Miss Manners: Some mamas prefer ‘ma’am’

May 11

DEAR MISS MANNERS: In the past few years I have noticed an infuriating trend: service people, such as cashiers, waitresses, etc., but sometimes also complete strangers, address me as “Mama.”

Whatever happened to “Ma’am?”

I find this tacky and disrespectful, and it makes me absolutely livid. I snap back with a haughty “I’m not your mama!” which always causes total shock and surprise.

‘’Mama,” in this context, is clearly a way of addressing an older woman — it calls attention to the woman’s age. Yesterday, a younger friend of mine was devastated because some clerk called her “Mama” for the first time.

Do you have a better retort than a very stern “I am not your mama”? And will you please tell your readers to stop doing this?

GENTLE READER: What happened to “Ma’am” is that the age factor was injected into it from the recipient’s side. Those who apparently consider it reprehensible to grow older, even as they are doing so, took it as an insult, rather than the indication of respect it actually is. (Royal females are correctly addressed as “Ma’am,” whatever their age.)

In contrast, flinging around the hallowed terms denoting motherhood is disrespectful, Miss Manners agrees. Her own dear mother used a softer version of your retort to strangers, which she offers to you: “Surely if I were your mother, I would have remembered you.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Would I need to have a corsage for the guest of honor at a baby shower?

GENTLE READER: Because you phrased this as a “need,” Miss Manners gathers that you would not intend giving it as a spontaneous and charming gesture. Rather, you are thinking of it as possibly required, as a badge to distinguish the guest of honor.

No, it is not necessary. At a baby shower, it is not difficult to distinguish the guest of honor.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Every so often, my mom — with no small amount of soft soap — will comment negatively on an aspect of my appearance (say, a hair extension). Do you think I should:

(A) play the respectful daughter and remove or change whatever it is; after all, how often do we see each other and what would it hurt me? OR,

(B) say, “Thank you for sharing,” in the hope of discouraging this kind of behavior in future?

Our time with our parents is short, so I’m inclined to just make my mother happy. On the other hand, if I’ve turned myself out in something, usually I feel good in it.

GENTLE READER: May Miss Manners pick one from column A and one from column B?

From A, she would pick being a respectful daughter, but not changing merely because of the criticism; from B, saying just “Thank you,” but not hoping to re-educate your mother. Being listened to should be sufficiently gratifying in itself, whether or not the advice is followed.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it rude to eat in bed?

GENTLE READER: Is there anyone else in that bed? If so, that person gets to respond, not Miss Manners. It’s no crumbs in her sheets.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

2014, by Judith Martin

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