Survey for Women: May I call you Ma'am?

Based in part on this thread thread, I have a survey for women of all ages (note: I’m a young guy living in NYC):

Assume that I do not know your name (let’s say I’m at the next table from you in a coffee shop), and that I’m calling after you because I see you’ve forgotten your glove. I say: Ma’am! You forgot your glove…

Are you annoyed that I’ve called you ma’am? Note the context - I’m not being ironic or snotty, just trying to be helpful.

I ask this because my best friend (we’re the same age, 32) goes bananas when someone calls her “ma’am.” She thinks it makes her sound old. I think she’s bananas for thinking that - the person’s just being respectful, and the alternatives aren’t very attractive. “Miss,” to me, sounds diminutive and inappropriate for anyone over twelve (I don’t like referring to waitresses as “miss,” especially grandmotherly types). “Lady” makes the speaker sound like a cabdriver. What else is there?

I use Ma’am myself, partly because my mother was a Texan so I was raised that way.

If you’re annoyed - would you suggest some other way for a stranger (esp. a man) to address you? And, just out of curiosity - where are you from? I’d like to see the regional differences on this one. (My bananas friend is from the Boston area.)

Michigan checking in here. Ma’am is fine to me and I use it also.

HOWEVER, I wasn’t raised to use it, per se, but rather came to it through military experience and living in Tennessee for 3 years.

[batting my eyes from behind my fan] “Why, have we been introduced, Sir?”

Ah, yes . . . All women have their story about their first, jarring “Ma’am.” It’s true, when you’ve been called “Miss” all your life, that first “Ma’am” instantly makes you feel like Miss Havisham.

Still, it beats “Lady!” or “Hey, you!”

::looks in mirror::
::deep resigned sigh::

I am no longer “Miss”.
I am a “Ma’am”.
I’m gonna age, but I ain’t doing it gracefully…

I was from (upstate) New York, and “Ma’am” was used for old women, or if a kid was being a smart-mouth to a teacher.
Down here in the (sortof) South, it’s much less grating, especially when said by a guy with a drawn-out deep baritone true drawl and great eyes, and …
Can someone get me a link to that fantasizing thread?

My stock answer to that (and clients call me Ma’am all the time) is to say "I’m not quite old enough to be called Ma’am, thank you tho’, I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, call me ‘first name here’ "


Ma’am is OK, now. I’m 42 and from Texas. The first time was a bit of a shock, though! It’s better than “hey, you.”

I spent most of my juvenile years in Texas and Oklahoma, but I’m a Seattleite now.

My opinion is not representative of Texas and Oklahoma residents, I’m pretty sure. Heck, it’s probably not even representative of Seattle – I’m too much of a feminist and an opponent of traditional gender roles.

If it’s a stranger saying “ma’am” and the word is being said in the equivalent of “mister”, I don’t mind. I don’t mind “lady” either, again as long as it’s the equivalent of “mister”. I’d really prefer something gender-neutral, though, like “excuse me” or “dude”. (I can imagine a lot of you cringing as you read “dude”. Seriously, though, that word is not rude. It’s just not traditional.)

If it’s someone I know calling me “ma’am”, I get all sorts of annoyed. I expect people who know me to use my name. I spend lots of time breaking people of the “Yes, ma’am” habit when they’re addressing me.

I don’t want anyone ever to call me “miss”. That’s an absurd and demeaning word, IMO, not even appropriate for children. It makes assumptions about age, gender, and marital status – none of which are relevant when you’re trying to gain someone’s attention. (Note: “ma’am” has all of these problems too, but at least it’s not diminutive.)

I almost went off on a hijack about how honorifics aren’t really showing respect, but I decided not to inflict that on you all. Maybe I’ll make a great debate about it sometime.

Keep in mind that there are ways to get someone’s attention without using an honorific. Eye contact and a directed “excuse me” or “hey” will usually do the trick. Or, if you’re not too shy, moving a hand into your subject’s visual range, but not actually touching the subject, works well too. (I would advise that you never touch a random stranger just to get the stranger’s attention.)


Yeesh, I remember the first time I was called “Ma’am” better than my first …well anyway. I was 32 and it made me feel like a dowager. Since then, I’ve had two people from Texas working for me; so I got used to the Ma’am thing.

sigh Now I’m 43, and don’t mind it. Much. In fact I call other women my age or older “Ma’am”, I call men “sir”, and I call complete strangers “Honey” or “Darlin’” just for fun. :smiley: I’m practicing to be a dirty little old lady!

Je-zus, Jeyen, if you get all bent out of shape over some well-meaning person calling you “Miss,” the top of your head must blow off when you pass a construction site . . .

The only reason I no longer like being called “Miss” is because I have reached the age where I know it’s being used patronizingly . . .

I use ma’am and sir all of the time. I am from the south and my father was in the military. To me ma’am and sir are polite. I would find it rude for someone to “try to break” me of being polite.

I don’t know anyone who calls women just Miss. My father did teach me to call adults “Mr” and “Miss” before their first names when I was a child. For example my parents best friends were Mr. Scott and Miss Eva. I don’t use those terms anymore, except out of habit for the people I grew up around.

