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Yes, Sir In the South

by Andrea on June 20, 2013

When I learned we would be moving to Texas, one of the things I wondered about the most was just how “Southern” it would be. Of course it’s located in the southern part of the United States, but Texas is also one of those states that I feel is unique. After all, it was its own nation at one time and is larger than many countries around the world. It still owns all of its public lands (more fun facts about Texas are here if you’re interested). But after five weeks here I am definitely feeling the southern influence in the Lone Star State.

friendly texas Yes, Sir In the South

The phenomenon that is most giving me the southern vibe is all the “Yes, ma’ams” and “Yes, sirs” going around. I grew up in Alabama. My parents were from the north and my mother, despite her love of her adopted south, actively discouraged me from saying “ma’am” at home. That didn’t go over so well at school where any mind lapses that saw you answering a question with a simple yes or no would invoke a steely glare and a “Yes, what?” As a result of this, every time I would visit the United States after I left, I would find myself addressing strangers with “excuse me, sir.” Old habits die hard.

But suddenly I’ve grown up to be a ma’am myself. And I just can’t get used to it. Traditionally people will address someone as sir or ma’am as a show of respect; for example, when addressing a customer or an elder. I’ve been playing the customer role often lately and when I hear someone say ma’am, I’m still taken aback and wondering a little who she’s talking to. It certainly doesn’t offend me, but it does make me feel a bit old. I’m also quite frequently addressed as “Miss Andrea.” What the? I cannot get used to it. Texans are certainly friendly and charming so I usually just smile and sometimes toss back a ma’am or two myself. But it all feels very weird!

One of the things that has taken a lot of getting used to is the utter politeness surrounding me. I have to admit I kind of love it. People all hold doors for each other – men for women, women for women, women for men – it doesn’t matter. You get the feeling a person would rather die of embarrassment than not hold the door for you, even if you’re a good couple of metres away. I am often greeted with “Good morning” and almost always, “How are you today?” I’m naturally friendly and pleasant myself when going about my interactions with strangers, so I love this. There are few things worse than walking up to a counter with a smile and a hello, and receiving a scowl back. I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened to me here.

Of course, just because someone is being polite and friendly does not mean that it isn’t all just routine and not completely genuine. I get the feeling from time to time that there’s really nothing behind that smile. Less frequently I get the feeling that politeness is a mask for something else. Nothing sinister, mind you, just perhaps making a bigger sale or trying to compensate for inferior service. But how much can you really expect from a stranger? For me it’s enough that a person is making the effort to be pleasant and cheerful. As far as I’m concerned, life’s tough – and smiles really do brighten up your day, whether the person you are exchanging them with is interested in anything beyond that or not. I appreciate the time taken to be in the moment for another person. These days so many people are too busy running around in a robotic state to even recognize the humanity in anything anymore. It’s refreshing to engage with a stranger.

So will I be adopting the southern tradition of addressing everyone I meet with a ma’am or sir? Probably not. Do a quick search online and you’ll discover several editorials about how manners are dying in the south. After all, some of these formalities are rooted in the more unpleasant aspects of American history. But I will embrace the friendly nature of people here. The openness and pleasantness of the average person is fascinating to me. I’ll just have to get over my own insecurities and remember that I’m not ma’am because they think I’m old. It’s just a Texas thing.

 Have you visited the South? What were your impressions?

614156 Yes, Sir In the South  Yes, Sir In the South

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Partha June 20, 2013 at 5:44 am

Hey Andrea !!!!! Its very interesting by going through your blog. My mom is also from south and dad is from north but in India. But I too feel the difference of culture and tradition of both the parts. I also enjoyed a lot whenever I go for south trip in summer vacations in my childhood.:) :)

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inspiringtravellers June 24, 2013 at 9:55 am

Places are always different from North to South, aren’t they? :)

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Partha July 4, 2013 at 12:04 am

Yes Exactly !!!! :)

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Jess @UsedYorkCity June 20, 2013 at 6:49 am

As a southern girl myself now living in NYC (not the politeness capital of the world, for sure!), I really do miss the sweetness of the south. Even if it isn’t all the time genuine and more routine as you pointed out, it’s still a much better way to kick off the day, rather than getting ran into on the subway without so much as an apology;-) Savor every moment!

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John July 1, 2013 at 11:56 am

We will! Last time we were in NYC, some guy was smoking right in front of the ATM entrance door which was locked since it was late at night. He barely moves a step while I’m fumbling for the card to swipe so we can get in. It wasn’t working, so we left because we were gagging on his cigarette smoke. As we left, I couldn’t help myself. I said “Is there any reason why you’re smoking in front of the bank door?” to which he replied “Because I can”. Welcome to New York!

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Mike (Nomadic Texan) June 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Welcome young lady! Most of us were raised this way and the first time I went to NYC I was shocked at people’s reactions, when I said hello or triend to exchange a smile. We feel its just common courtesy and as an old dog, you can’t teach me any new tricks. Well…I’m “fixing” to write a post so I have to go. Enjoy your new life in Texas maam!
Mike

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inspiringtravellers June 24, 2013 at 10:03 am

Thanks so much, Mike – happy to be here =)

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nicole | the wondernuts June 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm

We’ve been to NOLA and we’re going again to Atlanta in July. We LOVED it. Everything about the south. People are genuinely nice, I feel. It’s comforting to feel that. I love the south so much that I’m seriously thinking about moving there and buying a house. =)

As for the ma’am’s, I’m a teacher, so I get a lot of: “Miss, can you help me?” and one that made me feel really old (I’m still a 20-something): I asked: “do you have your homework?” they responded with: “yes, ma’am.” I was like, “am i old????”

