Friday, July 6, 2012

The Duration of Ma'am

I mentioned last week that it's my pet peeve when kids don't say "Ma'am" and "Sir" and then my Midwestern friend [read: NOT Yankee ;)] friend,  Kodi, and I had a conversation about the terms this morning. To be honest, I probably care a little too much about manners and such, but when you grow up with a mom who could basically be some long lost progeny of Emily Post, it's hard not to.  [Aside: when Bud wears his Sunday best, she's taken to calling him "Master Graves".  Did y'all  know that's the male equivalent of "Miss"? You're welcome.  It evens out because the rest of the time she and my dad call him "Bud" and channel the real redneck within.]

Annnnnyway, it all recently reminded me of a conversation with Minnie from a long, LONG time (like twenty some odd years) ago.  A little background first....

I've said this before, quite a few times actually, but Momma was always so good about answering all my questions.  Both my parents were.  And I was the type of child that is inquisitive to the point that it's truly annoying and you really just want to rip your ears off and pull your hair (and their tongue) out.  I know it must have been exhausting.  In a little tangential anecdote, that I may or may not have shared previously,  there was this one time when my dad was describing a frog to me.  He had told me literally everything he knew about frogs and probably most all he knew about things related to them.  I finally nodded my head and said "Daddy, I think I understand what a frog is.  Now, tell me what it's not." Yes, really.  I wanted him to name everything on Earth that a frog was not.  I was that little girl.  In a way, I still am.  But Momma gave a such a wonderful gift, a gift that was, more often than not, I'm sure, hard to give.  She answered them all

I wrote a whole post about it, but this especially made an impression on me in the area of discipline.  My mother was not one to say "because I said so".  To be fair, I rarely asked her questions out of defiance or to try to manipulate my way out of something; I just wanted to understand.

Anyway, one of my first distinct memories is of walking across a parking lot with her and saying "yes" and her correcting me.  In response, I asked her when I could stop referring to her as "Ma'am".  She stopped dead in her tracks, bent down and looked me square in the eyes and said "Never".  When we got to the car, she explained to me that as a grown woman in her early forties, she never said "yes" or "no" to my grandmother.  "I will call Bump "Ma'am" until the day she dies." And she did.

And I will call Momma "Ma'am" until the day she dies.

While it irks me to see little children say "yes" and "no", I smile a lot when my sister tells the middle aged cashier at Target "Yes Ma'am" or when I hear Peyton say "No Sir" to a patient while I'm on the phone.  Or when I hear Momma say "Ma'am" or "Sir" to an elderly waitress or janitor.

I know that some people (especially women) hate this. It makes them feel old or they think it's sexist(??).  But for me, there is just something about an adult, who regardless of their station in life and regardless of the other person's station, has enough manners to respect their age and speak to them accordingly.

I'm sure in a couple of years when we move up past the Mason Dixon line(***), I won't hear this much at all, save out of my husband and my own mouths.  Sadly, I fear it's falling out of favor in the South as well.  But I can guarantee you one thing.  I'll be saying "Ma'am to my elders.  For the duration. 

*** Um, yeah, my NYC blog has exactly one post and the name of it is a misnomer.  I'll work on it.  Sometime before the move.


Megan said...

I completely agree with you on ma'am and sir. It was how I was raised, and it is how I plan to raise my children as well. I was shocked one time when I was in Washington DC and an older lady asked me if I was "in the service" because I said yes ma'am to her! It makes me sad that yes ma'am and no ma'am aren't the norm anymore, even in the South!

Anonymous said...

This is so funny to me. I live in central Ga and do hear a lot of "ma'am" and "sir", and as much as I expect respect and manners from my children, I do not teach them "ma'am" and "sir". I make sure my daughter says "yes, please" or "yes, mommy" and "no, thank you". My husband grew up primarily in the north and when he moved here a neighbor brought him back to his parent's house from playing at theirs because he didn't say "ma'am". He didn't understand what he had done and his mother quickly told the other woman that she didn't expect her children to say it. I don't think he was ever invited back, but neither he or his mother ever apologized.

Kristal said...

So interesting! Like anon, this is not something I will teach my kids. They'll say yes, please and no, thank you, but I actually think if one of my kids ever took to saying yes, ma'am to me, I'd ask them to stop. I find it way too formal and almost condescending on the adults part. As if they are so above the child, they expect a ma'am or sir. (And please know, I know that's not what you think, SD. That's just my odd connotation of the words.)

I do refer to ppl as ma'am/sir in a store if I'm trying to get their attention (as in excuse me, ma'am), but that's the only time I use it. I know if we were further south I'd hear it more often, but it's really just not that common here in the context you describe.

Mallory Pickering said...

Anonymous: I agree with you. I'm not sure I like age barriers that come with ma'am and sir or with calling someone "Mister" or "Miss" plus the first name. That's very odd to me. Either be formal or don't.
Anyway, my husband is very pro the whole Southern "respect" deal, so I've agreed to teach it. I guess it's not a hill to die on.

Lindsay said...

I'm the same way! It's just an automatic thing for anyone older than me. Also definitely something I will pass on to Andrew.

Amy said...

i love reading the comments and seeing the difference of opinions. i'm right there with you though! when i was growing up, if my dad asked me a question and i answered with, "what?" instead of "sir?" i might as well have said a four letter word - ha! we were definitely taught and expected to say ma'am and sir....and we still do! we're teaching our kids that, too. i can't stand "yeah" ....blech! libbi is learning to say yes ma'am and no ma'am. and of course, we don't teach something that we don't practice ourselves. i still hear my daddy refer to everyone as ma'am or sir. and it makes my heart proud :)

The Taffs said...

I say "ma'am" and "sir" all the time too. It's natural, I don't even think about it. I can attribute that to the way I was raised. We (my brother, sister, and I) got in trouble for not "using our manners". My child (and the students in my classroom) are required to say "ma'am" and "sir" also! : )

Elle said...

I live in the midwest and almost none of the youth here use ma'am or sir. My mom's family lives in Texas, so my brother and I were instructed to do so. What bothers me the most? When children say "yah" or "nope." I just find those slang words so rude when said to adults! At least use yes or no if you aren't going to address them correctly!

Susy said...

I live in NYC, and many women up here consider ma'am an insult. I'm not kidding. It's weird, and I have to explain that where I come from (Arkansas) it's common and a sign of respect. My kids will probably not say ma'am and sir, simply because it's not the norm here. I like the idea of "yes, please" and "no, thank you" as an alternative though. I have no idea what I will do when I take my kids back home and they are perceived as rude though! That worries me!

Mary Louis Quinn said...

Who knew there would be so many different opinions!? We were raised to say ma'am and sir to all adults but my parents didn't demand we say it to them, unless, like Amy said above, we said "what?" to my dad. He would get so mad and say "sir!" :)

I have always taught c to say ma'am and sir with other people as well as us, and she just recently stated saying it unprompted. I was so proud! :) although it doesn't bother me too much if she doesn't say it to us 100% of the time. I would much rather her use it with other adults.

And the whole master thing- I can remember my mom addressing invitations and such as "master" and I really wanted to do it when i first started sending bday invites out to curran's friends, but I was afraid most people wouldn't get it. I always address her girl friends as miss so I feel kinda weird not addressing the boys in a similar way. oh well.