Featured community question with accompanying regional differences

Today’s featured question comes from user wishfullthinking:

Since I grew up in the South and was raised by two very proper, Southern parents, I wasn’t ever to refer to a woman as anything else. It was YES, MA’AM. NO MA’AM. WHATEVER YOU WANT, MA’AM. Same thing with Sir. It was a way of showing respect to anyone older than myself, meaning anyone who had lived more, hurt more, learned more, and knew more than I did. This may surprise you, but there is an old-fashioned part of me that really likes this. See? I’m not just some dirty ho-bag who’d empty her poop bucket in your yard.

I remember an instance from my childhood… I must have been nine or ten years old, and my mother called me from the other room.

“Heather!” she yelled, and I could tell that she wanted me to come to her instantly. But I was nine years old and probably cutting the fingers off of a pair of lacy gloves so that I could accurately recreate Madonna’s “Borderline” video. Important work.

So I yelled back, “WHAT?!”

Yeah. WRONG THING TO DO. Especially when your father grew up in the projects of Louisville, Kentucky and worked his way up and out of poverty. Because he was in my room within seconds, his face a millimeter from my own instructing me that if I ever answered my mother with a WHAT?! ever again I’d never live to see Madonna in her iconic Jean-Paul Gaultier cone bra phase.

When my mother called me, he said, I should run to her immediately and say, “Yes, ma’am?”

Let’s just put it this way: my father never had to tell me anything more than once.

Other practices he taught me: I don’t carry a single penny of debt other than my mortgage. I always say hello and smile to the person checking out my groceries. I’m never late to anything. And most important: MURPHY’S LAW. Watch out for it. My father would never put it this way, but I know he believes that Murphy is one sneaky bastard.

It wasn’t until I got to BYU in 1993 for my freshman year in college that I learned some people might actually take offense to this expression. Like, people actually recoiled when I referred to them as Ma’am or Sir because they thought I was somehow making fun of them, or implying that they were old. When really I was just giving them the respect they were due. And so I didn’t know what to call people. You there? Hey you? Mr.? Ms.? Almighty? Your highness? Shithead?

And then when I eventually ended up in California I learned that everyone expects to be called Dude. YES, DUDE. NO DUDE. WHATEVER YOU WANT, DUUUUUUDE.

Since it’s a no-no in Utah to refer to people as Ma’am or Sir we’re teaching Leta to refer to people as they wish. Meaning, some people prefer to be called by their first names, some as Mr. or Ms. We’re teaching her that it’s important to show respect by inquiring and abiding by what individual people are most comfortable with. I’d love to teach her Ma’am or Sir, but I’m afraid she’d eventually get smacked for insubordination.

However, I do let her get away with calling me Mom when we all know I prefer Wondrous Being of Light and Splendor. We’re working on this one.