Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Yes, Ma'am

"Sweetie, would you please throw that wrapping paper in the trash." says me.
"Yes, ma'am." responds my daughter.
This may seem like a typical exchange between mother on daughter Christmas morning. For me, not so much. Having been born to two bleeding heart liberals and having grown up in arguably the most progressive city in the States ( you guessed it, Berkeley, CA) makes the fact that my daughter now says "Yes, ma'am." an issue. Not necessarily a bad issue, but an issue for discussion non-the-less.

When we moved our family from Santa Cruz, CA to Savannah, GA 19 months ago, I knew that I was going to have to come to terms with my daughter acquiring a "Georgia peach" accent, but I did not realize, how much the social norms would be so utterly different for her, than they were for me. She is also learning to address adults as "Miss and Mister". In the South, apparently, teachers, neighbors, and friends of your parents are addressed as "Miss DeeDee and Mr. Peter". It doesn't matter if the women are married or not, they are called Miss, not Mrs.

My husband says, "There are worse things." Yes, this is true, but it got me thinking about why it was that I was raised not to use these polite expressions. It wasn't that my parents are impolite, but it had to do with a rebellion against formality and conformity. It was a way to express equity amongst the masses and classes. Ultimately, I think it was a political statement that stemmed from the need to rewrite the power structure that was historically in place between "slaves and masters".

Now, don't get me wrong. I hold good manners in the highest of esteem. Life will always be easier for the well mannered; Eddie Haskells rule middle management. I do want my daughter to be highly skilled in the politics of politeness, but, I also want her to understand historical political contexts. Respect should be earned and should not be given because of a classist power structure. That being said, I think that my daughter will grow up in the South forever straddling the tight rope between the social norms of the South and her parents' value system. Hopefully, the two can co-exist peacefully and politely.


Anonymous said...

For me, the one thing that stood out in this portion of the blog wasn't anything to do with polite titles but that you are telling your child to put wrapping paper in the 'trash' instead of the recycling bin! Do they not have recycling in Georgia? If not, it is time to start. Teaching all children and ourselves this most important notion of taking care of our earth is crucial now else they won't have a place to be...I am surprised that even in our everyday diction we are still "throwing things 'away' "...thank you for listening...I quite enjoy your writings anyway!

Ace said...

Unfortunately, recycling has not become institutionalized yet in Savannah. I do pay a private service to take my recycling to a center, but they do not recycle many of the things I was able to recycle in CA. I am proud to say that my family does recycle about three times what we throw away. On a positive note Savannah is slated to have curbside recycling begin in 09'. You are absolutely right about the over use of the expression "to throw things away" and I was conscious of it when I wrote it. I should have said, "Honey, please put this wrapping paper in the recycling bin." Thank you for your feedback and care for our Earth!