When I moved to the south as a ten-year-old, one of the things that stood out to me the most was the use of the words “sir” and “ma’am”. This was a huge culture shock for me and took a very long time for me to get used to because NOBODY talked like that in California, where I grew up. Nobody talked like that in Montana or Connecticut (where my parents grew up) either, so this was very foreign to my whole family. Fast forward twenty-something years, and I actually love the mannerly way here. Or so I thought I did. That was until I transitioned from someone who said, “yes, ma’am” to someone who hears it. I get it. It’s a nice thing to say. But I’m frantically doing my best to cope with my fine lines, sagging breasts, and hairy toe knuckles; the last thing I need is you coming along and calling me “ma’am”. It’s mean.
And I have decided that, while saying “yes, ma’am” is a way of life here (and a very polite way of life, mind you), not all uses of “ma’am” are created equal. So, here are my simple rules for calling a thirty-something “ma’am.”
- If you are a hip college student, or even a non-hip college student, DO NOT call me ma’am. I still think I look exactly like you, and this hurts my feelings. Other words you may call me instead: “girl” (like, “Hey girl, what’s up?), “friend” (because we are BASICALLY THE SAME AGE, right?), or Megan (because that is my name). If I ask you a question, just let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”. No need to add anything insulting to the end of it!
- If you are slightly younger than me and have children older than mine, DO NOT call me ma’am. This happened to me the other day, and I almost cried on the spot. Up until the moment she called me “ma’am”, I would have guessed we were the same age. She probably would have guessed that I was fifty.
- If you are reading this blog, chances are you shouldn’t call me ma’am. 🙂
- If you are a child younger than fifteen, DO call me ma’am. If you are older than fifteen, I’d rather you accidentally think I’m in my early twenties, so don’t call me ma’am.
- If you are my husband, and I have asked you to do something out of frustration, you may say sarcastically, “yes, ma’am” (because sometimes that is the thing I need to hear to realize I’m being bossy).
- If you are a man, preferably older than sixty, DO call me ma’am. For example, tipping your hat and saying, “Well, hello, ma’am.” That’s cute and totally respectful.
- If you are my child, DO call me ma’am. All of the time.
I am doing my best to cope with my aging self. And I actually prefer being a thirty-something to being in my twenties. But, please, use caution before calling me ma’am.