A Disturbing Trend


I don’t remember how old I was the first time someone in a store called me ma’am. I do know that I was young enough to be horrified as I didn’t feel anywhere near old enough to be deserving of that moniker. Funny, isn’t it, how we can’t wait to get older and then at some point it happens and we long for our youth?

A few years I noticed that young store clerks began calling me by my first name as in: “Thank you very much, Linda” and “Have a good day, Linda”. I didn’t know these people; we weren’t friends or even acquaintances. They’d just look at my store reward card that had my name (my full name) on it and call me by my first name.

I bristled at the familiarity. My parents had taught me that the way to address people older than me was Mr. or Mrs. My last name was printed on the card so they could have chosen a different, more respectful, salutation. I left the grocery store with a bit of a chip on my curmudgeonly shoulder every time.

A year or so ago I picked up my coffee at a Starbucks drive-through and the barista chirped: “Here you go, hon.”

Hon? Really?

When the young woman said the same thing the next time I got coffee I thought perhaps she had a form of Tourette syndrome so I gave her the benefit of the doubt. (I had a hairdresser many years ago who addressed everyone, myself included, as dear. She told me that she had been told by a doctor that it was a manifestation of a form of Tourette syndrome.) I could excuse that.

But recently it’s gotten worse. Much worse.

Store clerks have started calling me sweetie and dear.

Kids. (Is it just me, or does anyone else find that store clerks have gotten much younger in recent years?) Calling me sweetie. With a straight face.

I find myself checking my reflection in mirrors when I walk past. Am I wearing a worn black overcoat? Am I bent over? Is my hair blue? Am I wearing black, sensible shoes?

Okay, some of these thing might be true on any given day but still, I’m only fifty-five. I don’t feel old (most of the time) so why are these young whippersnappers talking to me like I’m an old lady?

I don’t get it.

I don’t like it.

Why can’t they just call me ma’am?

16 Comment

  1. My hub’s grandma HATED being called by her 1st name by sales people, nurses, hygienists, etc. She was too nice to tell them directly, but she vented a few times around the family…That was back in the 80s! I don’t care that much, but I despise the “artificial” chatter my bank tellers are engaging in these days. “So how is your week going?” “Do you have any weekend plans?” It’s weird. Nosey. I know they are trained to do this, and their supervisor is watching, but I’m not into so much of that.

    1. That’s another thing that makes me crazy, Paige, asking about my plans for the day/weekend. Chit-chat about the weather is one thing, asking me to report out on my schedule crosses the line!

  2. I don’t remember the exact circumstance of my first ‘ma’am,’ but I do remember I was horrified. Now, I sort of like the respect – one of the nice things about living near a military base – all the young ones from the base call me ‘ma’am.’ The trend to call strangers by ‘sweetie’ or ‘hon’ offends me. Depending on who and where, I sometimes repeat it, with a question mark – “Hon? Do we know each other?” I am afraid it’s part of the casual conditions we currently live in. Unfortunately, most parents don’t teach their children respect.

    1. Love the thought of repeating the familiar greeting and asking if the youngster knows me, Karen. Might have to try that.

  3. Every time I went through a certain grocery store clerk’s line, she would chirpily say, “What have you been up to?”
    “I’t none of your business…stop asking me that,” I wanted to say.
    Instead, I would say, “Oh, not much.” End of conversation.
    It’s not that I’m unfriendly, but what a ridiculous question.
    I stopped going through her line.
    However, I do like first name basis more than I like ma’am. I don’t like ma’am at all. And I don’t like Mrs. Goudey, because they can never pronounce it, and actually I’m Mrs. Francis, but I don’t use his name….so it all gets very confusing.
    Nice post.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Martha! Funny how that talk in our heads doesn’t always match the words that come out of our mouth, isn’t it?!

  4. I thought the Sweetie, Dear, Hon, was just a southern thing, but apparently not. One of the greeters at church says to me, Hello, young lady. He and I both know it is a cliche, but to me it means I’ve arrived as an oldster.

    Linda, I think you hit a nerve here.

    1. I’d take “young lady” over “Hon” or “Sweetie”. I’ve heard people use the “young lady” salutation and it seems to be a good-natured mutual smile shared between two people and yet it still retains a measure of respect. “Hon” and “Sweetie” are just way to familiar for my taste.

  5. I remember the first time someone called me ma’am, too. I was volunteering in my oldest child’s kindergarten classroom, the mother of three, but only in my early 30’s and still identifying myself more with the student teacher/college boy than with the middle aged teacher. Oh, what a slap to my ego!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Barbara! I’ve been enjoying your posts at Long Hollow recently.

  6. Dear Linda, I laughed out loud at your last sentence. So it’s come to this, “Ma’am” sounds good now! I, too, am taken aback when someone I don’t know calls me by my name. And yet, I look at the clerk’s name tags and call them by their names. It’s so much more personable. Well, like you, I’m glad to be a “Ma’am” instead of a “sweetie,” which sounds like a Mounds bar to me! Peace.

    1. Well, I’m glad I could make you laugh today, Dee! Funny how time changes one’s perspective, isn’t it?

  7. Traci says: Reply

    Great post, Linda! I’ve been hit at both ends of the spectrum. When teens call me ma’am, I realize they view me as in that same ancient category as everyone else over the hill (30), but then I’ve also been humiliated when someone asked my sister – ten years my senior – if I was her daughter. You get kicked going and coming 🙂

  8. I was taught the same as you – address elders, unfamiliar adults, etc. the same way. I remember the jolt I got when first called ma’am too. That was strange! I don’t care for the trend I’ve seen lately where adults tell their children to call me Miss Karen. I guess it still denotes respect but almost seems too familiar. But it reflects an overall lack of respect in society, so I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise. One nice thing we discovered after moving from NJ to KY was that people do use “sir” and “ma’am” more as a rule in KY.

  9. You definitely struck a nerve here! I realize I’m a late arrival but just wanted to say “kudos” “ma’am for your delightful post! I’m old fashioned in that I’d prefer youngsters to show respect in their titling and conversation. “Honey”, “sweetie” and the like feels to me like they’re talking to a child. Manners have gone to heel in a hand-basket and I have to think somewhere along the line we’re to blame! Who are the parents that are not teaching their children proper manners? Our children? Us? I think they went the way of wearing skirts to school – the hippie generation – us. We just wanted to be free!

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment, Dorothy. Glad to hear I’m not the only one this familiarity grates on. 🙂

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