"sir" and "madam" in the UK

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Brave Heart, Apr 24, 2007.

  1. Brave Heart Senior Member

    Japan, Japanese
    Hi guys.

    I was reading past threads in this forum, when I came across this comment: 'no one calls anyone "sir" or "madam" in the UK. Well apart from hotel receptionists and that sort of thing'.

    Given that, what would people in the UK say when they saw a stranger drop something and want to let him know that? Wouldn't they say, like, "Sir, I think you dropped this." ?

  2. That`s been a long time since I lived in the UK:) but I guess that very much depends on the circumstances, hierarchy, subordination, not half as much as in Japan, but this mostly applies to people at work, somebody you know anyway.
    If it happens just on the street, you don`t have to say anything in particular except "excuse me". This is no Japan, really:)
  3. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Excuse me, I think you dropped this.
  4. Brave Heart Senior Member

    Japan, Japanese
    Thanks guys. I appreciate your help. :)

    Actually, even in Japan, using "sir" to a stranger seems to be too polite, at least nowadays. :) although there are some other ways to show respect if I want.

    But I hear that, in the US, people tend to use "sir" to a stranger (correct me if I'm wrong) to sound polite. That's why I asked the question.

    I was curious about the situation in the UK because there is a stereotype in Japan that the UK is historically a nation of gentlemen, which makes me think people in the UK must be polite. :)

  5. It is a nation of gentlemen(I still hope:)) and they are polite but that is mostly expressed through manners and tact and the distance preserved. That is why Brits find the Japanese culture so comfortable usually.
    However, it is true that as a form of address Americans use "sir" and "ma`am" to a much greater extent. I am not sure whether that speaks of politeness. We shall wait for Americans to say.
  6. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    We speak with such inherent courtesy that the addition of words specifically to convey politeness is unnecessary.
    We are also inclined to lie.
  7. Brave Heart Senior Member

    Japan, Japanese
    Hi all,

    Let me revive this thread.

    Last night, I saw a US TV show in which a boy was having lunch with the father of his girlfriend for the first time. In that scene, the boy said to his girlfriend's father something like, "Sir, what's your favorite TV show?".

    Would boys in the UK use "sir" in that situation? If not, what would they say (or do) to show some respect?

    Thanks. :)
  8. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    I would address him by his name. If I say "Mr. Smith" rather than "John" this is very polite and respectful and most fathers would probably insist that I use their first name. If I called him "sir" he would probably look at me very strangely and inform me that he had yet to receive his knighthood from the Queen.
    In British schools, teachers are referred to by pupils as "Sir" and "Miss" but this is more out of habit than respect. Personally I find it more respectful to be called by my name.
  9. Brave Heart Senior Member

    Japan, Japanese
    Thanks liliput. I appreciate your help. :)

    I was amused by the "knighthood" part. :D
  10. alisonp Senior Member

    English - UK
    I got called "madam" the other day, and nearly keeled over with the shock, so I guess that's a sign that it's not that common any more in the UK.
  11. Brave Heart Senior Member

    Japan, Japanese
    Thanks alisonp. I appreciate your help. :)

    A funny story, too. :D
    People in the UK must be not only polite but also amusing. :)
    I guess this is what is called humour.
  12. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I don't recall any of my daughters' boyfriends ever addressing me as Sir. The earlier boyfriends could just about manage a grunt and those more civilised quite naturally called me by my first name.
  13. nichec

    nichec Senior Member

    Alright, guys, here comes an AE speaker:D
    In earlier days, I believe all the American kids called their father "Sir", and their mother "Ma'am".
    I wouldn't be surprised at all if someone call me "Ma'am" or "Miss" in the streets or restaurants in USA.
    When I tried to remember my days in London, they just seem to be such a blur to me, probably because I'm always struggling with the coldness and the strange accent......(and their lies, according to our dear panj:D)
    It's interesting though, I'm sure that the Londeners are much politer than most of the Americans in their manners (no offence, I'm from USA myself),
    actually they are so polite that it's almost too much to bear....:(:D
  14. dobes Senior Member

    bratislava, slovakia
    US English(Boston/NY)
    I agree with nichec, "sir", "ma'am" and "miss" are common forms of address in the US, and most especially in the South, where they are absolutely indispensible. They are used to address strangers and those in positions of superiority - they are terms of respect. My favorite use of these terms was in a restaurant in Alabama, when the waitress asked each of us what we wanted, addressing us as "sir" and "ma'am" in turn. But when she came to my 14-year-old son, she said, "And you, young sir? What would you like?"
  15. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I would say, "Excuse me, I think you dropped this."
  16. InsultComicDog Member

    USA, English
    In a situation like that I might very well say "Excuse me, sir, I think you dropped this."