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inspiringtravellers June 24, 2013 at 10:03 am

If you can hack the heat, come on down! =)

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Krista June 20, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I’m grinning big at this, having heard more than my share of “Miss Krista’s” and “ma’am’s” from my time in the south. :-) I lived in Texas for a while and have observed much of what you wrote here. :-) Totally cracking up all by myself in the house today. :-)

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inspiringtravellers June 24, 2013 at 10:04 am

Miss Krista – I like it! =)

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Heather June 21, 2013 at 3:10 am

I grew up in rural Virginia but moved to NYC after college. The first time my very southern father came to visit, he was so upset that people weren’t smiling or waving back to him on the street. In his world, this is just something you do whether you know the person or not. Now my parents live in South Carolina and their accents have grown so thick it’s hard to understand them sometimes! I don’t get many “Miss Heather’s” when I go to visit, though I do hear a lot of “honey’s” and “sweetie’s.” Makes me smile every time :-)

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inspiringtravellers June 24, 2013 at 10:06 am

Haha – I think it’s one of those things that really takes some getting used to either way. I think I really took it for granted growing up. I do kind of find it difficult to not be afraid of people though – for example, a man driving by offering to help put heavy things into my car in a parking lot. I still get freaked out by that, haha. Too many movies with abductions in them…

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TammyOnTheMove June 24, 2013 at 12:14 am

That is interesting. So, do kids just call their parents ma’am or sir only in certain circumstances or all the time?

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inspiringtravellers June 24, 2013 at 10:18 am

If a child has parents pushing them to say ma’am and sir, then that would be in every instance…

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Debbie @ European Travelista June 26, 2013 at 6:18 pm

I think a little more politeness would do the world a heap of good! I can relate to you not wanting to be called ‘maam’. I was a little taken back when my kids friends started calling me Mrs. Beardsley. I wasn’t “Mrs.” my mother was!

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inspiringtravellers July 1, 2013 at 6:56 am

I think we all feel young inside always…I will never get used to those formalities when directed my way…

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Katie June 26, 2013 at 8:05 pm

I lived in New Orleans for a few years, and one of the things I loved was when people called me “baby” or “sugar.” Of course, that greatly depends on who’s saying it… a nice, friendly lady is much better than a creepy old guy who’s standing too close. :)

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inspiringtravellers July 1, 2013 at 6:56 am

Definitely, haha =)

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Jennifer June 27, 2013 at 5:52 am

I have not spent much time in Texas, but with my husband being in the military (he’s not from Texas), we sure know a lot of people from there. I’m not sure why, but loads of guys from Texas seem to go into the military. And then all of them seem to get shipped over to Italy and it’s the very first time they’ve ever left their little home town. They sure are an interesting bunch and a bunch I can’t relate to in the least bit.

Hopefully you’re finding Texans that are a little more worldly than the ones I’ve encountered!

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inspiringtravellers July 1, 2013 at 6:55 am

There seems to be a wide variety of people down here, which is great because I have encountered quite a few people (both Texans and people from other parts of the US) who have never left the country. I’m not judging them but it’s quite strange for me. People gawk at our Australian licenses when we get “carded” haha

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Donna Hull June 29, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I grew up in Atlanta and still haven’t lost my Southern accent after all these years. I enjoy the politeness and prefer to think of it as niceness. And maybe it’s a leftover from times when cities and towns were smaller. I live in an area of Montana where all the towns are small. Although they don’t use ma’m or sir, residents and businesses bend over backwards to be friendly and accommodating. It doesn’t mean that I’ll be included in their social circle (same as in the South), but I sure enjoy the pleasantness of it all.

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inspiringtravellers July 1, 2013 at 6:53 am

Me too, Donna – I would love to visit that part of the US as well!

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Erin June 29, 2013 at 3:48 pm

haha I went through the same thing – raised in the south by parents from the north and west. My mom still lives in the south, and still hates being called ma’am. I definitely got into trouble in school over that one.
When I go back to visit, I like to make a little game out of it and see if I can really bring out my southern drawl and my sirs and ma’ams. People love it lol

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inspiringtravellers July 1, 2013 at 6:52 am

Haha – I find myself slipping into a southern accent heaps!

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Stephanie - The Travel Chica July 1, 2013 at 6:20 pm

I noticed the friendliness and formality on my recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina. It’s cute :-)

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John July 4, 2013 at 2:12 pm

But I still can’t get used to being called “Sir”. It freaks me out ;)

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Ali July 5, 2013 at 7:48 am

I lived in NJ until I was 15, at which point we moved to a suburb of Atlanta. Big culture difference. I can’t stand the sir and ma’am stuff, but at least I never had teachers giving me a hard time for not calling them that. I also strongly resisted ever letting the word y’all creep into my vocabulary. There are lots of things I love about the south, but those are two I do not love!

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inspiringtravellers July 6, 2013 at 11:04 am

I’m with you – I NEVER say y’all!

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Jools Stone July 5, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Hey, long time no tweet! The site’s looking amazing I ahve to say – very jealous of your Southern us adventures too, keep it up folks! :)

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inspiringtravellers July 6, 2013 at 11:05 am

Hi Jools! =) Great to see you on here…thanks so much for stopping by and glad you love the site

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Emily in Chile July 12, 2013 at 5:26 pm

I’ve only been to Nashville, but I do remember noticing the Southern hospitality. Even if people are doing it more out of habit than a real personal desire to make your day, it’s always nice when going out in public can actually be a pleasant experience instead of a fight with everyone else!

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inspiringtravellers July 13, 2013 at 10:44 am

I couldn’t have said it better!

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