Take it from somebody that know and has done a poll on this. Call’em chicks(they love it). :smiley:

::WB sticking out his chest like Adam Sandler did in the batting cage in “Happy Gilmore” waiting for those fast flames to come in. ::

Eve said:

I thought construction workers only called women “yo-bay-bee”, which is a whole different critter. :wink:

FTR, not once in 9 years of living in Seattle have I witnessed construction workers addressing random women on the street, sexually or otherwise – me or anyone else. And I’ve lived or worked across the street from at least 5 construction sites. This town is too PC for that sort of activity. A company that lets its workers harass female passersby wouldn’t last long in Seattle or its 'burbs.

Come to think of it, I’ve never witnessed that sort of behavior from construction workers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Reno (surprisingly, to me), Las Vegas, or New York City. WAG: Maybe I’m sheltered by living in or visiting the big cities, where construction workers are trained to be more PC?

Zumba the Cat said:

To you, they’re polite. To me, they’re not – they’re a habit, and not an attractive one. Part of learning to deal with people is learning to adapt to their habits. Some you’re willing to tolerate, some you’re not. That’s one habit that I’m not willing to tolerate. (In friends and coworkers; it’s easy enough to ignore in strangers.) I find that most people are very gracious about accommodating me when I explain that it bothers me and why.


Waitaminute—I’m not allowed to say, “Excuse me, sir—you dropped your glove?” I’m supposed to go, “Hey, duuuuude?”

I don’t THINK so. Here in New York, “Sir,” “Ma’am” and “Miss” are still widely used. And I—as big a feminist as you’ll find anywhere, by the way—like it.

Oh, I still hear construction workers whistling at girls—just not at me, anymore . . .

I’m 46 and have no problem with Ma’am or Miss. Sometimes shop clerks use “my friend,” and I like that, too.


I feel like I’ve hijacked too far already, but I want to address Eve’s latest comments.

Eve, I said in my original post “I’d really prefer…” That statement expresses opinion, not commandment.

In my second post, I said “it’s easy enough to ignore… strangers…” You’re a stranger, so I can ignore your use of a word that bugs me, just like I ignore the myriad other strangers who call me “ma’am” or “miss” and people who say “nook-ya-ler”. (And no, I don’t mean I ignore them completely; I mean I don’t jump all over them for calling me that.)

I also said that my “opinion is not representative”. I thought that explained my comments clearly enough. The OP did not ask for opinions that are only conforming to the majority.

I did not say that one is not allowed to say “Excuse me, sir”. My recommendation for the scenario you describe is to say “Excuse me, you dropped your glove”. Simple enough, gender-neutral, polite, and inoffensive. Again, that is solely my opinion, not a commandment that I expect you to follow.

The OP asked for opinions. I gave one. My opinion is a vote for gender-neutral. My opinion is that one can get another person’s attention without using an honorific and without being rude. My opinion is that “dude” is not a dirty word and it is not rude. My opinion is that one can say “dude” without saying “duuuuuude”.

If you wanna continue this debate (and it is a debate) about what’s allowable and what’s not, I think that belongs in a different thread or in e-mail. I don’t want to hijack this thread any further off-topic.


When I was doing my practice period (I study to be a teacher) the kids could never remember my name. I don’t know how many time I told them not to shout “Hey, you” or whatever, but if they really had that much trouble remembering my name, they should just call me Ma’am. It’s a bit tricky though, since I’m Swedish and no one uses Ma’am, or a Swedish equivalent. Anyway, I have no problem with Ma’am or Miss or Ms.

Well personally I call everybody dude So I don’t see a problem, but you have to admit it’s much better that a couple years ago when people started using ‘guy’ to replace dude when refering to a person, even a chick.

Being raised in the South, NOT saying “ma’am” or “sir” to anyone above the age of 21 (and if you were a kid, maybe 19, too) was a guaranteed way to get the crap slapped out of you by my grandmother and mother. The men in my family, as well, definitely frowned upon youngsters not addressing older people by those “titles”.

I remember once I heard my mother say “Yes, ma’am” to a lady about 10-15 years older than she was. I asked her why. She said, “It’s respectful”. I agree, although others may not.

My kids had better say ma’am when addressing adults, even though many of their friends don’t. I remember when my oldest son had some friends over for one of the first times, and he addressed me politely as “ma’am”. I felt myself aging 20 years in that one spoken word.

I’m a construction worker and I’ve been known to whistle at men. (It’s usually appreciated.)

:smiley: :smiley:

I am 28 and I like Ma’am. I don’t get offended or feel like I look old. I feel that the person talking has been taught manners and to me that is a good thing. My kids who are 3 and 2 use Ma’am and Sir. I had a teacher in school once get rude with me and told me not to call him Sir unless I used those terms at home also. I said yes Sir you can call my father. I was taught to be as polite at home as I was at school. Of course this didn’t mean I had to call my Daddy Sir all the time but when he asked me a question I would say yes Sir or no Sir. Same with my Mom though she would slap me for calling her Sir.