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Old 03-25-2011, 10:32 AM
Location: Northern Virginia
169 posts, read 321,892 times
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I grew up in the south and was raised on traditional southern values. One of these values was to always answer adults with "yes ma'am" or "yes sir". This behavior was instilled in me from the time I started speaking until it became like instinct. Growing up, most of my friends were being raised the same way, and adults always expected a "ma'am" or "sir" from the young-ins. I continued to use "yes ma'am" and "yes sir" all the way up through college.

During my senior year of college, I got an internship in the CA Bay Area. I had never lived anywhere other than the deep south, and upon moving to CA, I experienced quite a culture shock. One thing I picked up on right away was that adults didn't seem to respond well to "ma'ams" and "sirs". One of my co-workers politely pulled me aside and explained that it was mildly offensive to receive "yes ma'am" as it implied that a woman was old or elderly. A few other people in the area confirmed this, so I stopped using it. When I came back to the south to visit my parents, they were appalled that I had fallen out of the "yes ma'am"/"yes sir" habit.

Now I live in northern Virginia where there's a broad mix of people from all over the country. My wife and I have our first baby girl due this week (wohoo!), and at some point we'll need to decide whether teach her to say "ma'ams" and "sirs". I haven't spent much time around children up here to notice how children address adults. How are the "yes ma'am"/"yes sir" responses perceived around this area?
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Old 03-25-2011, 10:38 AM
21 posts, read 53,860 times
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I have children in the school system here, and anytime I hear a child at their schools speak to me in that way, I am always impressed by the child's lovely manners. It immediately gives me a positive impression of that child, and I mentally credit their parents with a job well done. I don't see how you could go wrong with raising a child with good manners, who is polite and respectful of all they meet!
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Old 03-25-2011, 10:47 AM
Location: Home is where the heart is
15,400 posts, read 27,366,820 times
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I say go for it! I enjoy hearing cultural differences like that, and I also enjoy seeing children taught to show respect for people. The only thing you might add is that "ma'am" can sometimes irritate younger women so sometimes it's more polite to simply say "yes" if you think that could be a problem.
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Old 03-25-2011, 11:00 AM
5,393 posts, read 6,739,377 times
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I don't think the issue arises here when children address adults formally. The potential for offense is when young adults address other adults with ma'am and sir, because it's atypical here and is often perceived as making a distinction in age rather than in the social relationship.

Plenty of cultures have linguistic markers designating social roles (stranger, friend, boss, parent, teacher, etc), but here in America we don't use honorifics or have different personal pronouns to distinguish the social relationship between speakers. Adults accustomed to informality will often perceive being called "sir" as an unwanted "honor" that just makes them feel old. And we're a youth-oriented culture, so attention drawn to one's older status can be perceived negatively. A 22 year old addressing a 40 year old as "sir" can feel off-putting to the latter, who probably will think, "hey, I'm not that old!"

But an adult would likely think "what a polite child" if addressed as sir/ma'am by a child, and if they were on familiar terms with the family and child, they might say "it's ok, you can call me [name]" if they felt it was too formal.

I also notice that many parents here prompt their kids to refer to other adults they know as Mr/Miss/Mrs First Name, rather than Mr/Miss/Mrs Last Name, which seems to be a blend between being too uncomfortable with the notion of little kids calling adults by their first name, yet still aiming to foster some familiarity and not be too formal.

My suggestion for you (congratulations, btw) would be teach your child to use sir/ma'am if those are your values. I know of kids who do this, though they are the minority in my experience. But I don't think they are treated as weirdos by other kids. I think it sounds very nice. It's another level of politeness, and we try to teach our kids to be polite, right?
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Old 03-25-2011, 11:00 AM
2,688 posts, read 6,317,751 times
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Sorry to be blunt, but I don't think it necessarily shows politeness, just where one was raised (Deep South). If you lived there, or at least parts of it, that might be the norm. Here I think it would sound affected and stilted. She's your child (congratulations!), and if it's important to you and you would feel unnatural without it, then go ahead. But if you're just doing it because you think you "should," then skip it.
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Old 03-25-2011, 11:17 AM
Location: Dudes in brown flip-flops
660 posts, read 1,602,357 times
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I agree with robbobobbo. It is like nails on a chalkboard when a child or teenager calls me sir, since I still view myself as a relatively young adult. I would recognize that the child's parents had attempted to instill good manners in them, but they wouldn't be manners I would particularly appreciate.

Plus, I personally think it would sound affected and stilted, just like Yankeesfan. Kind of like what a Stepford child would say.
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Old 03-25-2011, 11:27 AM
858 posts, read 1,093,688 times
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I was taught "sir" and "ma'am" (even so much as most folks I knew addressed their parents and family that way) and think it is GREAT that you teach your children that. I plan to teach mine those points as well. I'd rather raise my kids to have too many"good manners" (if there is such a thing) than to embarrass me and themselves by having bad manners.
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Old 03-25-2011, 11:35 AM
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I know a lot of guys who were in the military who were discharged but still called people sir and maam, but after a while of civilian life, it goes out the door
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Old 03-25-2011, 11:41 AM
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It would be interesting to hear of the respondents' backgrounds regarding this practice. Are the 'yeas' mostly from the south, and the 'nays' from the north?

I moved to the south as a young child and neighbor kids were using sir and ma'am (but not all - and this was a long time ago, too). My parents were southern but didn't initially raise me to use this form of address, but later (maybe age 8) my father tried to instill this in me (probably since he saw the other kids using it). I think it was too late by then - I felt my father was being like a drill sergeant, and I felt at the time it was more about his strictness rather than my manners. So if you're going to teach it, start it early.

Later I moved to NoVA, and my father had pretty much given up on the sir/ma'am requirement, and I rarely if ever encountered or used it here in VA.

Today, since I work in a military environment (but I'm not military), I use these addresses on the telephone, but not face-to-face. I use it because it's part of the culture (I also never noticed so much door-holding for others until I worked among the military). I do not use it outside of work.
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Old 03-25-2011, 11:42 AM
Location: Censorshipville...
3,645 posts, read 7,127,823 times
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I'm 30 and I still say Sir and M'am, but it's mostly for the older folks. I figure anyone that I perceive over 45 gets it. I think it's being polite and respectful. If they don't like it, they can say so and I'll address them differently. At work, no one has complained and I'm the youngest guy in the building. Maybe I'll change my tune when I get called Sir - lol

My niece and nephews don't say Sir/M'am, but they are taught to say Please and Thank You. Also not to say "huh?", but instead "What did you say?"
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