Thursday, February 11, 2010

Yes Ma'am, Yes Sir Etiquette


(After you read the post, be sure to read the opinions of my other visitors in the comments section at the end.)

I’m running through a quaint town, training for a 10k with several other people. Another slow-poke and I have fallen behind and decide to run together and talk. Fifteen minutes into the run, I tell her to run ahead if she needs to, and jokingly, I say, “I’m over fifty - I won’t be running much faster.”

We continue our conversation, but now when I ask her a question, she answers, “yes ma’am.” We’ve gone from being peers to mother figure/daughter figure, or teacher/student, or old woman/young woman, or queen bee/worker bee. It takes me a minute or two to get her back to talking about her job, kids, and friends, and to get her tone of voice back to the relaxed tone she started with; and then there are no more “yes ma’ams.” Eventually I find out she’s thirty, which “is” young enough be my daughter.


When I was growing up on the east coast of Virginia, some of my friends were taught to answer adults with “yes ma’am,” “yes sir,” “no ma’am,” or “no sir.” I was not. I was only required to say something behind the “yes” or “no,” like, “Yes Mrs. Jones,” or “No thank you.” Just saying “yes” or “no” was too abrupt, according to my parents. And now that I’m a parent, I have adopted the same thoughts they had. We are not a “ma’am” and “sir” household, but we appreciate those who are.

Kids saying “yes ma’am” tells me that their parents have succeeded in teaching them to respect adults, although, I don’t think less of them if they don’t add the “ma’am.” The respect is what’s important.


I can’t remember exactly when I was first called “Ma’am”, but I’m sure it was a shocker because I was still in my thirties. It was probably from a twenty-two year old, which made me wonder, “Do I look old enough to be your mama!”

Recently, a few couples were at our home, when the thirty-seven year old man guest said “yes ma’am” to the fifty-four year old woman guest. “Oh, don’t call me ma’am,” she said with a little annoyance. He responded quickly, “Oh, I’m sorry. I grew up in Alabama; it’s a habit!”

I’ve seen others react the same way. Is it because it makes them feel old?

I’m used to it now - I notice when I'm answered with "yes ma'am," but it doesn’t bother me. I’ve accepted my “mature” status.

We’ll never all agree on this topic and other matters of semantics and etiquette. My post expressing my thoughts on being called “Mrs. Michael Jones” received varied opinions. Soooo…I guess we’ll continue to form and conduct our own rules of etiquette.

Do you say “yes ma’am” and “yes sir?”

51 comments:

Dori said...

While I was active duty I still addressed everyone as "Ma'am" or "Sir"...southern mother taught her girls manners. I had a NCO (non-commissioned officer...not required by military etiquette to address them as Sir or Ma'am) fuss at me for answering his question, "yes, sir"..."I'm enlisted! I work for a living...hurumph, hurumph, hurumph." My response... "Sorry. Southern upbringing, no respect intended." He laughed and we went about our business.

My children are taught as you were...something follows the yes or no..."yes, please", "no, thank you". It's a simple thing, really. And good manners are still important.

Oh...on your bit at the end...my sweet, southern, Bible belt aunts address cards and such to us using both of our first names because they love me and respect my "oddness" of keeping my own identity. :)

Cindy (Letters From Midlife) said...

I wasn't brought up to say ma'am or sir but I was taught the value of manners and the power of please, thank you and pardon me. And written thank you notes! I've taught my kids the same.

Menopausal New Mom said...

Hi Anita, I remember the first time I was called Ma'am was in my early 30's and I was insulted. I just said, please don't call me that.

Once I hit my 40's it was okay but early 30's just didn't feel right.

BTW, I never say it. Must be that bad feeling I had in my 30's that I don't want to cause anyone else.

Chocolate Covered Daydreams said...

I was never taught to say yes ma'am or sir but my parents were big on manners and how to greet with respect.

When I went to NC, that was the first time I actually had a checker address me as ma'am. I was a bit tickled over it since that's not the norm for people here in California.

