, I am young (to me anyway) and cannot fathom being a “Ma’am”…most of my son’s friends call me Miss Pixie….and my son calls all the women in his life “Miss ” OR “Aunt .” It is what is is.

    I do want him to respect his elders… but I do NOT want to be called “Ma’am.” By anyone. And since we are still living in the Dirty Dirty, well, its bound to happen….

    Anyway, manners are important. Making me feel old??? Is not.

  • Tonje

    I grew up in both New York and Washington state and I don’t remember any sir or ma’am. Our teachers and friends parents went by Mr. and Mrs. whatever. During my teens we had a rather zealous police force in our town and during our run-ins with them we always answered yes sir/no sir. If we were being flippant or just scared shitless I don’t remember. When I moved to Norway it was a whole different story. It was first names only. Teachers, politicians, doctors,the Prime Minister even! I remember one of my first days of Norwegian high school and some guy wanted to get the teachers attention and shouts out “YO, Marit” – to a 60 + year language teacher. I thought for sure he was busted, but she just looked up at him over the top of her glasses and said “yes?”. I about died.

  • thisisedie

    I didn’t know the term “ma’am” was offensive until the other day when I went to Postsecret and saw that someone had sent in a postcard that said: “when you call me ma’am you lose your tip”. Well… at my place of employment, the use of ma’am/sir is mandatory. If I DIDN’T refer to customers as ma’am/sir, I could get fired. It’s the same thing with being offered “fries with that” in the drive thru. For anyone who doesn’t know, that person doesn’t WANT to offer you fries, they HAVE to or they could get fired. It’s called upselling. Anyway — we don’t mean to offend, it’s just that we like those little things in life, you know? Like electricity and food and a roof over our heads :)

  • JetLime

    In England you get to be called Madam or Sir in shops, restaurants, etc., which I always thought was rather nice and proper. I remember visiting California for the first time and being called dude… I had no idea what it meant and whether I should take offence or not. But I suppose it’s just like being called ‘mate’ here which is a general substitute for more or less anything, it works most of the time. Calling your boss (or the Queen) mate might not be such a great idea though.

  • cara

    I love that whole bit- Im from the Northeast, and now live in the South (well kinda- DC is technically in the south), and I think that is a really nice thing for kids to learn to speak to adults like that.

    I also LOVE how many of my black friend’s children call me Miss Cara! Totally going to ingrain this kind of respect into any children I have someday… I think its a perfect mix of familiarity and respect. And I am not, and have never been, a proper- type manners obsessed person. I haven’t picked up many regional things since moving here- saying y’all seems to have crept into my vernacular, and I also love that.

    Despite the belief of many, the South aint all that bad- as long as you can deal with that confederate, dixie-land, racist stuff… and learn to assess the fine Art of Passive Aggressiveness (“wait, did you just insult me? I can’t tell…”)- everything is fine.. plus, they put BACON in everything here! Can’t argue with that!

  • wendirobinson

    i’ve read every single comment here and have yet to see a valid explanation of why being called ma’am is offensive to so many of you, other than a vague inference on your part that the person calling you ma’am is making an assumption about your age. is that really all it is? or is something else that i’m missing? i’m truly curious. someone please enlighten me!

  • eddeaux

    Haha. I love you Heather. You always make me smile.

  • hsp

    My husband and I were at a Mets game last night and I got called Ma’am for the first time – by someone the same age as me and in a delightfully condescending tone. It was definitely a WTF moment.

  • nancyminchew

    I grew up (and still live) in Texas, and I was taught that Ma’am and Sir was the only way to address people. As an adult (grandmother) I am still chided for saying “yes ma’am” or “yes sir” to someone younger than myself, or to a peer. But I am not going to stop. I believe that it is good manners to address people in this manner. I believe that good manners is quickly going out the window – in favor of those slang expressions “cool” and “dude.”

    Keep it up Heather – and teach Leta and Marlo to have good manners too.

  • kelpimarie

    Heather – I feel ya! My dad is from Texas my mom is from Utah – I was born and raised in Utah but with proper southern manners. I myself don’t like to be called ma’am unless it’s by a kid but I do call others older than me ma’am or sir as I was raised believing it was respectful – and how often do people give me shit about it here in the “no manners” state? Constantly!

    I too have yelled back “what” when called – not too bad with mom as she’s from UT but doing that to my grandma got my mouth washed out with soap all the while being scolded for not saying Ma’am in reply…..glad to know I’m not the only one with this confusing dichotomy.

  • karahleigh

    Nancy – I understand that it’s meant to be a sign of respect, but if someone asks to not be referred to as ma’am or sir and you continue doing it, it’s no longer respectful. Referring to people the way they prefer is much more respectful than sticking to what you prefer.

    wendirobinson – For me, it’s partially the age thing. I’m accustomed to only older people being called ma’am and sir, and I’m not an ‘older people’ just yet. Because I don’t feel that I’m at an age appropriate to be called ma’am, when someone does use it, it just comes off as condescending, in my opinion. Same as when someone clearly older than me refers to me as ma’am. It’s like there’s a silent smirk at the end.

  • linuxchik

    ANYthing is better than ‘hey’. i’ve lived here my whole life, and i swear, utah has no culture. and “hey, ma’m – do you have any spare change” does not work, either!

  • The Urban Cowboy

    In Texas, it’s the appropriate thang to say.

  • Figtron

    Dude.

    Politeness in ANY FORM is welcomed in this day and time, and being raised Southern like you, I had this instilled in me as well.

    I am teaching my daughter manners and politeness with Southern sensibility. She is 2.5, but knows how to greet people, speak with respect, and say bless you if you sneeze. You should see the gob-smacked looks on adult faces when she says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

    Yes, she says ma’am and sir…and so do I to this day.

  • Mandaray26

    Growing up in Southern California the use of ma’am or sir was never in my vocabulary. I distinctly remember the first time I used “sir” and it was met with much disdain. I had recently transferred to a private school where the hierarchy between students and teachers appeared to be rather established, and the use of sir appropriate. My teacher, who couldn’t have been more than 30, was appalled when I called him “sir.”

    At 28 I move to Louisiana to pursue my doctorate, and with it I’ve been introduced to a whole new set of social protocol and appropriateness. After 3 years of living in the south, ma’am and sir are now a constant in addressing anyone, regardless of age, as is the use of Miss/Mr . I have a professor, Louisiana born and raised, who frequently refers to the women in his class as ma’am. Initially, I was put off by this, particularly since he is 17 years my senior. But, I have come to realize it is simply a matter of the social etiquette he was raised with. He also refers to us as his junior colleagues, so the use of ma’am is somewhat a sign of respect. Granted, he is also prone to just shouting our last names down the hallway, so occasionally it is a little hard to follow his logic.

    I’ve grown accustomed to some of aspects of social etiquette in the south and would like to instill in my children practices that encourage politeness and respect, like ma’am and sir.

  • dtelisman

    I’ve never been “ma’am’d, but then again I’m a man. I have, however, made the mistake of calling my old boss “dear.” I was in my late 20s, and she in her 50s. We were close, but when I referred to her as “dear”, she reprimanded me that only “old ladies” are called that.

    Lesson learned.

  • Auburn

    Call me weird, but I’d rather be called Ma’am than to be called Guy, as in, “How is your meal, guys?” That’s what I’m called in Arizona. Guy.

    After recently researching my genealogy, I believe I qualify for the title of Lady. So, you may refer to me as Lady Auburn, thank you ever so. Somehow, “May I refill your rather large wine glass, Lady Auburn?” would be much preferable to “You guy ready for your check?”