Miss or Ma’am?

Slice of Life2The other day while checking out at the grocery store, the young cashier (probably somewhere in the vicinity of 16) kept addressing me as “miss” in a steady barrage of questions.

Do you want your gallon in a bag, miss?

Do you want your meat in plastic, miss?

Do you mind how heavy I make the bags, miss?

The age difference alone indicates that I’m clearly not a miss. For some reason the “miss” thing bothered me, and I’m not sure why. I know he was just trying to be polite, but I think if cashier training involves what questions to ask the shopper, it should also involve how to address the shopper.

This encounter made me think of a time when my daughter was about eight and we were in a restaurant on a family vacation. The waitress addressed her as “ma’am” and Ann wasn’t sure who she was talking to so at first she didn’t say anything. In the waitress’s defense, we were in the south, so addressing all females as “ma’am” was probably just part of her southern charm. To this day that incident remains part of our family’s “inside jokes.”

I guess the important thing to remember is that the person speaking is trying to be polite. Sir, Ma’am, Miss, etc. are all correct in some context. But it’s also important to keep in mind that we should address people (students, supervisors, friends) in a way that makes them, and us, feel comfortable. My former superintendent always refers to himself by his first name when communicating with me by phone or email. And while he probably prefers a first name basis, and while most people do use his first name, to me he is still “Dr.” It’s what I’m comfortable with.

The best thing I can say about the whole encounter with the cashier is that at least he didn’t call me “hon.” That might have been a problem.

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12 Responses to Miss or Ma’am?

  1. franmcveigh says:

    Yes, not “hon” or “lady” – I agree that those two are problematic. I’ve been listening for this with my travel to Florida and back. There are definitely regional differences but I’m also wondering if it depends on who I am with at the time. It’s not the same address when I’m with my grandson vs in the company of mom and aunts and uncles. Still thinking and observing about this . . . ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. elsie says:

    Interesting how one word sparks the mind to muse.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This really resonated with me Rose. I can imagine being somewhat amused but also having similar thoughts to what you experienced. I am approaching my mid-50’s. I might have to write a similar post, not about how I am being addressed but how I hear others being addressed at school. It makes me cringe everytime! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Adrienne says:

    I once had a student from Newfoundland who always called me Miss. It was definitely a regional politeness.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. marilynyung says:

    As for Miss vs. Mrs, I think some people (especially young people) just don’t know the difference. I would guess that’s the root of the Miss vs. Ma’am issue as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. wahooteacher says:

    Your post reminded me of my semester of student teaching and how I struggled with the issue of names. My cooperating teacher had also been my second grade teacher, and I could never bring myself to call her by her first name. Several of the other teachers at the school had also been teachers there during my elementary years and I also could not address them by their first names, either.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. arjeha says:

    This made me think, Rose. I do believe that culture does play a part in how people are addressed. For example, when we were in Africa lase year I was always address as “papa” even though it is clear that I was not the person’s papa. I do agree that in this country how to address a customer should be part of the training a clerk goes through.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Amy Warntz says:

    Funny you should write a post about this because just the other week at the deli the employee kept calling me honey. I wanted to say back, “Ummm, I’m 47 years old.” Of course I didn’t, but I walked away wondering if I was to wrong to be offended by this. I guess there are worse names she could have called me!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. So true!!! I go by Miss Clare with clients — I cannot handle Mrs. Landrigan … I don’t know why. Most schools are fine with Miss Clare so it works for me!! Thanks for validating my name issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I, too, am very sensitive about how I am being addressed. But that is because I was brought up in a very “old school” way which taught me to respect my elders. People just aren’t getting that kind of training anymore. We are definitely “dumbing down” in America. I am 70 years old. I ran into one of my daughter’s teachers the other day and still refer to him as Mr. T….., with affection.


  11. vendija723 says:

    I’ve heard middle aged women tell clerks NOT to call them “Ma’am” because it makes them feel old! It’s certainly difficult to please everyone in our society where so many of us have different expectations.


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