I’ve been living the military spouse lifestyle for about four years now, but I am constantly astounded at the new things I learn. I keep thinking that there’s going to be a day when I will wake up and be a “seasoned” military spouse. I know that the “powers that be” must have a sense of humor because almost immediately after I have that thought, there’s usually something that happens to smack me upside the head to knock that thought right out of my mind.
This morning, I received a little bit more seasoning in a silly, unexpected way.
I went to the gym to work out with my drill sergeant personal trainer, and I happened to run into my husband’s class doing PT (Physical Training). I stopped by to say “hello” and was taken aback when some of his classmates started saying, “Hello, Ma’am!” “Hi, Ma’am!” “How are you, ma’am?” I couldn’t help but think, “Wait a minute. We’ve hung out socially, had a few beers, and let’s not mention that we’re the same age. Why in the world are you calling me ma’am?”
Now, to understand why I’m perplexed about being called “ma’am”, you have to understand that I grew up in an area of the country where phrases like “yes ma’am” and “no, sir” were not instilled into my vocabulary. In fact, a phrase like “yes, ma’am” was pretty much used when you were being condescending or snotty. Growing up we also didn’t refer to our friends’ parents by “Mr. Smith” or “Ms. Jane”. They were either called only by their first name or known as “Susie Smith’s mom”.
I felt like I lost a bit of my identity when I became a military spouse. I was no longer known as “Jessica”. I became “Mrs. Last Name”, “So-and-so’s wife”, or simply “ma’am”. I tried for the first few years to get all of the military members I had contact with to call me “Jessica”. That quest was an utter failure. My husband explained to me it was because I was trying to work against centuries of military protocol and etiquette. I finally accepted that he was probably correct – but let’s not tell him that!
Yet, for some reason, I’m still perplexed when military people I socialize with in non-military settings insist on calling me “ma’am” in any setting. I know it’s a courtesy thing, but I don’t think I’ve done anything to earn that courtesy. I’ve always wondered if there was more to it. I was talking with my drill sergeant (who is a fellow milspouse) about this as we were working out, and she offered me a new perspective. She simply said, “They may not remember your first name, but they can always call you ‘ma’am’ or ‘Mrs. Last Name’ and always be correct.” Hmmm…I think she had an interesting point. I know I’m terrible with names, but it never occurred to me that others might be just as terrible with names!
Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird to be called “ma’am”? Do you prefer to be called “ma’am” or “Mrs. Last Name”? Do you call people “ma’am” or “sir”? Why or why not? Are there any other reasons why you might refer to someone as “ma’am” or “sir”?