From Ma’am to Mrs.

It only gets worse. First I found out that somehow overnight I had involuntarily and apparently become a Ma’am–at least in some people’s eyes–although certainly not mine, of course. Lately I’ve found out that somehow I have also become–at least in some people’s minds–a Mrs. This added transformation is as equally unbidden as that to Ma’am and I am stupefied as to how it has happened.

My move to ‘Mrs.’ has occurred mostly over the phone, although occasionally also in written form. That’s right, no sightings to prompt the metamorphosis and what’s more, it was accomplished without the hassle, expense, and overall angst of a wedding–I guess that’s the good part, but I am still mystified as to how I got this way.

Didn’t Gloria Steinem straighten out the Miss/Mrs. conundrum over two–or was it three–decades ago, probably before the now 20-30 somethings were even born? Wasn’t ‘Ms.’ the solution women had been waiting for since the suffragettes? Didn’t we all agree that ‘Ms.’ was–and still is–the politically correct form of address for women everywhere, but especially in the business world? Who forgot to tell the kids?

By ‘kids’ I mean everyone under the age of 35, which is the age I estimate most customer service reps that I talk to, to be. In their eyes I am apparently my mother–Mrs. Babcock.

I’ve started asking them what exactly has prompted them to make the mental leap that I, someone they’ve never met and about whom they know nothing except for my first and last names, am a married woman. Usually they don’t have an answer, but stumble and stammer and sometimes then apologize for the (sad) possibility that I may not be married. That, I tell them, is not the point. I am not at all sad nor the least bit regretful not to be married. What I am sad and quite regretful about is their general lack of awareness of common business etiquette. Once I asked a male customer service rep if he knew who Gloria Steinem was–he didn’t. (I enlightened him, with humor, for which he thanked me.) That explained a lot.

It occurs to me that the fault lies not so much with these clueless members of the freshman career class, but with their parents and teachers–my contemporaries. How did we manage to make such a huge omission in their educations? I wish I had known when it was happening.

What else didn’t we tell them? I think I have some ideas. A friend of mine, now living in France for over ten years and only in her early thirties herself, said she was appalled on a recent visit to her parents in Maryland. She and her five-year-old son went to a restaurant she had known as a child. She and her son being the only customers under 65, she was shocked to hear the 20-something waitstaff addressing everyone as “you guys.” A somewhat different problem from mine, but certainly in the same category.

And I know we didn’t teach them correct basic English grammar; most of us aren’t using that anyway, so how could we have taught the kids correctly?

I was in a grocery store last week where the 40-something cashier was going on about some new, presumably just-out-of-some-school, colleague who had professed to never having heard of Pearl Harbor. This problem could be worse in terms of its breadth than I thought.

Is it too late to go back and catch this age group up on all of what we should have told them twenty years ago? Would they even believe us now? I think we have lost our chance at credibility with them. My fear is that we are going to have to live for the rest of our lives with the consequences of our neglect–and that I will forever be known to them as my mother.

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