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Is getting ma’am’d getting maimed?


The other day a good friend went to the grocery store and when she was done checking out the guy behind the register said, “Have a good day, Ma’am.” It was the first time she had ever been Ma’am’d and she was not happy about it.

I should say that my friend is a very attractive woman in her thirties and looks young for her age. She is also a new mom. Being a new mom brings out a whole slew of wonderful feelings but, thanks to sleep deprivation and the difficulty in finding time to take a shower let alone to put on makeup, feeling attractive usually isn’t one of them. Getting Ma’am’d really didn’t help.

One of the many things I love about my friend is that she isn’t shrinking violet. She asked the guy where he was from and, as expected, he said that he was from the Midwest. Then she asked him how long he’d been in LA. Only a few months. My friend told the guy that while calling a woman in her 30’s Ma’am may be considered polite in his hometown, most women in Los Angeles will not appreciate it. He said that his mother had brought him up to be a gentleman, and as Ma’am was an important part of that, he was going to keep on Ma’aming. My friend left the store miffed that the guy had dismissed her insight, and still stinging from the original Ma’am’ing.

I’m sure a lot of people would think my friend overreacted. Many might say that because his intention was good, that’s all that mattered. Some might say that my friend should be secure enough not to let it bother her. I have to say I’m with her on this, and I don’t think we are alone. A recent episode of Up All Night featured this situation prominently – in fact the name of the episode was Ma’am’d.

Manners are not absolute – they are time and place specific. After all, being on time to a party is essential to being polite if you are in Denmark but is totally ride if you are in Argentina. Similarly, in the south or Midwest ‘Ma’am’ is a sign of respect but in Los Angeles it is a sure fire way to make a woman feel old and unattractive. In LA, a town that values youth over almost anything else, calling a woman in her 30’s ‘ma’am’ is tantamount to an insult. Or is it? Is Ma’am’ing a stranger maiming a stranger or showing respect? Can it be both?

Personally, I’m a big believer in knowing one’s audience and think calling someone something they don’t want to be called is rude, regardless of the intention. But maybe I’m in the minority here. Which is why I put the question to you.

A Zeros Before the One Poll

In these modern times, when most women work hard to stay looking youthful, is there still a place for 'Ma'am'?

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3 Responses to “Is getting ma’am’d getting maimed?”

  1. Claudia Maittlen-Harris November 5, 2012 at 10:49 am

    I moved to the South at the young age and was reprimanded by teachers and family friends for not ma’am’ing them. I was 8. I learned to say it, just as I learned not to say it when I left the South. Southerners and Midwesterners have been doing it their whole lives. I think the woman was actually sweet to the new guy to point it out, but it would be like getting offended if a British cab driver called you Govenor. I don’t think it’s worth much fuss if you know it’s just the way someone was raised.

  2. Elisabeth Fitzgerald November 5, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I’m not thrilled to be called ma’am, but I understand that it’s polite and respectful. I’m not a teenager anymore…”Miss” could, perhaps, be a tad condescending. I’ve worked with the public in many capacities over the years and I’ve never said “Sir” or “Ma’am” to be insulting. It’s good customer service and many companies encourage it (even if the customers would prefer “Miss”).

    Then again, I’m from Chicago. :-)

  3. Claudia Maittlen-Harris November 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    As an adult, I only say ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ if I think it will get me better treatment (like to a police officer or the old lady at the DMV who holds my registration conundrum in her hands). So basically, I’m worse because I abuse my ‘Sir/Ma’am’ upbringing for my own good. Whoops. Then again, I’m from Texas.

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