ma'am and Miss

Discussion in 'English Only' started by raymondaliasapollyon, Jan 9, 2014.

  1. raymondaliasapollyon Senior Member

    Chinese
    Is it common to address a female salesclerk as Miss in the US?
    What about ma'am?

    If neither is proper, what would you suggest?
     
  2. Edinburgher Senior Member

    Scotland
    German/English bilingual
    In my experience, these people are often addressed as "excuse me". :)
     
  3. ESustad Senior Member

    Washington, DC
    English - (Minnesota)
    Depends on your relative age. I tend to address women noticeably older than I am as "Ma'am"; younger ones as "you." I don't ever use "Miss," but I think people that do use it with women younger than they are.
     
  4. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    Texas
    English - US
    In my version of American English, "Miss" implies that you are not married and "Ma'am" implies that you are old. Neither is commonly used with strangers. Edinburgher is basically on the right track: "Excuse me," "Hello," "Can you help me?" etc.
     
  5. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    Add me to those who try to avoid forms of address that imply something about the other person's age or marital status. Some people don't like being categorized in those ways.
     
  6. pops91710

    pops91710 Senior Member

    I gave up the m'am and miss thing in Hong Kong long ago while checking in to my hotel. I politely addressed a hotel desk clerk as M'am. In proper Queen's English she quickly put me straight informing me she did not run a brothel!I was mortified. :eek:
     
  7. Miss Julie

    Miss Julie Senior Member

    Chicago metro area
    English-U.S.
    :confused:

    You called her "Ma'am," not Madam! A "madam" runs a brothel. She was in the wrong.
     
  8. pops91710

    pops91710 Senior Member

    Yes, and I said that (uh...to myself) at the time. But it is true that it's a contraction for madam. Maybe in her English training it was the same, I don't know. Remember, I was in BE territory and fresh in from Vietnam. No way was I going to argue with her. I just apologized and learned a lesson to not assume that my idea of politeness was always someone else's. I does seem petty knowing she must have dealt with hundreds of US service members who automatically respond or address with either "Sir" or "Ma'am" as standard military speak.
     
  9. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    Often, probably usually, no form of address is needed. Can you give us an example or two of what you might be saying to the sales clerk?
     
  10. raymondaliasapollyon Senior Member

    Chinese
    Suppose I am looking for soap. Can I say 'Excuse me, Miss/Ma'am, do you know where the soap section is?" ?
     
  11. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    Just say:

    "Excuse me, Miss/Ma'am, do you know where the soap section is?"
     
  12. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    I'd say something similar: "Where can I find soap, please?" (There may not be a soap "section". I don't see any need for "excuse me" unless you're coming up behind someone; it's a sales clerk's job to help you find what you're looking for.)
     
  13. waltern Senior Member

    English - USA
    I think that in the US, frequency of usage of "ma'am" (and "sir") when addressing strangers depends on a number of factors - geography especially, and also age (and perhaps even race/class) of the speaker.

    I am a native New Yorker, and am naturally disinclined to use such terms myself, but I live in Texas now, and hear people referring to each other as "ma'am" and "sir" on a daily basis - I personally might say "Excuse me, do you know where...", but I can't imagine anyone around here finding "Excuse me ma'am/sir, do you know where..." unusual, much less offensive.
     

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