Monday, October 13, 2008

Deep-Fried Manners, or Why I Hate the Phrase, "Yes Ma'am"

My child's Southern socialization has begun. Tonight after I asked her to do something she looked right at me, nodded, and uttered the words I have been dreading since we moved to the South: "Yes ma'am." That's right, I have been DREADING the moment that I would hear those words come out of her mouth. The very words that must make Southern mamas' hearts swell with pride set make MY heart sink and set my teeth on edge.

You see, where I come from, "Yes Ma'am" is something you say only if you're trying to be a smartass. And though I've lived here for over two years now and have heard this response from countless individuals in multiple everyday settings, I am still not used to it and I never hear it as it is meant. It always stops me in my tracks and I have to mentally remind myself that the person saying this to me is actually being polite, showing proper respect, behaving like a well-raised Southern person.

And I knew it was coming. I knew my child's teachers would eventually make her say it. I even expected it last year, but fortunately her teacher either wasn't a stickler for it or didn't think that two-year-olds should be forced to say it just yet. I figured that this year I would not be so lucky, and even asked her just a few weeks ago if anyone had told her to say it. No one had. Until today.

When she said it, I couldn't help myself. Instead of praising her, I corrected her: "Yes Mama, please. Mama doesn't like Ma'am." I then asked her who taught her to say it. Her teacher, of course. I told her it was okay to say it to her teacher, but not to me. We talked about minding her teacher and doing as she is told at school, but that mama and daddy have different rules sometimes at home, and this is one of them.

If you were raised in the South, you may find this puzzling. Incomprehensible, even. I mean, what's the big deal? It's just good manners, right? Except that manners are a matter of culture: they are what a people agree they are in a certain place and time. And in the U.S., though we share a common American culture in many ways, there are many subcultures, including regional cultures, and I am still in "culture shock" because this place is so very different from my home state. It may seem silly to the locals, but little things like this are an important part of preserving my identity and sharing that identity with my child (who is, after all, a California native too).

So dude, like, don't freak out when we don't say "Yes ma'am," or "No sir." Chill out dude. It's all good. Peace OUT.


Shanna said...

Holy crap! (Yes, I'm from Utah, but not in the stereotypical sense of the term)

I SO totally get this! The South is WEIRD when it comes to the Yes Ma'am thing! I get respect is awesome but WOW! they're kind of spazs about it LOL

followthatdog said...

I hate the whole "yes ma'am" crap too. it seems like there are so many more important things to worry about when raising a child. Things like, I don't know, openness, embracing diversity, sympathy to name a few. My kids will never say "yes ma'am" unless they are trying to sass me. And I can only assume they'll be world class sassers.

Tiffany said...

Being a fellow CA native. I get what you mean... it just wasn't part of my upbringing.. but I have to admit, that a cute Southern guy with a great smile (ie: Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise) drawling out a "Yes Ma'am" makes my heart skip a beat.

Heather said...

I live in Colorado and people get touchy when my girls say yes ma'am. So, we've switched to just saying yes, please or something just as polite.

TMI said...

Dude. I totally get your freak out here. It's like a culture thing. But it's all good as long as the tone isn't like smartass. I know, right?

Loved this post and thanks for letting me play. Thanks also for stopping by my blog recently! I'm all about the comments lovin!

Does Anybody Hear Me said...

I live in the South now and have for almost 30 years. However, I was raised in Indiana and 'yes ma'am' and 'no sir' were STRICTLY enforced. It was enforced by my father more than my mother, but was enforced very, very much at the small Catholic school I attended.
My kids have lived their entire lives in one southern state or another...and they only say 'yes ma'am' if they are forced to. I think it shows a lack of respect.

Maternal Mirth said...

I could never live in the South. Ma'am being one of the main reasons, but the biggest reason is the bugs. They are like the size Winnabego's! And they buzz ... it all makes my butt clench.