The other evening, without thinking and in passing, I addressed a colleague who I’m guessing is a few years my senior with a “Miss” and her last name — let’s call her Jane Doe. We ran into each other on Magazine Street, and I was trying to keep track of my 4 girls when she walked by. Frankly I didn’t think she had recognized me as, much to my wife’s dislike, I’d recently trimmed my beard down to a fu manchu, and let’s be honest, a fu manchu makes a face present differently (and debatably embraced). So here I was keeping count of my brood when after she passed she turns and says with a smile “Oh, hello!” To which I, admittedly somewhat distracted while actively parenting, utter an “Oh, hello Miss Doe – - -”
She stopped, and her jaw dropped.
Then she said, a “Now, come on – - – “ or an “Excuse me” or maybe a “You’re gonna have to live that one down” or something to this effect while I quickly edited myself and added somewhat questioningly “Miss Jane???” Only this was also met with more jaw dropping, pause and protest, to which I lazily tossed my hands in the air in a fit of trying to keep from getting my kids run over on Magazine but also not to offend my peer and with a final and maybe a little over the top “It’s nice to see you, Jane!” No children escaped or were run over by oncoming traffic during this exchange. We promptly sat down to dinner, and Jane carried on, but I became mired in the experience; had I really offended her?
Today is my birthday. I turn 38. I share this day with other greats of our time including Chuck D, Coolio, and Tempestt Bledsoe. But also the late Jerry Garcia too; one out of four isn’t that bad, is it? As I age I remain curious when and under what circumstances I get carded (happened last week with my two oldest kids standing right next to me) as well as when I might be addressed as “sir.” My kids affirming or negating in my direction with a “Yes, sir” or “No, sir” I am OK with, and actually I insist on. We are after all raising four Southern girls; there are expectations. But if the grocery store clerk or whomever throws a “sir” around my eyebrow raises, I accept it and move on. No huff, no question. I am aging. Could be worse, right?
But then Jane Doe comes along and pseudo makes an example out of me in front of my wife and children no less, and I have to question myself; was I wrong? First, I asked my wife. Her solitary thought was “Let it go.” We’ve been married long enough she knows that won’t happen, and hey, here comes another column! I could have tried to discuss it with her further, but I like harmony more than discord so I took it to the ‘net, Googling ‘southern manners’ and so forth. After firing off a couple of emails to some ladies steeped in the subject regarding the exchange, I received these responses.
First Miss Janice of www.missjanice.com replied:
“You behaved as any Southern gentlemen should by addressing the lady as ‘Ms. Doe.’ She is older than you, and it should have been taken by her as a sign of respect. I would have been pleased to accept that greeting, and I am the same age as your female peer! Continue practicing good manners and you will definitely be a good influence on your daughters.”
Ok then. Next and lastly Sharman Ramsey of www.southern-style.com offered:
“She was not right to be offended. Your address to her was your example to your daughters as to how they should address her. Making you feel uncomfortable in an innocent exchange in front of your daughters was improper on her part. It is credited to Jonathan Swift to have said, “Good manners is the art of making those people easy with whom we converse. Whoever makes the fewest people uneasy is the best bred in the room.” She could have smiled and said, “Call me Jane, dear.” Still, your daughters, being well-bred Southern girls would know to call her Mrs. Doe unless there is a close relationship there and they have been given permission by their parents to address her as ‘Ms. Jane.’ Simply being a professional peer would not warrant that address.”
A-ha! So, I’m not crazy after all. Southern ladies of the New Orleans metro area be warned; you will be addressed appropriately. Learn to like it!
Lastly, happy birthday to me.
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and the Du Mois gallery on Freret Street and father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also writes an occasional real-estate blog at villererealty.com and shares his family’s adventures via pedicab on Facebook and Twitter.