Down with the amenity

Rod Dreher laments the decline in Southern courtesy:

Use of “sir” and “ma’am” is dying out among the young, even here in Texas. Man, I hate to see this. We try so hard to teach our kids to use these forms, but it seems like few if any of their friends do, or anybody else in this culture. I cringe when I hear our five year old boy on the phone with my folks down in small-town Louisiana, answering their questions with a mere “yes.” Down there, “yes ma’am” and “yes sir” is still relatively commonplace, and they surely think we’re falling down on the job by failing to instill the same in our kids. It’s very hard, though, to make this work when the surrounding culture doesn’t support you.

Another pet peeve of mine: grown-ups who expect your kids to call them by their first names. I hate that overfamiliarity between the generations. An interesting difference between what I see in Dallas and what I grew up with in south Louisiana. In Dallas, kids of my wife’s generation grew up calling their elders by their last names, e.g., “Mrs. Miller.” Where I’m from, the polite thing to do was to put “Miss” (even for a married woman) or “Mr.” in front of the other person’s first name, e.g. “Miss Mamie,” “Mr. Charlie.” It still preserved a certain formality, but was also warmly familiar. Which is lovely, I think.

When I was 8, they began building a nuclear power plant in my hometown, and a bunch of working-class folks from the North moved to town to help build it. The schools were flooded with Yankee chirren who called grown-ups by their first names! No kidding, we Southern kids thought this was unspeakably barbaric. It was as if they’d waltzed into town with a bone through their noses. And now the whole dadgum country is being Yankeefied. I know this will sound too, too precious to you non-Southerners, but I’m betting that Southern readers know exactly what I’m talking about.

I’m not a Southerner, although I’ve been a carpetbagger in the past, but I’m fairly hard-core about this one. There is no reason to accept a “yes”, much less a “yeah” or a grunt from a child. Instilling such usage isn’t difficult, it merely requires repeating the question until an acceptable response is received. “Yes, sir” or “yes, please”, “no, sir” or “no, thank you” are all fine.

Dreher has a point, though, as all too often one feels a bit of a Don Quixote. Women, in particular, can be exasperating, as they will frequently interrupt and attempt to inform you that it’s not necessary for their child to use honorifics with adults. And it’s true, they don’t, on the other hand, I don’t have to listen to them either.

If you want your children to be polite, then don’t accept a dearth of manners from them. Ever. It’s that simple.