Yes, ma’am, I’m proud of my polite, respectful Southern manners

Warren Peper

I know we’re all proud of our manners and how we treat people around here, but I met a woman recently who had moved here from New Jersey a few years ago. We got to talking about cultural differences and she was not prepared for the whole “yes, ma’am,” “no ma’am” way of life upon arriving.

As a matter of fact, she was a teenager when she first came to town, and when her high school teacher asked her a question, her answer was “yes.” When the teacher looked at her and said, “Yes?”, the perplexed teenager shrugged her shoulders and repeated “Yes.”

It was then that the teacher explained that around here the polite and respectful reply to people older than you is “Yes, ma’am.”

She tried to remember, but quite frankly, she’d come from a background that considered such a response as terse or sarcastic. She quickly learned otherwise.

I was totally raised this way, along with my brothers and sister. My grandchildren also are learning the ropes regarding respectful responses. Very often, from the other room, I hear my daughter-in-law ask her son, “Yes ... yes what?”

It makes me smile and remember. It also makes me proud, in public, to hear him say it without prompting. It’s a simple thing, but it’s respectful and speaks to an upright upbringing.

The use of the word “sir” dates back to the 1200s. It was originally “sire,” a title of respect for all men. In the 1300s, “ma’am” became a contraction of the word “madam.”

The word madam came from an Anglo-French reference for “ma dame,” which was the literal translation for the term “my lady.”

To me, “yes, sir” and “no ma’am” are as important as please and thank you in the area of mandatory manners. It speaks to positive character traits. It’s still possible, though, to have a bad kid with good manners.

Some of it is a “Southern thing.” Most of us had it drilled into us at an early age. If you’ve eaten your share of boiled peanuts, oysters or fried chicken, then you probably also quickly replied “Yes, ma’am” when told to do something by your mother, grandmother, teacher or coach. If you’ve ever been up to your ankles in plough mud, chased fireflies or swatted sand gnats, then replying “Yes, sir” is as familiar as the ever-present pitcher of sweet tea in the fridge.

I hope we never lose some of these cultural differences. Being polite and showing respect should never go out of style. It’s OK if other parts of the country don’t embrace our manners or mannerisms.

Besides, what fun would life be if we were all alike? How we do it wouldn’t mean as much if everybody else did it, too.

I’m OK if people in other parts of the country learn what it means when the “Hot Now” sign is lit up at Krispy Kreme. It’s fine with me if visitors clamor for a fried shrimp platter.

There are many things that are available here that just can’t be duplicated in some other time zones. That’s what makes us, us ... right?

Did you say “Yes? Yes what?”

Reach Warren Peper at peperwarren@gmail.com.