I recently received an e-mail from a young lady moving from the mid-west to the south. She was excited about moving, but unsure as how to address adults in the south. Her question:
I'm 15 and we are moving to the South. I have a question on southern manners and thought you could maybe help? Do adults expect to hear yes or yes ma'am when being answered? I heard it a lot when we visited. I want to baby-sitt and wanted to know how best to respond.
So, I really had to think about this one, actually. Having always lived here, it's not uncommon to hear or say yes yes ma'am and no ma'am, yes sir and no sir. But lately I have noticed a decrease in the use, as more and more people move to the south from other areas.
I was taught at a very young age to always say yes ma'am/sir to my mother and father, grandparents and my elders, so it's never been anything I've really ever thought twice about. We teach Walker to say the same, and Mike is actually more adament about it than me.
But when he was in preschool, it wasn't something that was expected of the children, and it isn't enforced in school now. So sometimes it's hard for children today to get into the habit of using it because it isn't expected everywhere. I'd say that there's such a mix of people from different areas that don't use this same form of respect, it isn't enforced. But if you're talking to a person that was born and bred in the south, they will appreciate being addressed this way.
Some people take offense to the term, often during those awkward years in which we aren't sure if we're a young and exciting adult, or a more serious, boring sort of grown-up. Example: when the college intern says yes maa'm to you when it was only just five years ago when you were the college intern. That's when you say, "oh, don't call me maa'm - that makes me feel old." And they don't, but they giggle behind your back because they do think you're old.
It may be a form of respect that is old-fashion and dated, but my mother still says yes sir to her father, and so do I. And we'll expect it from our son as well.