One of the things that I’ve loved most about my life (and honestly one of my favorite things about blogging) is all of the different people I’ve come in contact with and the different experiences I’ve had. As I’ve moved around in my life and gotten to know different people from different areas of the country (and around the world) I have to come to notice and appreciate all of our differences.
Take this scene from the other day when I was visiting with my friends here in Indiana…
Me: “You mean, ‘ma’am’?”
This is a regular exchange around our house. Sometimes Hudson catches himself on his own, but he usually needs to be reminded to say, “ma’am.”
But in this particular instance, I realized, “Oh! We’re not at our house and my friends are probably wondering why in the world I want my little boy to say ma’am.”
I want him to say “sir,” too when he’s talking to men.
digital print via My Southern Accent
It’s a regional thing. I grew up in Louisiana before moving to Indiana in the 8th grade. I spent my whole life saying “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am” and “no, sir.” Instead of saying, “What?” when someone called my name, I’d answer with, “Ma’am?” Or “sir?”
It was a habit. My parents taught it to me because it’s what most kids in the South say. And most of the time it is expected. Something about hearing Hudson say, “What?” is like nails on a chalkboard. And when I was growing up we didn’t dare answer our parents, or any elder, that way.
But when I moved to Indiana, I think I said, “Yes, ma’am” to my English teacher and she told me that it offended her. And I can remember every other kid in the class laughing at me. But I honestly didn’t know any better and I certainly didn’t mean to offend her.
I also got teased for saying “y’all” because it was just different. While I wasn’t trying to be rude, I did want to be polite and follow the norm of the part of the country we lived in. And in different areas of the country, polite is defined in different ways. And that’s okay. So I stopped saying “ma’am” and “sir” to teachers.
But I continued to say “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir” to my mom and dad. I said it to my grandparents and anyone who knew my intent. But I didn’t say it to adults here because it didn’t have the same meaning.
Now that I’ve been back in the South for the last 12 years, I say “ma’am” and “sir” to everyone. Not because I want them to feel older than I am, but because I want them to feel respected.
And I’m working on teaching my children the same thing. Because it is respectful and because I think it is expected. And I just think it’s a good habit to have.
(Hudson absolutely has his not-so-polite moments. We’re trying to teach him not to interrupt in addition to speaking respectfully. He talks back occasionally and that’s not something I like to listen to.)
Another thing I realized is that my kids call my friends “Miss Anna” and “Miss Emily” rather than calling them by their first names. But that’s just how I was raised, and I know that’s not how it’s done everywhere.
So being back here for the past two weeks, it just reminded me of some of the subtle differences. And I love that it’s really just all about what the social norms are in different parts of the country. And there isn’t a right way or wrong way, but it is so fun to me.
The kids in Indiana may not say “yes, ma’am,” but they are still incredibly polite and sweet, and of course, adorable.
What about you? What kinds of social norms do you observe that may be different to others? Or are we Southerners just about as odd as it gets?
I’d love to hear what y’all think!