Are My Children's Southern Manners Obsolete Outside of the South?
Each week, Miss Manners answers questions exclusively from the MSN audience on all of your etiquette dilemmas. (Have an issue you want help with? Send in a question today.) Read on for this week's hot topics:
DEAR MISS MANNERS,
I am from Alabama. We've taught our children to use "ma'am" and "sir" when addressing adults. I use those forms of address myself when speaking to my elders. This is considered polite behavior in my area of the country. It often happens that people from the North move here and firmly state that their children will not use these honorifics. My advice has always been (if asked, of course) the "When in Rome...." analogy.
Of course a parent can advise their child to do or say anything they think inappropriate, however, children will suffer in this environment, as most southerners will simply assume the child is rude or has not been brought up correctly.
Now, my dilemma: we have moved to a northern state, where my children are constantly corrected and chastised for using "ma'am" and "sir". Usually the complaint goes along the lines of "it makes me feel old". I actually had a parent call me the other day to complain about my 15 year old daughter calling her "ma'am" and suggesting that it makes my daughter appear subservient as a woman.
I told my daughter to please try not to say "Ma'am" to this person, as that is her request. My daughter says, 'Momma, I try so hard NOT to say it, but it is a firmly ingrained habit."
Miss Manners, I am the one who firmly ingrained it! And for a reason. When we return to the South, as we inevitably will, if MY children have lost the habit of this politeness, they will suffer from people thinking they are rude.
Do I counsel my children to continue using phrases that we consider polite but others do not? Or do we adjust to this environment? We are now in Rome, so to speak.
"Everywhere --north, south, and in Rome-- it is rude to chastise someone for an obviously well-meant courtesy. Miss Manners does not dignify rudeness by excusing it as a culture.
People who reject being treated with respect so they won't "feel old" are particularly silly as well as self-defeating. No young person ever reacted to that by thinking, "My mistake!" Eschewing the dignity due to age does not make one look young.
So although you should not want your daughter to take instruction from such people, you do have to encourage her to address rude people as they ask to be addressed. That, too, applies everywhere."
DEAR MISS MANNERS,
My husband and I met another couple on a cruise, we exchanged email addresses. They have invited themselves to our home this summer. How do I gracefully exit their rude behavior? We would not object to meeting them for dinner but our home is not a hotel. They live in Illinois, we live in Manhattan.
"Have you forgotten Fun Night on the Sunshine cruise, when you said you couldn't bear to have it end, and that they must promise to pay you a long visit? Or perhaps you only handed over your address on request, saying, "Let us know if you happen to be in town."
Unless you named a date, your lifeline is an apology for not being able to put them up --it is important not to say why-- along with the enthusiastic suggestion that you meet for dinner. Politeness does not require standing by an invitation that one has not issued, and Miss Manners is given to understand that there are hotels in Manhattan."
Judith Martin's latest book is No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice. She is also the author of Miss Manners' Guide toExcruciatingly Correct Behavior(Freshly Updated). She and her husband, a scientist and playwright, live in Washington, D.C. They have two perfect children, of course.
I don't know where these people from the "North" are from, nor where you moved to in the "North", but I am from Rhode Island, and I was raised the same way. It's called respect for your elders - and I used ma'am and sir. I believe that children everywhere are being raised to be self-indulgent and disrespectful by their parents. Who on EARTH would take offense to being called "ma'am or sir" by anyone? I would tell anyone who said that to you or your children simply, "I have raised my child with manners and respect for their elders - I am truly sorry for you if take offense to it."
Children in the south do sound strange when they go outside the south. People in other parts of the country who were taught the Ma'm and Sir routine had at some point a parent of grandparent or other ancestor from the south.
Usually, a kid from anywhere else is not going to be thought rude for not using these honorifics because they will have an "outside the south" accent. I have never heard any comments when my kids were visiting the south, they had the "yankee accents" and never said ma'm and sir, and believe me, my kin would have let me know if they found it objectionable.
Southerners (I was born way down in the deep, deep south but lived half my life and raised my kids in the Great Lakes area) are still fighting the civil war in lots of ways, and this is one of them. Drop this archaic and meaningless mannerism and join the rest of the world. Don't tell your kids to speak like this outside the south.. It actually sounds churlish, not polite, and marks them as hicks.
The same parents who would "tan their kids' hides" if they forgot to say sir and ma'm, will use the N word around their kids and allow their kids to do so, as well. Try THAT outside the south. I promise you that the N word is still used in most white homes in the south.
In fact, some cops up north consider it a sign of having been in prison. I have lived a lot in both places and am a bit more able to speak from experience than most others here.
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