Tuesday, April 15, 2014
M is for Ma'am (and why it makes me cringe)
I’m not sure when it officially happened. It must have been slowly, like sun damage that doesn’t appear across your face until years later. Suddenly I’m Ma’am in stores and restaurants and I don’t like it.
I’m not the only Ma’am hater out there. I did a little googling and discovered women as young as twenty eight years old blogging that getting called this four letter word is almost worse than actually being called a four letter word. In fact, I recall watching an episode of Happy Endings on ABC where a younger female character calls a thirtysomething character “Ma’am” and the thirtysomething reacts with something like “first I am going to go cry in the locker room and then I am going to come back and kick your…”
So what is so awful about being called Ma’am? Technically Ma’am is a proper way to address an adult woman of any age, but where Sir seems respectful for a male, Ma’am just feels O-L-D. Perhaps because it conjures up images of dear Aunt Bee rolling out piecrusts in her housedress and not a young woman in strappy platform heels.
Ma’am is actually short for Madame, which I think is elegant, sophisticated and refined. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine the cashier in Old Navy saying, “Madame can I interest in you opening a credit card today to save 10%?”
Recently I was waiting in line at the supermarket deli counter when the attendant addressed the woman in front of me with “What can I get for you Miss?” This ‘Miss’ looked to be in her late twenties or early thirties and the deli attendant far older than me. Anyone under the age of eighty should be a definite Miss to him, but said deli attendant took my order next and upon completion, and to my horror, said “Will there be anything else for you Ma’am?” Ugh.
Should I just accept my Ma’am-ness? First I decided to do a little informal research– I spent the day on alert for those who called me Ma’am and anyone, bless their heart, who called me Miss. Out of the four establishments I frequented, two referenced me as Ma’am – the others just didn’t reference me at all. So I decided to extend my test on a little vaca in Vegas, baby. No one called me Ma’am on the entire trip! Not the roulette dealer, not the concierge, and not the check out clerk. Was it the sin city atmosphere, the blatant display of flesh and fantasy that eliminated the word from everyone’s vocabulary? Or was it because I didn’t wander the streets in my usual suburban mom attire of yoga pants and running shoes. Nor did I frequent any establishments that sold milk , eggs or bread. Maybe I was not a Ma’am in Vegas because I was not a mom in Vegas.
What about celebrities? Heidi Klum is a mom – do people call her Ma’am – for some reason I doubt it. There’s another four-letter acronym for the Heidi-like moms of the world. I won’t argue that “How can I help you MILF?” would be a completely inappropriate way to be addressed at the GAP. Although on some warped level it would make me feel better than “How can I help you Ma’am?”
There are certain nomenclatures that are clear in life. When you get married someone will ultimately call you Mrs. XXX. When you have a child someone will call you mom. But when do you become Ma’am? I still don’t know for sure. What I do know is next time I’m called Ma’am I’ll head down to my nearest senior center because being called ‘young lady’ trumps ‘Miss’ and ‘Ma’am’ every time.