Don’t call me “Madam”.


“I much prefer “Miss”. Or even “Hey You”.’

I was going to write a post about weddings. About how they’re the Best Parties On The Planet. About how, in my opinion, even George Plimpton’s last Hamptons Bastille Day bash couldn’t hold a Roman Candle to a wedding. After all, weddings are where you get to dress up and dance and drink to ecstatic excess. And all for the price of a toaster. Or, these days, if The Dude and I are invited to a nuptial shindig, a round brass Tiffany clock.

Two wedding belles and a beau. Me with two New Best Friends at a wedding in June. (No, I have no idea who they are, and it was only a month ago. Great wedding)

Then I realized I already wrote that wedding/party piece. (See “I do, I do. I really do like weddings” for senior-moment proof.) Repeating my stories means it’s either time to wrap up writing this blog or for everyone to start calling me “Madam”. Or possibly “Ma’am” if we’re buddies as well as (old) friends.

I use the word “old” intentionally here because I’m not, shall we say, a Spring Chicken any more. (More of an Autumnal Hen, I suppose, if we want to stick with the poultry analogies.) But even though I can remember all too well when Sir Paul was a Beatle, I tend to bristle when addressed as “Ma’am”.

Incidentally, I have a friend who hates being called “Mrs. Smith” (not her real name, of course.) “My mother-in-law is named ‘Mrs. Smith'”, she correctly, if somewhat peevishly, explains. So I don’t think flinching at “Ma-am” is all that prickly.

Maybe I’m extra-sensitive about the Ma’am Thing because I had The Child so late. The year I turned 40 I was having a baby; the year my mom turned 40 I was heading to college. So I’m what you would call an Older Mother. Which is actually not all that rare in New York City. But you still get the Odd Old Mom Moment.

Like one time I took The Child to a podiatrist for reasons that I cannot recall today. What I do remember is that the doctor’s assistant, before ushering The Child into the exam room, asked her “Do you want your gramma to come in with you?”

That’s The Child at about the age of the Podiatrist Incident. (That’s her Real Gramma with her) And (gasp) I just realized I’m the same age now that my Mom was when this was taken

Quick Etiquette Note: If you see a woman — any woman, even one pushing a walker and drooling — if you see a woman with a small child, always assume she is the mother. Trust me. If you say something like “What is your baby’s name?” and she’s not the mother, she won’t mind one bit. She’ll blush and smile and admit grandmotherhood. Probably treat you to a coffee too.

But oh well. There are some perks associated with being a “Ma’am”. Like when I was applying for our visas for that trip to the Amazon last fall. (See “Eat. Or be eaten.” or “The Curse of the Potoo” for hair-raising and colorful travel tales.)

I had just cleared the metal detector and was eyeing the DMV-worthy line of hopeful Brazilian visa-getters snaking its way around this cavernous holding pen of a room in the consulate when a security guard asked me sweetly “How old are you, Ma’am?”

I was somewhat taken aback, but when I told him my age he took me by the arm and led me right up to the front of the line. Apparently, in Brazil (and the consulate “counts” as Brazilian soil) anyone who is either pregnant or of advanced age goes directly to the front of any line. Whether it’s in the supermarket or at the movies or in the ding-dang consulate. So there.

I had a feeling I was going to like Brazil. The security guy even had the good grace to laugh when, after he explained the front-of-the-line policy, I remarked “Oh! I didn’t realize I was showing already!”

Does this shadow make me look preggers? At least it doesn’t show my age

Amagansett, New York. July 2018



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15 thoughts on “Don’t call me “Madam”.

  1. Well, having had my first child at the age of nearly 35, in 1990, I know how it feels to be an “older” mom. Back then, I had to have a “special” test since one of my “levels” had been slightly off in my second pregnancy (that birth came 17 months after the first) though I knew darn well, even as a relative novice at this pregnancy thing, that this second child was totally fine, as she never stopped moving and was referred to for a long time as “the devil child” in my office and PIB (Pain the the Butt) by her dad. I was made to feel positively ancient, I thought, by any and all that I encountered in any physician’s office at the time. Now, however, I have discovered, as it seems you have as well, that there are quite a few benefits of aging. On top of that, just FYI, you should know that my teenage daughters couldn’t help commenting that all female adults were addressed as ma’am by their high school classmates after we’d up and moved them from the L.A. area to Nashville.

    • A fellow Older Mom! Yay! Before I forget, I just have to say how much I love the phrase “up and moved them”. I grew up hearing that said a LOT. Also, I had forgotten that we too, in Southern Illinois, addressed our teachers anyway (maybe not ALL female adults) as “Ma’am”. That is, if we weren’t addressing them by “Miss Ford” or whatever their names were. Also, I absolutely adore the nickname PIB. Sounds like something my Middle Younger Brother Roger would call his kid. Thanks for your pithy comment — and your continued faithful readership!

  2. Sonia Boal

    So I’m N Irish, I get called ‘love’ ‘and pet’ I’m not fond of either. I was however called Ma’am by an American visitor to the museum I was working in – well, my knees nearly collapsed under me. As it turns out I have NO problem being called Ma’am, none at all. I would have been about 25 so it’s not an age thing

    • Wow! Come on over here, and I’ll “Ma’am” you all you want! That is pretty darned interesting. I’m thinking perhaps this Very Polite American was “Ma’am”-ing you because you were, after all, in a position of authority at that museum. 25 or not 25! That happens over here too, like if a female police officer pulls your car over. You would most definitely call her “Ma’am”. If you “Miss”-ed her, you’d probably be the proud owner of a traffic ticket. At the very least! Anyway, thank you, dear. (I was going to say “thank you, Pet”, but fortunately decided against it!)

  3. Hi!

    I guess I don’t mind too much how people address me. I mean, most women my age are married (and I am not) so I get Mrs a lot by assumption. A Miss, even though I technically am one, well – I don’t feel like a Miss!

    I’m definitely a mysterious Ms… that’s how I fill in all my forms anyway!

    We don’t get Madam too much in the UK, I think one of your previous commenters touched on this. It would only be in extremely formal settings, which I am rarely a part of!

    Just call me Em. Or love. Or pet ?


    • Hi back Ms. Em! I love the mysteriousness of your Ms-ness. It sounds just perfect for you. As a person who remembers when Ms. first came about here Stateside (back in the 70s), I’ve never felt all that comfortable with the term. I’m of an era when Ms-ness felt quite charged with ‘women’s lib-ness’. And ‘women’s lib’ was something necessary, but somehow not very attractive. Most of the time, back then anyway, one did not choose to be addressed as ‘Ms.’ It was rather a default option, and even sneered at. Not any more, I’m glad to report, but that shadow still clings, at least for me.

  4. Denny Colledge

    Another example of different customs across the pond. Here being called Madam seems to be confined to swanky shops, up market beauty salons and posh restaurants and can be rather nice. The patronising and annoying way to address a chronologically advantaged lady over here is “Dear”.

    • Dear Madam (not “Dear Dear”). I just love hearing about these across-the-pond differences. (Remind me to tell you about my Brit Friend who said never never to use the term “fanny pack” when Over There.) Anyway. I’m sure I would hate being called “Dear”. Though I think it’s one step better, chronologically speaking, than being addressed by my first (or as you would say, “Christian”) name — which is what people do to Grownups who happen to reside in nursing homes Over Here.

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