Monday, September 9, 2013

Yes Mam

"And then he called me 'Mam'." My friend said this with disdain. As the word rolled off her tongue she looked as though she had eaten something bitter.

I was at a loss. I couldn't help but to be very confused at her reaction to being called Mam. I had to ask why that was a bad thing.

She in turn seemed just as shocked that I wasn't insulted for her, as I was to her being upset by it.

"I am not old." she declared as though that should have been obvious.

No, she isn't old. She is only a couple of years older than me so I definitely don't think she is old. I still didn't quite understand that the problem was, I don't think calling someone Mam means they are old.

I was raised by my mom and my grandparents. My grandfather had been a career Air Force officer so my mother was raised in the military. Words like Sir and Mam were just a normal and expected part of our vernacular. There has never been any question in my mind that those two words should be used quite liberally.

The thing is that the titles have never had any age indicator to me. Calling someone Sir or Mam never meant they were old, it was a term of respect. Certainly you used it on pretty much anyone older than you because they deserved the respect. Older does not mean old.

It didn't ever matter what age someone was. I can clearly remember being addressed as Mam by people older than me my entire life. Most of the time it was when I was in trouble or we were having a serious moment, but sometimes it was just how I was addressed. Now that I am an adult I use it when I am talking to my nieces or any of my friends children. 

I was taught that anyone in a place of authority should be called Sir or Mam. My teachers, my doctors, my bosses, my babysitters, anyone who was remotely in charge of me got this.  Anyone that you are serving should out of respect be called Sir or Mam as well. When I was a waitress my customers no matter their age were Sir and Mam and the same go for customers in the shop at faire. Basically anyone you are being polite to should be called Sir or Mam. I tend to think anyone should be addressed as Sir or Mam unless you are being very familiar or just rude.

Of course that is the way I was raised. I understand that some people weren't raised like that. I can see that it could be considered a marker of age instead of a marker of general respect. I suppose it is like how someone find it insulting to be called Mrs. or Miss or any other label as such. Most of the time no one means it as an insult, they are just trying to show respect most likely.

Personally I am not going to stop. It is far too engrained in me to ever stop referring to people as Sir and Mam. The older I would think the less it will sound like I am calling someone else old and more like I am being polite or possibly even old fashioned.

I am alright with that. I would rather be called old fashioned and be polite and respectful. 


  1. "Sir" and "Ma'am" are much more commonly used here in the south . . . I was raised to say them, and I still do, but when we lived up north, whoowee -- if you called anyone Sir or Ma'am they were likely to be VERY offended. Sometimes I will tease a friend who calls me "Ma'am", but I'm never really put off by it.

  2. I can definitely see it being regional as well. Good thing I live in the south. Though I have noticed in places further north if your southern accent, especially a Texas drawl, is thick enough they tend to be more forgiving of cultural differences.

  3. I think I prefer Ma'am to sweetie or honey which is what I get called a lot by total strangers!

  4. A lot of sweety and honey and sugar get thrown around in the south, and is considered pretty normal. I do get how that can be considered uncomfortable or insulting though. I try and reserve that for people I know and know won't mind it.