Today I had an awesome experience with the very professional people in the ski equipment area, and would particularly like to commend the man that helped me, his name was Brent. He was amazing and so professional and so experienced in his knowledge with helping me with new ski boots and fitting them properly. However, as I went to checkout some other items I shopped for, I had a quite different experience. The nice gentleman who checked out my items kept referring to me as ma’am. Over and over he used this term, which I happen to find offensive. I wish now that I had educated him on the spot. Even more I wish that REI would educate their employees about how to address their customers. I don’t know any woman who likes to be referred to as ma’am. For a forward thinking company such as REI, I would think you would have some kind of sensitivity training about how to address customers. As much as I don’t like to be referred to as ma’am I also don’t like to be referred to as honey or dear or young lady! It really pisses me off! Please include a component to address this issue in your training! If it happens again, I will take the opportunity to educate your employee myself!
Yes, y request is a straightforward request for information. Apparently, the OP has left the conversation and the floor is now open for others to step forward a nd provide a more suitable term.
It is very encouraging when threads lead to an honest exchange of information and discouraging when they don't......
I had read this original post the day it was entered, and after reading @hikermor question, I messaged him directly because I didn't want to endorse, or bring any additional attention to this topic. Seeing the rest of this feedback gave me the impetus to add my 2 cents. I completely agree with @REI-CarterC that everyone deserves respect and the opportunity to voice their feelings and concerns. I also agree completely with @Philreedshikes , @nathanu in that I too was raised to use "sir" and "ma'am" as terms of respect. That ethos was reinforced by my job training when I entered the workforce in retail. If those terms are no longer considered acceptable, I certainly don't know what the correct terms is, or should be. And neither do the vast majority of retail and hospitality workers I encounter across the country...in fact, the world.
I personally cannot understand why "ma'am" would be considered offensive, but, be that as it may, there are much less volatile ways of addressing it. A simple and polite. "I'm not fond of that term. Please refer to me as _______." Or a joking or friendly, "Oh, that term is much to formal for me. Call me_____."
Can't we all just get along?
And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming....
@Chrisfox "The nice gentleman who checked out my items kept referring to me as ma’am. Over and over he used this term, which I happen to find offensive."
The terms "sir" and "ma'am" are honorifics, i.e. they're signs of respect. Referring to the person as a "nice gentleman" suggests that Chrisfox acknowledges that he used the term in that way.
So if Chrisfox finds the term "offensive" and wants REI to discourage its use, then it's incumbent on her to explain why she feels it's offensive and how she would prefer to be called by REI associates in the future.
1. This is a longstanding issue that has no easy or pat solution. See for example this piece on NPR from a decade ago: Please Don't Call Me 'Ma'am' (https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129727777) [I can't seem to get URL linking to work without getting error messages]
2. The etymology of the contraction "ma'am" is from the French, "Ma dame" or "My lady" which is clearly a sign of respect.
The piece from NPR is illuminating. Evidently the M word has connotations of AGE. unfortunately in contemporary society aging is kinder to males than to females. Perhaps we could use the full term. I believe I heard a member of Congress addressed as "Madame Chair".....
Evidently the M word has connotations of AGE.
Reminds me of when I was in my 50s and I went into a McDonalds to get a cup of coffee. The server asked me if I wanted a "Senior's Coffee." I wasn't sure if I should take offense or take the discount. (I went with the latter.)
Reviewing this thread, it looks like there is no ready answer to the central question, what is the alternative to the M word? Clearly its use is risky.
The most obvious alternative is to drop the us of honorifics. Communication is still possible.....
AMEN @Wanderer ! And thank you for using the term honorific. I had actually planned on using that same exact term, but became distracted while I was writing. And, I too cannot get the URL linking to work. Now I know it's not a user error on my part.
Adding another woman's voice (in addition to @REI-CarterC and @Chrisfox) to this somewhat lopsided thread...I will agree that ma'am is certainly not my favorite term; it makes me feel older than I believe myself to be. I would prefer someone say, "Excuse me" or "Hello" if they're trying to get my attention and simply leave it out if we're already in conversation. With that said, I also recognize ma'am is typically being used respectfully and therefore I am unlikely to ask them to call me something else.
All of that said, it's important to remember that this is the "Women in the Outdoors" board - although public, it's a place in this community that was created for women to feel comfortable raising and discussing topics that are important to them.