Mamser Mentality: Should we drop the Ma’am / Sir?

A colleague laughed when she was addressed as ma’am by someone on the phone. She asked me, “Why do Filipinos call me ma’am?" and she added, "I feel old.”

The ma’am/sir mentality exists in our subliminal culture, albeit not published in any social studies books.

To many of us, it is just being polite and respectful. But unlike the po and opo, this is a culture that was born in the workplace, and Robin Padilla blew it up by endearingly calling every actress as “ma’am.”

Men, on the other hand, use ‘sir’ in two instances. One, when they really refer to someone higher in authority. Two, when they pronounce it "SER" to sound more masculine when they speak to a stranger or an acquaintance with respect.

Some Filipinos despise the first and see it as colonial mentality and inferiority.

Title-consciousness also plays a role in it.  I worked in Manila for a couple of years before moving to Dubai, and I've observed how some senior staff find it cool to hear junior employees call them sir or ma'am. It's like an entitlement for some.

The Brits call everyone ‘mate’ regardless of position. In the Middle East, everybody is "my friend." Within our community, calling someone ser is just like calling them bro, ‘tol, pare, pre, pards, tsong,  bosing and ‘boss’ or beshie. Filipinos can be very colloquial (and showbiz) and we seem okay with it.

The McDonald's ad below is very amusing, and is a justification that indeed title-consciousness exists.

When we fill up forms, the options we see for 'Title' are only Mr., Miss or Mrs.; or Dr., Engr., and Atty. There's never been a sir or ma'am.

At work, I call everyone including the CEO by the first name, and I’ve never been regarded as disrespectful. Positive and happy people call people by name.

When someone calls me sir, I politely tell them I prefer to be called by my first name (Eto naman! Ion na lang!) unless I am in a store, restaurant or hotel - where the context still seems acceptable.

Perspective Lens

Many people would tell you, myself included, to drop it - not that it sounds inferior, but it hinders global thinking. If you want to live with a broader, global mindset, you have to adapt to the global culture. What works for Asians might not work for Westerners. What's sweet for Filipinos might be insulting for Canadians.

Politeness and respect are values. There are many other ways to show them. You can embrace the culture while keeping your personal values intact.

The game is changing. Even hotels like Radisson Blu Dubai has asked their staff to scrap formal greetings.

But if it's a big deal for you because that's really how you show respect, keep it. But do it with conviction and beaming confidence so it doesn’t look like a servitude. You don't need to always copy what others do. Don't let the world define your personal values.

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