The Sir/Ma’am Syndrome

Sir/Ma'am Syndrome

My last article was about something I dislike (hate crimes), so I decided to write about another one.

One day back in 2003 after a long absence from my homeland, I casually walked into a convenience store. The lone cashier looked excited to finally have a customer. With his friendly smile that Filipinos are known for, he enthusiastically greeted me with a cheerful “Good morning, Ma’am/Sir”. I quickly glanced back to see if there was a man behind me, but there was none. For a brief moment, I wondered if he couldn’t tell if I was a man or a woman. I quickly brushed it off.

There are many things not found anywhere else, but in The Philippines, and this syndrome is definitely one of those. While in the Philippines, I began to notice that people in sales or in the service industry automatically said, “Ma’am/Sir or Sir/Ma’am” when greeting customers. Granted those are salutations of respect. However, they do not have to use both terms unless of course addressing a man and a woman.

Years later when I briefly worked in a call center I finally understood that phenomenon. I participated in a role-playing segment during training where I played the customer. The person who portrayed the salesperson greeted me with “Good Morning Ma’am/Sir”. No one in the group reacted except me. I told her that she should just say Ma’am because she was addressing only me. She briefly looked confused and defiantly replied that she was following the script.

At my age, I admire people who can memorize any kind of literature or phrases, but teachers and trainers have to drill into their students that calling an individual “Sir/Ma’am” is not only wrong but insulting and annoying! In trying to understand people who suffer from this affliction, I had an epiphany. I realized that the Tagalog language does not contain pronouns denoting gender. When Filipinos say he or she or him or her, they say “siya”. That is the reason most get confused when they translate Tagalog to English.

Now that I have explained the Sir/Ma’am Syndrome, I will explain the correct usage of Sir and Ma’am in my next article. Unless you are a “Sir” Knighted by a King, I am sure you will find my next article quite interesting.