I’ve been getting ma’am-ed.
I gotta admit, as someone who taught (oh so briefly) in the classroom, it wasn’t unreasonable to hear the word ma’am from students. Being I was much older than they were, it could be considered normal.
And since I’m in the south (Houston metro area, Texas, to be more precise), that word’s just out there with the wind, the same as “hon/honey,” “sir,” “miss,” “dear,” “girls/gals,” “young lady,” “guys,” and “y’all.” You can’t help but hear it.
But I’m noticing it directed at me more and more at work–at both my jobs. And it’s just kinda weird.
I guess I don’t see myself as really “old” (on good days, anyway–I’m not 34 yet) and some women seem to take all kinds of offense to the word because when we think of it, it’s an honorific for a female elder we respect. I got curious and went Googling, and holy crap–there are tons of articles about using ma’am these days.
For myself, I don’t get bent out of shape hearing it, but I just started noticing it directed at me more and more often and it was weird.
I’m not offended, it’s just strange.
And it made me think about how and why I use it, and when.
I don’t say it terribly often, at least not that I’m aware, but when I do, it’s as an acknowledgement if I had a question (like “thank you, ma’am,” otherwise it is usually “thank you for clarifying,” and go on my way).
For me, I’ve said “ma’am” to a woman in a position of professional superiority, or one who’d been on the job a helluva lot longer than me and likely knew it better. Even if they weren’t above me on the ladder, per-se, I wanted to acknowledge their experience beyond pay scale because I know I can learn something from them.
To me, it’s not about age, it’s about experience.
And I’m sure I say things that annoy the hell out of other people, and they’re too polite to say something. When I get particularly Southern (for some God-unknown reason), I end up calling a kid “dear.” I get some tetchy responses from a few of them on that, so no matter what, somebody out there’s gonna get offended. Anybody younger than me gets the honorific “kiddo” if I’m not paying attention–which is probably more often than I’d like to admit.
Long story short, there are tons of words and honorifics that make people react in different ways (and I’ll be listening hard to see what gaffs I make in this regard this week).
However, it seems the word “ma’am” is a minefield for a lot of people, and a big question of etiquette. (check out this NPR transcript of the question–interesting all around)
But I have to admit, now that I’m in the workplaces I’m at, and hiring is coming and going, I am starting to feel a bit old. I mean, in my weekend job, the new hires are largely fresh out of high school or starting college–I’m over a decade older than most of them. So, when it comes to the high-schoolers, they call me ma’am.
And when I was helping to train two new employees in their duties the past week at my other job, I heard the word quite a bit.
It kinda stuck me yesterday that it could be a seniority thing, and that’s what I found weird. It occurred to me I’d never really had seniority in anything except school. So, I guess they’re using it the same way I do, to acknowledge someone’s possible expertise.
It’s just strange because it’s like when someone’s called ma’am, it’s like there’s this switch that suddenly makes you feel like you have to be the uber-professional person, the strict no-nonsense person in the room now that you have ma’am–as if it’s added years to your profile right off the bat.
All I know is thanks to my social awkwardness, I’m more the entertainer, the clown than someone who can really lead and be super serious. I like being approachable–for the most part–and get nervous around the “stiffs”…or at least those that come off that way because I have no idea how to avoid screwing up around them (or if I have already, which makes it worse).
I wish I could be more professional, but at the same time I can’t help but wonder if my verbal diarrhea at initially meeting a new co-worker doesn’t help put them at ease because I’m sure they’re nervous already (heaven knows I’m nervous because I don’t wanna confuse them by giving them too much or not enough info).
Or they’re writing me off as a chatty crazy person and can’t wait to get out of there.
It could go either way.
Hope I don’t make them quit–I need the hours, but I need convenient, able-to-make-plans-hours off, too.
I wonder if mom’ll crack up if I bring this up to her–I have a feeling she will. It’s just strange, because I joke with everybody at the same extent, regardless of their seniority and age–too bubbly to be beat down. But I guess people’s view of me is changing in the workplace.
And probably going to be the norm.
Shoot–I still don’t know what to think about it!
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