“She ma’amed me!”

My friend’s voice rang out with a mix of amazement and indignity.

Yes, after purchasing a post-Pilates class double-protein green tea smoothie, the counter clerk closed the transaction with my friend Clarice by adding a perfunctory “Thank you, Ma’am.”

“I mean, really, “ Clarice continued, adjusting her lime green halter and hiking up her yoga pants. “Do I look like a ma’am to you?”

I stared at her quizzically, like a mynah bird that is contemplating a shiny object. And I was uncharacteristically silent. Indeed, being called “ma’am” for the first time seems to be a shocking event for many women, most of whom associate this rather harmless comment as an unwelcome reminder that they have reached a certain age. “I got ma’amed today” is for many women a lament that is tantamount to finding that first gray hair.

For me, it was no big deal. But I totally remember it. I was picking up my eagerly anticipated lunch order at the old Stanford Barn (a Palo Alto favorite, now long gone) and the counter clerk asked, “What else can I get for you, ma’am?” Ma’am? Wow, I thought. Was I surprised? Yes. Dismayed? No. You see, I was just 17 years old at the time. It sounded oddly mature, but for me it certainly wasn’t the semi-tragic watershed that many women consider it to be.

Many “ma’ams” followed. I was 18, 19, and I’m getting “ma’amed” right on through to this day. I kind of like it – it certainly beats what you hear on reality television. I guess getting it out there early makes a difference.

Hawaii has its own “I got ma’amed” equivalent.

I was chatting with my friend Tammy, when she shared the astounding news.

“Someone called me Auntie,” she lamented. “You know, I’m in shape, I look pretty good. And then this guy says to me, ‘Thanks, Auntie’. Unreal, right? Do I look like an Auntie?”

Yes, Tammy and I remember when they used to call us “Sister” or “Tita,” or even “Babe.” Has it come to this? Are we “Aunties?” We don’t feel like “Aunties.” We’re not wearing muumuus, or Dockers for gals, or comfort-fit slacks. We haven’t traded our stilettos for Easy Spirits.

But I guess to the 20 year olds, we are now “Auntie.”

“Relax, Tammy,” I said. “You look great! You’re absolutely beautiful inside and out, no matter what your age.”   She didn’t seem soothed, so I tried one more. A psychological Hail Mary. And it worked.

“At least they didn’t say ‘Thank you, Tutu’.”

Jean Dickinson is a vice president at Communications Pacific, where she specializes in consumer marketing and corporate communications. You can follow her on Twitter @JD_HNL

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