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Thoughts Online Magazine
Collected Articles on Culture & Politics
"Yes, sir" and "Yes, ma'am" 
19th-Aug-2007 09:43 pm
It happened again. A phone call to someone with the potential for a smooth transaction or the normal frozen stubbornness inherent in customer service. And a breakthrough.

The breakthrough? The thing that made a difference between smooth sailing and another series of phone calls?

A habit, really. I said, "Yes, sir" when confirming something. And he warmed up, and his questions became less hostile, and a different ending was aimed for. He wanted things to work out well for the person who called him "sir." I've had the same result from "Yes, ma'am" before, too. I don't remember it frequently enough for it to smooth all my paths, but considering its magical effects, I should. This is the kind of spell Harry Potter would be thrilled with: suddenly the muggles want him to win, rather than staying focused on themselves.

As a parent, therefore, one of my jobs, difficult as it is in the culture of Los Angeles, is to get my child to occasionally say, "Yes, sir." and "Yes, ma'am" and observe the effects. It is difficult because I am surrounded by adults who insist that they be treated like children, addressed by their first names on first acquaintance, as if their experience and understanding had frozen in high school. A little googling teaches me that sir and ma'am are controversialand there are people who carry it too far.

Any thoughts?
20th-Aug-2007 06:31 am (UTC)
i still say yes sir and yes m'am in lots of situations and i am fast approaching 40

i attempted to teach my kids when they were younger to say it and to also call adults by their last names (with the proper title in front). unfortunately, most adults would insist that my kids call them by their first names. even when i would make it a point to explain to them that i preferred my kids to use the more formal address. adults are waaay too interested in appearing 'cool' or being friends with their kids and other kids these days in my opinion. and that is one of the major reasons that kids are so 'wild' these days. adults/parents are no longer authority figures. they are encouraged to be 'familiar' with adults at an early age and it undermines adults/parents authority
20th-Aug-2007 10:34 am (UTC)
That would also explain why so many kids have such problems at their first job: they're not used to putting up with the weird and wonderful ways of bosses. So they get fired for being too sensitive to criticism, for taking up the bosses' time arguing, and for trying to tell the other employees about the latest better way to do things that doesn't involve them doing any work. Already saw that, and wondered about it.

My parents solution to the "first names" fixation was simple. They would then introduce the person to me as "Miss Ann" and "Mr. Tom", smilingly explain that she was teaching us to be respectful to their experience because they must have learned things that might be useful to us and we would benefit from hearing.
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