    Or, as I am from Philadelphia, I might just say "Yo! You dropped something." ;)
  17. nichec

    nichec Senior Member

    I don't suppose you would say that to an old lady, would you?
  18. Robot Lips New Member

    I'll say "Thank you, sir" and things like that all the time, but the inflection in your voice lets the other person know how formal you are being.
  19. moo mouse Senior Member

    Paris, France
    English UK
    Being a Brit and living in London I would agree that 'sir' and 'madam' are not commonly used to a stanger in the street, or socially, even in deference to older people (I call my boyfriend's dad Mr Newman, never 'sir'). But you definitely would hear it in smart department stores like Harrods or Selfridges where the shop assistants are smarmy and ingratiating, and have been trained to say 'Can I help you, sir/madam?' or in really smart/expensive restaurants where you might hear 'And would madam like any vegetables with that?' (in place of 'and would you...?').
  20. Q-cumber

    Q-cumber Senior Member

    Silly me! I always tend to say "Excuse me, sir (or ma'am)...", when speaking to someone from England on the phone.
    If I were a Japanese Samurai, I had to make a harakiri in order to avoid a shame. :D
  21. Brave Heart Senior Member

    Japan, Japanese
    Thanks all. I appreciate your help. :)
  22. InsultComicDog Member

    USA, English
    I doubt that anyone would be offended by it.
  23. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    Police in the US ordinarily address people to whom they are speaking (the man getting the speeding ticket; the woman asking for directions to the highway) as "Sir" or "Ma'am" or "Miss". You might also hear these terms used by anyone in a business setting to address a person whose name was not known. For example, a shopper might ask the salesclerk in the store "Excuse me, Miss, but where is the shoe department?", or the motivational speaker might say to random members of the audience whom he wanted to participate in some demonstration "Sir, would you join me here? And you too, ma'am; come on up here with us." In the northern states, addressing one's teachers or parents or elders with "Yes, sir" instead of a plain "Yes" or "No, ma'am" instead of a plain "No" is not common, but is considered very courteous and pleasant -- but in the southern states, it is absolutely mandatory that a youth use these terms (and even with his or her parents) if the boy or girl is to be considered well-mannered. Indeed, there are still parts of the US where a student who answered a teacher with "No" instead of "No, ma'am" would be considered either uncouth or deliberately insolent.

    Perhaps the difference is that since the United States never had a hereditary aristocracy, such terms as "sir" or "madam" -- whose use reflected willing choices rather than obligations based on legal inferiority -- never had the same overtones they carried in England, and so were not seen as anything to be resented, and disposed of as soon as possible.
  24. InsultComicDog Member

    USA, English
    Generally not. "Yo!" is similar to "Hey!" and serves the same purpose in this particular case.

    Sometimes getting one's attention quickly is a higher priority than being polite.
  25. konungursvia Banned

    Canada (English)
    The word sir would, in English, have different overtones and a different feel to it than your Japanese translation of the word; it's apples and oranges, and there is no reasonable comparison to be drawn, in my view. Too often people think the concepts in their language are exact and universal, which is not really the case.
  26. gomie2003 Senior Member

    Kansas, USA - English
    Central USA, if anyone cares:
    I will use 'sir' or 'maam' or 'miss' when addressing any stranger whose name is unknown. It just sounds better than 'hey you' or 'mister' by itself. As far as superiority is concerned, I never use 'sir' if I know the person's name. I may say 'Mr. Lastname' or 'Dr. Lastname' or simply their first name. I've never been a big fan of forced superiority, but if I must kiss someone's ass, I will use their last name and title.

    Also, Dr. Somebody can be called simply "Doctor" and I think most would consider it polite/formal.
  27. gomie2003 Senior Member

    Kansas, USA - English
    What do you mean by "smart" here? Surely you don't mean "intelligent"? There must be some other meaning that I am unaware of...
  28. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    Smart means elegant. In BE it's far more commonly used for this meaning than for intelligent.
  29. AWordLover

    AWordLover Senior Member

    Atlanta, Georgia USA
    USA English

    In addition to the uses of sir enumerated by GWB in post 23, I would use sir in preference to "yo" or "hey you", to catch a strangers attention.

    While walking along the sidewalk, away from me, a man drops something without noticing.

    I call to him, "Sir". He doesn't notice that I am addressing him. I call louder, "Sir". Still no joy. I yell, "SIR". He turns around. I say, "Excuse me, you dropped something."
  30. deuruguay Senior Member

    Uruguay Spanish
    This is a very interesting thread, I thought British were a lot more formal than Americans. I've been trying to find out how students addressed themselves to teachers in the USA and UK. and read this posting by liliput:

    Would the following be correct (imagine the teacher's name is Mary Jones:
    Mrs. Jones? Ma'am? Teacher? Jones (all alone)? Mary?
  31. tinlizzy

    tinlizzy Senior Member

    USA - English
    I've been counting for the last few days (Thurs-Sat.)

    2 ma'am, 2 miss, 1 dear, 1 young lady. I used sir twice. For me, it would feel a little awkward and a little blunt to just say, "Excuse me, you dropped something." Not that it would be impolite, just different.

    Children speaking to teachers or even the custodian, the neighbor lady, or a classmate's parent for that matter, it is always Mr./Mrs./Miss/Ms. Lastname unless they have been given permission to use a first name.
  32. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    In the UK; Miss Jones if she's not married, Mrs Jones if she is married. In most high schools, she would usually be called simply "Miss" when being addressed directly by a student.
  33. ernest_

    ernest_ Senior Member

    Catalan, Spain
    And what is the equivalent of "yes, sir!" whan talking to a lady. Yes, Miss?
  34. nichec

    nichec Senior Member

    In AE, that would be "Yes, Ma'am!"
  35. mplsray Senior Member

    Note that with miss and ma'am here, just as with sir, no capital should be used.
  36. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    In the UK, "Yes, madam!" or "Yes, miss!" depending on age/marital status, but this is extremely formal language here. "Ma'am" is used when addressing the Queen and possibly in the military.

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