Judy Thomas said...

Yes, Ma'am, I do. And I was brought up in New Jersey! My son used to say it when he was little, but the teenager he is now needs to be reminded.

MissKris said...

I used 'sir' or 'ma'm' with my elders, and also called most friends' parents by Mr. and Mrs. tho there were a few exceptions where we called some of them by first name. Why, I don't know. But "yes, please" and "no, thank you" and "excuse me" are second nature to me. My children and grandchildren also have good manners.

Bernie said...

I love good manners, my parents were very strict about that. I notice the art of manners have changed since I was young, and I appreciate it now when respect is shown by using ma'am or Mrs. and resent when a teenager uses my first name when they hardly know me.....guess I am old fashioned.
.........:-) Hugs

Bernie said...

I love good manners, my parents were very strict about that. I notice the art of manners have changed since I was young, and I appreciate it now when respect is shown by using ma'am or Mrs. and resent when a teenager uses my first name when they hardly know me.....guess I am old fashioned.
.........:-) Hugs

Buckeroomama said...

I said Yes, Ma'am and Yes, Sir to my teachers from grade school up to university. I do think simply yes or no is too abrupt. "Yes, please" and "No, thank you" are what we teach our children to say.

Sharon said...

Oh my gosh, I do not like being called ma'am, even now that I'm approaching 50. It makes me feel incredibly old. The first time I was called ma'am, I was in a bar having drinks with a friend. A young college student (male) walked by and said "Excuse me, ma'am". I looked around to see who he was talking to, and to my horror it was me! (I was 30 at the time!). To me, it was an insult. But I'm sure he thought he was being polite!

Farila said...

I went to a convent school and was taught few manners which were thought of as odd outside..
One of my friend (from USA) also found someone addressing her as Ma'am very annoying and that surprised me...

jiturajgor said...

some times people say it by out of habit without noticing the age. They only meant to respect you.

Michelle said...

Ha ha I'm 23 and got called ma'am at work the other day by some high school aged boy. I was a little offended at first, but then a little relieved that parents are still teaching manners to their kids.

Robin said...

Yes Ma'am..I do say it , but dont want it said to me..and I love yes sir..men love it too I find...I dont like Mrs. So and So either..just my first name ..which of course is inappropriate for some of the younguns that speak to me..so then Ill except Mrs...

SupahMommy said...

I teach my girls to say yes ma'am and yes sir.
I think it's a lost art.

xoxo

supah

Shirley said...

I say "Yes Ma'am" and "Yes Sir" to everyone, even children. It's good manners and shows respect.

For me, there is nothing age related about it.

Abby said...

I don't remember how old I was when I was met with my first "ma'am" and realized that the title was meant for me. It doesn't really bother me now. We live in a heavy military town, so that "ma'am/sir" is trained into a lot of people and their kids. So, yes it makes me feel old, but it's also respectful.

gayle said...

My daughter teaches her son to say yes Ma'm and Sir. I was raised in CA so I didn't say it and didn't teach my girls but we say it now having lived in NC for so long.

Iva said...

I think good manors are extremely important. I don't use Ma'am or Sir, however I was born and raised in California...its not necessary part of the norm here. Usually its always mr.....or mrs... ;)

Anita said...

HELLO EVERYONE - I'm a little late responding...just want to let you know that I read all of your comments...and now that it's ingrained (from writing about it and reading your comments), I found myself saying "yes ma'am' to my daughter one day. :)

Sohailah said...

When I first started teaching in Oklahoma, I was shocked by being called "Ma'am" (having grown up in Minnesota and Arizona.) I quickly realized the benefit of teaching children manners and became a HUGE fan. Although manners doesn't make someone "Godly" or "Better" than someone else, I believe little things really do matter. And a person that has been trained that way, tends to have better listening skills and responds better to correction - this is only from MY experience, nothing I have conducted as a formal study - just my 21 years of teaching/tour guiding and taking kids on mission trips.

