What is the appropriate age for baristas, video store clerks, and waitresses to start calling a woman “ma’am”? Please tell me, because I would like to know. I have become semi-obsessed with this question over the last couple of months. It’s possible that people have been calling me “ma’am” for years and I never really noticed, but all of a sudden, this summer when I was on the East Coast I started to feel middle-aged when every service professional addressed me in this (now) most dreaded way. I decided that this was perhaps an East Coast suburbia thing, that in Rhode Island, at age 34, I am presumed to be a mother when I’m out shopping at the grocery store or running errands, and therefore “matronly.” If there’s anything I don’t want to be, it’s “matronly.”
I haven’t been keeping count exactly of what I’m being called, perhaps a good sign, that this self-conscious obsession is waning. I can say unscientifically that since coming home to San Francisco I’ve been called “miss” a couple times, “young lady” a few, but mostly “ma’am.” My friend Sara tried to convince me that being called “ma’am” is a sign of respect, entirely appropriate for someone of my age. I guess at the core I have some resistance to my age, then. But for some reason it’s not bothering me as much lately. I would like to say that it’s because I’m becoming even more supremely self-confident and not vain. I don’t think so. I think it’s something about SF. That I can be “ma’am” and still a kid here, in a way that is not possible in a place where 34 means settled down and with child. Not that I’m opposed to that state, but that’s not where I am right now.
I just want to be clear, too, that I’m not opposed to all language indicating the adult state of a female human being. In fact, I like the word “woman,” and even prefer it to “girl.” I just really don’t want to be “ma’am.” “Ms.”–that would be weird, it’s not going to work as a form of address. “Lady” sounds a little rude and weird. What else is there? Suggestions, ideas? Am I the only one who feels this “ma’am” revulsion?*
*reposted from sashacagen.com
Like this? Be sure to sign up for my mailing list and join me in Buenos Aires to learn about the quirkyalone approach to life and relationships through tango in the Quirky Tango Adventure.