Monday, 17 October 2011

Miss/Mrs/Ms? Just say Ma'am

I was having some problems getting into my PayPal account the other day, so I reluctantly phoned them to try and get it sorted.

Before I could speak to an actual human being I had to get through the dreaded talking menus (“Do you need to speak to an operator?” “yes!” “Did you say… No?” “No, I said y…e…s.” “I heard… No. Is that correct?” “No!” “Did you say… No?”), I usually stay quiet not only out of principle but inability to get the damn thing to understand me. I got through the first few levels of menu with no problem; it then said “Please state your issue”. I was so thrown by having to describe my problem in a sentence that an inanimate object would understand that I got quite muddled up “I can’t log into Facebook… no eBay… no I mean PAYPAL, for Christ sake you’re not going to understand that are you?” I then had an agonising 10 seconds of Flight of the Bumblebee (seriously, could they have chosen a more infuriating piece of music?) before I was transferred to a lovely American man who said “The computer says you can’t log into your PayPal account, is that correct Ma’am?” So the computer understood me after all, that’s pretty impressive.

Thumbs up to PayPal because not only was my problem dealt with swiftly but I found the repeated use of the word “Ma’am” quite refreshing. Too many companies these days insist on first name basis, which I utterly despise. If you don’t know me, and are taking my money, please find the most respectful way of addressing me, at least by second name. “Ma’am” is a nice way to avoid wading through the Mrs, Ms., Miss minefield.

A couple of years ago the European Parliament caused outrage when it requested all staff to use Ms. in place of Miss and Mrs. People were highly offended by being forced to use Ms., I don’t blame them, being forced to precede your name with such a horrid sounding syllable would piss me off too.

When we bought our apartment in Ibiza, the deeds referred to the man as ‘Don’ and me as ‘Doña’. It is a basic polite form. The man took great pleasure in the fact that he was ‘The Don’. I just liked that I didn’t have to address whether I was married, unmarried, divorced or whatever anytime I filled out a form.

It’s alright for men. They have it easy. They start off as Master, then at age 16 (or sometimes 18) it’s automatically Mr. Their marital status doesn’t even come into it, it’s a far more dignified process.

I don’t understand why it is different for women. Years ago, Mrs and Miss worked in the same way as Mr and Master. It was an age thing. Derived from the term Mistress, (nothing to do with the current more provocative meaning) Mrs denoted the woman of the household, Miss was the daughter.

I have stubbornly hung onto the title “Miss” for my entire adult life. I’m not married, I don’t plan to be, so why change it? But now I am well into my thirties I would like a more distinguished title, one that doesn’t make me sound like a wrinkly old spinster from a Charlotte Bronte novel.

I hate the word Ms with a passion. Not only does it sound horrid (Mzzzzzz) but it has weird connotations. They may as well put the dot in the middle and replace it with a question mark because Ms automatically makes people suspicious, is she a Mrs or a Miss? Why is she using Ms.?

If I could call myself Mrs I could also call the man “my husband” and be done with it. Without having to choose between “my boyfriend” (sounds like we’ve been together 2 weeks) or “my partner” (is her partner male or female?).

Anyway. I’m not planning on getting married any time soon, although I am the ‘mistress’ of the house. It’s all so flipping complicated. So I kind of get where they were going when then brought out this Ms thing. I just wish they had come up with a word that didn’t make me sound like a defective bumblebee.

Of course, someone (take note the man) could always buy me a nice title like “Lady” for Christmas. That would be far more befitting of my stature.


  1. I, like you, am in my (very late) thirties, and also unmarried through choice with kids. My "mother-in-law" (although she isn't really, of course) insists on referring to me as her "son's partner" which makes us sound like a gay couple! Nice! But you're right; "Miss" is too young, I thought "Ms" was for divorcees(?) - I quite like "Mistress" although that, of course, has a different meaning now, and I'm definitely not one of those! It's the same with forms asking for your occupation - do I put "Stay-at-Home Mum" which sort of implies "watches Jeremy Kyle all day whilst eating biscuits" - at least that's what some of my associates seem to think! "Housewife"? Well, I'm not a wife, so that's out of the window too. Nigella coined "Domestic Goddess", but I have to admit most days I feel more like a frumpy drudge than a Goddess!! Perhaps we should invent new titles for this predicament! Any suggestions?

  2. I hate being called "madam" - it usually happens when I'm complaining about something, and (on purpose I think)adds insult to injury!

    I agree "Ma'am" is nice. It sounds friendly yet respectful - after all, the Queen insists on it.

  3. Anon - I agree, with your comment about what to call our positions, stay at home mums do a lot more than just "mummying" (and I never watch Jeremy Kyle and like you I feel like that is what people think!). I quite like idea of just having M. as a title, it fits all of the Mrs, Ms. Miss and sounds quite cool.

    Nana, I quite like Madam but I agree it sounds a bit overly formal. Ma'am is definitely the way forward!