When I was in the sixth grade, I spent a portion of the school year living with my grandmother in Pine Bluff, AR. Pine Bluff was a looooooong way from the Los Angeles suburbs in which I’d spent my entire life. But I loved it. I learned how to jump double dutch, chased lightning bugs in the evenings, sat on the front porch and waved at folks who were passing by. Pretty freaking idyllic.
My first day of school the teacher asked me a question. Let’s pretend it was “So, you are from California?”
Little Nerd Girl: Yes.
Teacher: Yes, what?
LNG: Yes, I am from California.
Teacher: Yes, I am from California, what?
LNG: Yes, I am from California Mrs. Jones.
Teacher: Yes I am from California Mrs. Jones, what?
LNG: I got nothing.
I could hear my classmates whispering a chant of some sort “maam, maam, maam, maam, maam.”
Finally someone said “you have to say yes ma’am.” Um, okay.
And that was my introduction to ma’am and sir. I used them the entirety of my time in Arkansas and dropped them like a bad habit once I hit the West Coast near the end of the summer. My mom would get livid if I slipped up and ma’amed her.
I went to Pine Bluff in undergrad and picked up the sirs and ma’ams once again. Then I married, moved further south to Mississippi and now I pretty much say sir and ma’am to anyone older than myself.
But. I don’t make Lovegirl say it. I don’t care anything about her calling me ma’am. Her teachers at school make her say it and that’s fine with me, I just don’t make her say it at home. Sometime she does, sometimes she doesn’t. Eh.
I say it because it is expected by older folks, but truth be told I cringe whenever a parent makes their child “ma’am” me. It just smacks of some throwback to well…slavery. I can’t even explain why I feel this way, but I see the saying of “ma’am” and “sir” as hearkening back to the days when we had no choice but to say it. Irrational? Probably so. I’ve never claimed not to be.
So dear, genteel readers where do you stand on “sir and ma’am?” Good manners? A throwback to days gone by? Absolutely necessary for you and your children? Could care less?
Sir? Ma’am? Don’t give a d#@*? Where do you stand?