You're only as old as you LET yourself feel - Ma'am has NOTHING to do with it. :)

Anonymous said...

My husband requires our boys to say yes sir no sir yes maam, and no ma'am when answering all adults. I was not so big on this but my husband insisted and I have gone along with it. We get compliments all the time on our sons manners.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Mississippi. It is taught very early to say "yes ma'am", etc... We were taught you say that to anyone one who is older to show repect. I am now 42 and it still takes getting used to being called "ma'am". With teenage children, I sometimes have to remind them to do the same. All their friends address us as Ms Ava or Mr Craig. Our first names, not last. It is a "southern" thing.
The thing I can't stand is when someone says "yeah" instead of yes. With all the texting and facebook communication, I sometimes feel that normal conversations are a thing of the past. I have accepted the fact I am a "ma'am". I have earned that respect.

Anita said...

SOHAILAH, I agree - it's all about manners.
Your background has given you very valuable experiences to pass on to to others. :)

ANONYMOUS #1 - I, too, really notice polite children. It's impressive.
One of my kids is softspoken, and one is shy, so I have to stay on them...but they're gettin it. :)
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

ANONYMOUS #2 - I like the respect, too, from young people calling me "ma'am." It's the 40 year olds that I'm still getting use to hearing it from. :) But, it okay now. As you said, in the south, it is common.
Funny...after writing about something - like this, for example - I feel so much more comfortable.
Thanks for adding to the conversation. :)

MORE COMMENTS? I'D LOVE TO HEAR MORE.

Anonymous said...

We have 4 boys and we do require a yes sir, no sir, yes ma'am, no ma'am answer from them when instructed to do something or when answering questions. The oldest two (!5 and 17)have tried to let it slip by just saying yes or no but my husband would not tolerate it at all. He had to put his foot down and repremand the boys regarding the type of manners and the respect they are required to show to adults.

Anita said...

ANONYMOUS #3 - When kids are taught from the beginning to follow certain household rules, the consequences of "breaking" the rule should not be a surprise. I guess your boys will continue to say ma'am and sir. :)
Again, I also think it's a great sign of respect to use those terms.
Thank you for commenting and please visit again!

Anonymous said...

My husband is very strict about our boys manners. They must say yes sir, no sir, yes maam, and no maam when responding to all adults. I am not quite so strict about it but I decided to not argue against this as it is very important to my husband. Our oldest is now 16 and has tried on occassion to drop the use of answering yes sir or yes ma'am but he was quickly corrected by his dad. I guess as kids get older, they try to get away with more.

Anonymous said...

Use of sir and ma'am are not optional forms of respect in our home. They are an absolute requirement when responding to all adults. My husband is an airforce pilot and he would not consider raising our children any other way.

Anita said...

ANONYMOUS 4/13/10 &
ANONYMOUS 5/26/10
I'm almost beginning to wish I'd started teaching my kids to answer with sir and ma'am. When I hear it from other kids, it definitely feels very respectful.

Thank you for your comments honest and thoughtful comments.

Please visit and share your thoughts again on some of the others posts, too.

Anonymous said...

"Yes" and "No" are too abrupt, no matter what your age. I grew up in the South, leave in New York City, and still can't bring myself to say them.

No matter, where you live, "Sir" and "Ma'am" are the best form of address when you need to get a stranger's attention.

"Huh?" is beyond the pale. Almost despicable.

---Rick

Anonymous said...

For PARENTS uncertain whether to teach their children to say "Sir" and "Ma'am":

Having your children use "Sir" and "Ma'am" is NOT an all-or-nothing proposition.

You can have different rules apply when they speak to you than when they speak to other adults.

You can also key what you expect from your kids to the context in which kids are speaking or answering.

I'd divide these contexts into these CATEGORIES. I'll list them here in (what I consider) decreasing order of importance:

1. When you call your child.

2. When your child answers questions like "Is that clear?" or "Do you hear me?" (We use questions like this to make sure children understand something important.)

