That’s Ms. Professor Doctor Ma’am To You

By Niki Fritz

There is a little notice in the liquor section of the CVS on College that states if you appear to be under 25 you need to provide two forms of ID in order to purchase your natty ice…. or Barefoot Cab in my case. I chuckled a little when I saw this warning, remembering fondly my days of undergrad at UW-Madison when 25 seemed like the mythical age of “grown-ups,” and I could never imagine not getting carded, not to mention ever being called ma’am.

And yet here I stand, two feet back in college, solidly planted in “adulthood,” well past 25 and yes, now routinely getting called ma’am by everyone from bag boys to waitresses to my overly polite students. I’ve got to admit, it kind of bugs me.

It is not that I mind being a grown up. I actually quite enjoy my decreased car insurance rates and the fact that I will never ever drink Fleichman’s ever again. I just can’t get used to the quasi-southern use of ma’am to refer to any woman over the age of 25 in Indiana. Maybe because I can’t quite wrap my mind around what ma’am means. Is it a respect thing? Or is it an automatic response thing? Or is there this mythical line in the sand in Indiana, where a girl suddenly becomes a ma’am? Is this thing quantifiable? I know I shouldn’t take offense to it but, because I don’t understand what it means, and because ma’am is definitely not something we routinely use in Wisconsin, I just can’t help but feel a twinge of old every time a checkout boy asks me “Do you have your Kroger card ma’am?”

Not even that ma’am is the oddest thing I’ve had to get used to being called since moving to Bloomington. I’m only 2 semesters in to my master’s and I already get the awkwardly titled “Dear Dr. Fritz” emails. Occasionally these emails give me a twinge of excitement for a day when that may be a proper email greeting. But usually it just reminds me how not much I’m not Dr. Fritz.

Of course in addition to Dr. Fritz, I’ve quickly gotten used to my students in T101 calling me professor, even though it is a heavy and inaccurate title that makes me feel like I’m somehow tricking my students every time they make this guffaw. I often get emails from my students directed to Professor Fritz; although my favorite emails are the ones addressed to Professor Niki, like my students can’t decide to be casual or formal, whether they are on a title or first name basis with me.

To be honest, I empathize with my students’ confusion. Grad school is a limbo of sort, a beautiful, carpel-tunnel-creating, brain-expanding, exhausting, confusing limbo. I often find myself confused about whether I should be formal or informal, Ms. Fritz or Niki, girl or ma’am, student or teacher. This confusion is also why most days you will find me wearing leggings with a blazer, caught in between undergrad and academia, not yet sure if ma’am is a compliment or not.

When I got to the register at CVS with my $5 bottle of wine, the checkout woman smiled in that cheery genuine Indiana way and said “Hello darling. Can I see two forms of ID?” Two forms of ID?! Two Forms?! “Bless her heart,” I thought, my mind turning giddy. “This woman may actually think I’m under 25!” To be fair, I had just come from the gym and she may have mistaken my sweat for a “youthful glow,” but still I was ecstatic, probably overexcited for a mere 3 year underestimate.

Still I proudly produced two forms of ID. She looked them over, smiled and said “Thank you ma’am” as she handed back my IDs. I sighed in defeat. I guess I’ll just have to get used my new titles in limbo.

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