Just trying to be nice

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We are in an age where people love to be offended, even when they have no right to be, and it manifests itself in all sorts of strange ways.

Saying “Happy Holidays, ma’am” to this woman could very easily get you stabbed in 2013.
Saying “Happy Holidays, ma’am” to this woman could very easily get you stabbed in 2013.

Certain words and phrases, meant to share warm tidings and respect, are quickly becoming (if they aren’t already) taboo, and it makes my brain want to explode like oatmeal left in the microwave too long.

Specifically two phrases, always offered to convey gladness of heart and civility, seem now to inspire my fists to leap forth in rage against people who would rather take offense than appreciate what is being shared in a simple word or two.

Today, I’m thinking about “Happy Holidays” and “ma’am.”

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

I am a church-going Christian. When I wish you “Happy Holidays,” I have three goals in mind:

1.) I am wishing (praying, actually) that you and your family are touched by the beauty of this season.

2.) Brevity. Depending on the timing, I don’t want to say, “Hey! I hope you and your family have a great Thanksgiving, a merry Christmas, and a happy new year, and possibly nice Hanukkah, too.” That’s a lot of words. I say “Happy holidays” (even in CHURCH, when I’m wearing MINISTERIAL GARMENTS and stuff) to convey all the goodness of all those things.

3.) Inclusion. On Christmas eve, I’ll wish everyone and anyone a Merry Christmas. I would hope that even people who don’t celebrate Christmas can feel and appreciate the overwhelming beauty in people during holiday, even if that means sitting home and quietly reading or going out for Chinese food because there is nothing else to do.

It’s not a war on Christmas when I wish someone Happy Holidays. “Happy Holidays” is what’s in my heart, and I’m sharing it with you. If someone else wants to start listening to Christmas music on Columbus Day and wishing people a Merry Christmas while they are still raking leaves, they should be allowed to do so. But it’s not for me.

Personally, I think wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” while you still have Thanksgiving leftovers in your fridge is a bit much, especially when you don’t mean it. Worrying about whether a miserable cashier mindlessly grumbles Thank you for shopping at Walmart and doesn’t mean it, or if they grumble happy holidays or Merry Christmas– it doesn’t much matter to me.

Unfortunately, the feeling is usually more “f-you” than whatever the words are meant to convey anyway. Either way, I usually try to smile, and offer some cheer in their day, and say warm words which I truly mean one way or another.

If someone warmly looks me in the eye, and tells me to have a great holiday, I get it, and give it back. Bask in it and share it. Preach the gospel, use words when necessary.

I don’t like that teachers and store clerks and other people aren’t allowed to say Merry Christmas, but I also think living it is more important. And living it involves looking into people’s hearts and leaving some love — not indignation– behind.

Or, if you want to treat people’s however-thinly-inspired attempts at warm tidings disrespectfully, maybe you should go for the throat and just drop an f-bomb on them.

MA’AM

Ma’am is the one that really kills me. I strive to treat everyone with courtesy and respect. Whether you are a 7 year-old female, or a 79 year-old female; whether you are serving me or being served by me, I will address you as “ma’am,” and humbly treat you with the dignity and respect afforded to someone worthy of the title “ma’am.” Too often the response is not respectful in turn.

“Do I look that old?”

“My mother is a ma’am!”

Get over yourself. Like I said, I make no judgement calls. No matter your age, no matter your station in life, you deserve my respect and I pay it to you with a respectful title. I respectfully request that you not scoff in my face when I offer you the respect you deserve, whether you realize it or not.

If you ask me, “Do I look that old,” the answer is probably yes. Some people, myself among them, don’t take compliments well, and I understand that this might somehow be related to that. However, I can’t control that you are no longer 19 and a size whatever, and calling you ma’am seems to underline that in your head.

The truth is, I’d call a 19 year-old in size-whatever ma’am as well. And I (or someone like me) did call you ma’am, you just didn’t hear it because you didn’t care back then what a screwball in a bow tie called you. Now you feel old and you take it out on me. Get over yourself. Learn to appreciate people respecting you for being a human being and a woman. Please. I’d hate to have to turn to the only other generic greeting I have for females, and I fear it would cause much more consternation.

So I guess it’s your choice, ladies. Would you like thank you, ma’am, or ‘s’up, slut? If you’d be offended by “slut,” you should likely be appreciative the opposite, “ma’am.”

Yes, I am pontificating. Yes, I suppose I’m being judgmental and a tad hypocritical, too. But people’s reaction to my intentions really doesn’t change the intention in my heart.

So, I say to everyone reading this, with a warm smile, “Happy Holidays, ma’am,” even if you’re dropping an “f-you, slut” on me.

This page originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. The operator of Buffalo Stories Tours writes about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo special at blog.buffalostories.com and daily at buffalonews.com/history. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and spent 20 years working in Buffalo radio and TV, climbing his way to news director at WBEN Radio. Since then, he's been an adjunct professor and produced PBS documentaries. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.