3. When your child answers a "yes" or "no" question.

4. When your child first speaks to a stranger---or to some other adult if the child isn't using the adult's name or title (e.g., "Mrs. Smith," "Dr. Phillips," or "Coach").

5. When your child uses a short, standard phrase like "excuse me" or "I'm sorry."

You can insist on "Sir" and "Ma'am" in one context without insisting that your kids say it in all of them.

My own priorities would be #1 and 2. I'd like to see my kids use them no matter where we lived. I'd also teach them to use "Sir" and "Ma'am" when first speaking to an adult whose name they didn't know (#4).

Whether we expected them to say "Sir" and "Ma'am" when answering yes/no questions would depend on where in the country we lived.

The key point---especially for parents uncertain about "Sir" or "Ma'am"---is that you can introduce your kids to it without expecting them to use it all the time.

Have them say "Sir" and "Ma'am" in priority contexts (e.g., when you call them and when you ask "Is that clear?"). Try it and see how it goes.

---Rick

Anita said...

Thank you RICK for your thoughts and suggestions concerning this subject.

Different situations do get different responses and intonations from kids. You've given this a lot of thought, and it's well worth passing on.

RICK AND OTHER ANONYMOUS COMMENTERS AND READERS - QUESTION FOR YOU:
This post gets more hits than other older posts. How did you arrive here? By searching for a particular word in Google or by some others means.
Thank you.

Radio Disney Club Webmaster said...

I was not raised to answer my parents with ma'am and sir.

However, by my own choice and upon request at times, I am beginning to address all my parents friends with it, along with the elders in my church. I do find it weird in ways, and it feels weird on my tongue, but it's the highest form of respect you can give, and in my opinion, anyone more than twenty years older than you deserves it.

I'm 15 years old, btw.

Anita said...

RADIO - Thank you for your comment. I love hearing from a young person!
Your opinion is very mature, one that I will think. Someone that is much older does deserve a certain respect.

I hope you'll visit again and tell us what you'r thinking. :)

By the way, I'd love to know how you found this post. It gets more hits than other older posts. Comment here or email me if you can.
Thank you.

Hannah - Radio Disney Club said...

@Anita

I was actually googling about whether or not people thinking ma'am and sir respect is necessary after a conversation I had with my best friend. It was the first link that appeared. :)

Oh, and my first name is Hannah. I run the Radio Disney Club and that's my Google account.

Anita said...

Thank you HANNAH for telling me how you came upon this post.

I HOPE OTHERS WILL CONTINUE TO COMMENT. :)

Jayde said...

I came across this in a Google search. I believe it is rude to call someone sir or ma'am, it isn't an age thing because I work in a store and at 17 I was being called "ma'am" by 60 year old women. Usually those titles are used by people who are being very rude but want to call me ma'am so that in THEIR mind, they're not being rude. It's like saying something mean while you are smiling. Altogether a "Holier-Than-Thou" mentality that grates my nerves.

Anita said...

JAYDE, I've been away from blogging for a week or so, otherwise, I would have reponded to your very interesting comment.
You have a different perspective from most of the others. You gave me something to think about, like how would I address a young woman or man if I don't know their names. I'm sure I don't say "ma'am" because it's not what I grew up sawying. I think I'e just said "excuse me" until I got the attention of the person, or just "hi."
Thanks for telling us what you think.

MORE THOUGHTS? I'D LIKE TO HEAR'EM.

Anita said...

JAYDE, I meant to say I would have responded sooner. :)

MORE THOUGHTS?

Anonymous said...

I have my kids answer all adults with yes sir/no sir or yes ma'am/no ma'am. I don't think this should be optional or only used by parents when they are scolding or giving direction. I think it is easier and more consistent to require that your children show respect and manners at all times.

Dan Peters

Anita said...

