You know how I salute people sometimes? I do it because it’s as an easy, well-understood respect gesture. It’s simple and effective. I’ve been doing it for years, ever since my ill-fated job as a door-to-door salesman in Australia. Well, Australia is different from either Bulgaria or Serbia where people are rather distrustful of the military. So when I was there this September my saluting trick didn’t work so well, but I kept doing it. Out of habit.
But I have other bad habits. One of them is putting a lot of work into an interesting creative project for a month and then forgetting about it. But that’s more of a personality flaw and not the message I’m here to get across.
Similar to my habit of saluting even when I know it’s stupid, I call people sir and ma’am. Why? Because it’s formal and therefore I can subvert it. See, cause I don’t have a real job in business or customer service, or something. So it’s ironic when I say it informally… right? Unfortunately, it’s also stupid.
Which is why when I was working the door at Bad Movie Night on Sunday and used ma’am, I was informed by an annoyed and emphatic miss that it should only be used for married women. Sorry, miss, and semantic distinction acknowledged. So with the next chance I get to fix it I did — by using “sir” instead. This also happened to be rather stupid because the next person was female, which, you know, I knew. Needless to say, this didn’t go over well either. Neither, I think, did my haphazard explanation of the problematic semantics behind “miss” and “ma’am.” Although happy to correct the error, I think next time I need to focus more on the apologizing and less on the confusing grammar. If the lady in question ever finds herself reading this, here it is more eloquently: I’m sorry to have klutzed my way into gender confusion; I can see how I might present myself like a clueless schmuck, and maybe I am, but either way I hope it won’t upset you in future. Sorry for the megillah and also for the Yiddish.
I could just change my habit to avoid gender-based titles entirely, and that’s what I’m considering. Seems perfectly sensible, all things considered. I just need something more fun than “the party of the second part.”