Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Stop calling me "Madam," I'm not running a Texas whorehouse!

The offices of Sand Land are hierarchical places. But it's a very different type of hierarchy than I've encountered elsewhere. Sand Landian hierarchy isn't heavy on organization charts, clearly defined responsibilities or well-delineated chains of command. But what it lacks in organization, it makes up for in subservient groveling and courtly posturing.

I’m accustomed to a work environment where you address your superiors by their first name rather than calling them “sir” or “madam”, you don’t jump to your feet and stand at attention when your boss enters the room and you don’t fetch his/her coffee. Despite the lack of formality, it’s still understood that your boss calls the shots. When they ask you to do something, you do it to the best of your abilities, assuming their instructions aren’t illegal or completely insane.

But the Sand Landian work environment is the antithesis of what I’ve described above – at least in my company. From my first day in the office, everyone has addressed me as “Madam.” In those early days, each time someone called me this, I’d say “Please call me [my first name].” The person’s smile would instantly change to a look of horrific discomfort, as if I’d demanded that they punch me in the face as hard as they could. They’d look up at me with Bambi-eyes as they shook their head and whispered “No, Madam.”

The salutations in emails were even more bizarre. Everyone started emails by saying something like:

“Dear Respected Madam”
“Your Most Esteemed Madam”
“Most cherished Madam”
“Gracious and kind Madam” (a raise-seeker, natch)

And it didn’t stop with the salutation; the bodies of the emails were just as ridiculous:

“I most humbly request to meet with your Esteemed person”
“Your excellent self will be please to know…”

Ok, folks. Enough with the “madam” shtick. I’m not running a Texas whorehouse. The term “Madam” makes me feel skeevy and gross – like I should be smoking opium in a red velvet-upholstered boudoir and cutting deals with johns.

A typical day at the office

Weeks of telling people over and over again not to call me madam got me nowhere. So I sent around an email saying something to the effect of “we’re all co-workers and I’d really appreciate if you’d address me by my first name. There’s no need for formalities. I'll be really, really, really happy if you call me [my first name].”

Ten minutes after I sent the email, my phone rang. I answered and the caller said “Hello, Madam. You ask me to call you?”

“Uh, no. I don’t remember doing that,” I replied.

“Oh, Madam, I just got an email from you saying you’d be really happy if I called you.”

I hung up the phone and banged my head against the desk. Mission "A Madam No More" Not Accomplished.

After a few months of continuously telling people how much I hate the term “Madam” only two people in the whole office are addressing me by my first name. A few of the others have started calling me “Ma’am” - which makes me feel 87,000 years old. I’m no spring chicken, but I like to flatter myself by thinking I'm too young to be a “ma’am.”

The vast majority of my co-workers are still calling me “madam” and groveling about me like I’m the Golden Calf.  It makes me wonder what their former supervisors have done to them. A couple of the people in the office are so nervous and fidgety whenever I speak with them that I’m always scared they’re going to pee in their pants, even though I’ve never said an unkind word to them.

But the groveling shouldn’t be taken as a sign of sincere devotion to oneself or the company. From my experience, you could regress a variable entitled “Likelihood to steal petty cash/Propensity to download MP3’s all day/Inclination to misappropriate office supplies” against another variable entitled “Prolific usage of Madam and superfluous supporting adjectives” and you’d come up with a statistically significant relationship.


  1. Ha ha this is classic!!! I hate being called Madam too, as much as I hate it when people say "kindly do the needful" or "Dear teacher Delirious in the Desert". Seriously?

    Funnily enough, the couches or 'thrones' in your picture don't look too far from some of the ones I have seen around Sand Land!!!

  2. Hahaha..but then misadventure most of your coworkers are from Asian countries and it has been ingrained into their minds that they need to address their superiors in office as sir or madam. Those few who have had an opportunity to have worked in a multinational company prior to joining your organization would have surely called you by your first name.!!!

  3. that is piss-funny stuff!
    just found this site....gonna read more

  4. They call you Madam so that they don't have to remember your name! I finally worked that out about three years after living in the Muddle East.

    Even better is when you've entered an establishment with your spouse and they sing "Good evening MaamSirrrrr" and croon "Thankyou MaamSirrr" when you leave.

  5. Too funny (but I am biased as I'm still laughing about the office party cum riot story)!

    BTW, at least you're a "Madam". For reasons unknown people tend to think that my name is best suited to a middle-aged Indian doctor (and not to a female Italian...) and this causes all sorts of hilarious misunderstandings. Perhaps I should grow a mustache!

    I vote for MisadventuresinHR as best new blog 2010!

  6. AZ, it's funny that you mention begin confused for a man. I have the same thing happen to me in emails and other written correspondence. Everyone always addresses me as "sir," despite having a very common, very feminine sounding name.

  7. The word Madam is old fashioned and condescending,
    I feel like im on the set of an old Agetha Christie film when people say it to me.I wonder if thy would like it if i called them Boy or Girl!Please loose the term Madam its way past its sell by date now.