And DON’T Call Me Ma’am

A couple of weekends ago, a friend of mine used her Facebook status to declare how she doesn’t like being called “ma’am”.

I couldn’t agree with her more.

In fact, I personally LOATHE it.

Example: At least three times a week, I frequent this sandwich/salad bar in the food court attached to the building I work in.

Sometimes, I get the staff member at the cash register who calls me “miss”.

Sometimes, I get the staff member who barely opens her mouth to say “hello”. (I don’t think she likes me much – I get a weird vibe from her.)

And sometimes, I get the staff member who is obviously the woman in charge of running the place. She’s really nice. But she’s got this tendency to say “ma’am” when she addresses me.


I’m pretty sure I don’t scowl or bark at anyone when I approach the register. So why is someone who’s at least 20 years older than me, calling me “ma’am”?

(I bet women who are actually 20 years older than me hate being called “ma’am” as much as I do.)

I don’t know why, but whenever I hear “ma’am”, I imagine a homely, dour schoolmarm-ish type, with her hair in a severe bun and a floor-length skirt and a high, lace collar with specs. Sort of like the image I have of my mother’s paternal grandmother (who I never met). 

Not me. Unless I’ve really let myself go. 

Am I truly old enough to be called “ma’am”? Is there any age at which that’s appropriate?

To put myself on the other side of this, I’m not completely obtuse. I know the woman behind the counter is just trying to show good customer service by saying “sir” and “ma’am” to her customers.

But sometimes, I just want to say , “Until I earn it (which I hope I NEVER will), don’t ever call me that again.”

5 thoughts on “And DON’T Call Me Ma’am

  1. 😛 Some people have their buttons, I guess.

    I sometimes say “yes, ma’am” in a casual sense, not even trying to be “polite”.

    Otherwise, I find the “ma’am” vs “miss” debate to be a little silly. To me, “miss” can sound condescending – so I suppose for both words it’s about context.

    But are we really expecting service folk to judge our ages on the spot? “Hmm…she looks like she’s 49, but I suppose she could be 37…Better call her miss.” or “Geez, she LOOKS old…I could go with miss, but what if she accuses me of being a disrepectful young whipper-snapper?”

    I think “ma’am” is just as polite as “miss” and that the hang-up lies with the receiver rather than the speaker.

    I will admit I do a double-take when people call me “sir”, but, really, what’s the alternative? At least they’re making an effort to be polite. I’ll take it.

  2. dicampbell says:

    Probably the one thing we do agree on: some people have their buttons.

    As I mentioned above, I DO realize the woman’s trying to show good customer service when she’s using “sir” and “ma’am”. I just don’t like it. I let it slide around people I know, who I know use it in a joking manner. But that’s about it.

    I also don’t ACTUALLY expect her to know whether to use “miss” or “ma’am” based on how old I look. I’d just prefer if she didn’t use it.

    And while we’re on the subject of condescending, I don’t particularly care for people whom I DON’T know, calling me “dear” or “honey” – I actually find THAT a bit condescending. Just be glad I didn’t decide to extrapolate on that here :P.

  3. Kristy says:

    Hoo boy, you get “ma’am”ed to DEATH in Army. At the commissary, at the hospital, at the front gate. Again, it’s meant to be polite and to show respect. And, I suppose, deference if it’s coming from someone my husband outranks. I also think it’s easier for people to spit out a “ma’am” than it is to try to remember a first name. Which is likely the same reason that even around the soldiers in Matthew’s unit, I’m ALWAYS “Mrs. Perry”. They never call me by my first name!

  4. dan says:

    What about madame, pronouncing the “d”. This is clearly the most preferable, imo. I work as a cashier, and have tended to realize how silly it is to keep constantly saying ma’am. It sounds southern, demeaning, 19th-century, extremely outmoded. Madame, on the other hand, is formal and polite.

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