Hello Dan Peters, I agree with you about consistency. And honestly, I don't know if I should now try to make it consistent with my kids because it was not required by my husband and me from the beginning. One of my children is taking lessons from a women who is answered by her students with yes/no ma'am, and my daughter is noticing. I am going to see if she'll adapt the habit on her own. That's my opinion "today." Who knows what it will be tomorrow. :)
Thank you for commenting. I enjoy hearing from my readers. Please visit again and voice your opinion on other posts, too.

MORE COMMENTS ? ? ?

Hannnah Joy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hannnah Joy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Our children are required to say yes sir, no sir, and yes ma'am, no ma'am to all adults without exception. My husband insists that our children have manners and show respect at all times. I don't think they should always have to do the sir and ma'am thing so much but my handsome husband won't bend on this topic.

Amy Reynolds

Kristeen said...

yes, please - no thank you were my words to adults and I tryed to talk kindly and act kindly -- but never grow-up using sir or ma'am.. ever!
But I do like hearing it when spooken in kindness and a with willing heart - .. good manners is always welcomed and needed..

33f5e52e-d74e-11e1-9d3a-000f20980440 said...

I am 14 years old. I was not brought up to say "sir" or "ma'am". If I'm having a conversation with my friends or my cousins or something, then I'll say yes ma'am or yes sir. It feels weird saying it to my parents, teachers, or when I'm around my parents, so I don't. I live in PA. I think that if I lived down south, that I would definitely say it. It just seems so awkward here considering that no one else says it (well at least not teens). But, if I see that someone in a grocery store has dropped something, I'll say something like...Excuse me ma'am, you dropped this. I googled "yes sir yes ma'am" I have googled, "do your kids say sir or ma'am", and I already reviewed all of those sites, so I figured I would try something else to see if I could get different results.

33f5e52e-d74e-11e1-9d3a-000f20980440 said...

I am 14 years old. I was not brought up to say "sir" or "ma'am". If I'm having a conversation with my friends or my cousins or something, then I'll say yes ma'am or yes sir. It feels weird saying it to my parents, teachers, or when I'm around my parents, so I don't. I live in PA. I think that if I lived down south, that I would definitely say it. It just seems so awkward here considering that no one else says it (well at least not teens). But, if I see that someone in a grocery store has dropped something, I'll say something like...Excuse me ma'am, you dropped this. I googled "yes sir yes ma'am" I have googled, "do your kids say sir or ma'am", and I already reviewed all of those sites, so I figured I would try something else to see if I could get different results.

Shan said...

I do not always say "Ma'am" or "Sir", nor was I taught to do so. Although, I was always taught to say please, thank you, pardon me or excuse me, etc.. I was always taught to never use an elders first name unless it was an aunt or uncle. My parents taught me to show formal respect with strangers but with family I still had to show respect but was allowed to say their title (e.g "Yes, please, grandma"). I have a sister-in-law who has taught her children to say yes, ma'am and sir to everyone and I know it's a sign of respect but I have to admit I don't feel as close to her kids as I do my other nieces and nephews because of all the formality she has them use even towards people that are part of their own family.

Shan said...

Also, I haven't taught my own children to say "ma'am" or "sir" but I have caught them saying it to complete strangers before on their own accord.

Anita said...

Shan, my kids are now 21, 18, and 16 and do not use ma'am and sir. If I had it to do over, I still wouldn't press it, though I'm impressed with children who do say ma'am and sir. Politeness is what I ask of them. Ma'am and sir didn't make it to our "top priorities" list. :) Too late now!

Queklain said...

My parents taught me many things about politeness and respect, such as the necessity o using "please" and "thank you," but didn't necessarily expect me to use "sir" or "ma'am." Despite that, I have taken to calling others "sir" or "ma'am," and found that it's been well-received; even relatively young women haven't objected when I call them "ma'am." Incidentally, where I live (upstate NY), customer service people often use "sir" or "ma'am," often while getting someone's attention or greeting them, so it isn't just for the South.