No Sir, No Madam?

“we should rid ourselves of our colonial mentality of obeisance or servitude, or words to that effect, and address one another as Mr or Mrs. No more Sirs and Ma’ams. We are a nation of equals. No more kowtowing to the white men. They are not superior to us in any way. And so we strove to become equals in the world of unequal.”
— Lee Kuan Yew, First Prime Minister of Singapore.

When we read these words by Lee Kuan Yew (one of the best orators in Asian history) quoted soon after Singapore became an independent nation, many of us ( Indians ) will wonder why didn’t we ( India ) overthrow the sir/ma’am culture of Britishers !?

But see, we had our own honorifics in traditional Indian languages that we were using before Britishers entered the India. { example: Ji in Hindi, Rao in Marathi, babu in Bengali, guru in Telugu and also the words like Sahab etc. }

So, we can say that addressing boss/superior/elders as sir/ma’am shows the Indian culture of respecting elders and superiors. It also signifies the humbleness of the Indian people.

But, in the era of rapid globalization, the work cultures of most countries have undergone a paradigm shift. Now, workplaces worldwide are evolving and thriving as team environments, especially the workplace culture in western countries where subordinates often address their bosses with names. Whereas in the Indian workplace, calling sir is a norm.

Picture Credit: No Sir No Madam

Everyone will agree that the colleagues at the workplace are no different from our family members. And the relationships in a professional space play a significant role in the development of the company.

Addressing people by their names { No matter what is the age of the person or the designation } makes the work culture in the USA more “friendly”. I’m not sure whether this is a good trend or wrong, but it is happening.

No, I’m not stereotyping, but in contemporary India. However, more workplaces are modernized, there is a lack of liberty in the boss-subordinate relationship, which affects the free-flow of communication in the organization { except few IT firms }, because our way of addressing creates a mentality of someone being superior, the other being inferior, and that’s why subordinate cannot openly disagree with the boss.

But even after knowing all these things, I’d like to confess that I’ll be very uncomfortable in calling elders/bosses by their names because of the culture that we were born and brought up in. This sounds logical to show some respect/humbleness to elders/superiors, even in general conversations.

Picture borrowed from the internet

Schools and colleges in India also encourage using ‘SIR’ instead of names. So we are accustomed to this way of addressing. If we try to find a middle path, instead of sir/ma’am, we can use Mr/Ms/Mrs with their names. Underline ‘with their names’ because many people ( mainly we, Indians ) find it as a disrespectful term.

But again, I don’t think I’ll be comfortable calling teachers like Ms Jagtap/ Mr Suryawanshi etc.; also, I’m pretty sure that they won’t like it at all if I do so.

The mantra for the industry is to keep the employees happy so that they, in turn, produce better results and keep customers happy. But is it really important to eradicate Sir/Ma’am culture? Because, unlike Americans who get offended by titles like sir/ma’am ( because it makes them feel old ), We Indians appreciate and expect being addressed by such titles.

I don’t know how but such unwritten rules are ingrained deep in our society.

{ there are always some exceptions }

You must have understood that I’m baffled about this new trend.

So, I’m going to end this article with some questions rather than writing a conclusion.
Honorifics badges are the products of our colonial past? Or a unique part of our culture?

What do you think about this new trend in which we do not address each other as ‘Sir’ or ‘Mam’? No matter the age of the person or the designation, should we call them by their names?

Copyrighted © 2017

Mahesh Mali |Awesomengers

Published by Mahesh Mali

Author of 'Reflections of My Youth' | Student @ SPPU | Former Fellow @BeingVolunteer | Freelancer @PlayoApp | Tennis Player

47 thoughts on “No Sir, No Madam?

  1. I think it’s in a part of our culture .. The sir/ ma’am thing . and in other foreign countries have thier own different environment accordingly.. Can’t really compare because our roots and upbringing styles are totally different

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah .. It can be the case.. But it’s not a stereotype or a thing that could hurt anyone.. Just one-two extra salutations is not bad and if they feel old 😂..then they’ll get used it. Moreover, with modernising, we should stick to our culture in a balanced way…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. In IT industry, it is not visible ……no sir/ma’am is allowed.
    But due to our culture sometime it is very awkward to call someone very senior person (in age perspective) by his/her name..
    By the way very well written

    Liked by 2 people

  3. As a young woman in the US, I am often called cutesy names like “sweetie” or “honey.” I would actually prefer ma’am over these (although I’ll admit ma’am feels weird too, especially by weight staff or others in service). I wish there was a way that we could all treat one another with respectful terms, rather than having them be based on age, degree, or occupation.


  4. This is such a nice, unique post, Mr Positive. I think it would be a little awkward if we stop addressing people as Sir/Ma’am. It’s correct that there should be equality here, but since childhood, we are taught to give respect to elders and superiors. So, in this sense, I wouldn’t be very comfortable in addressing each and everyone by their names. I think Sir and Ma’am should be used as a sign of respect. Great article. 😇

    Liked by 1 person

      1. But what if the Boss is a 25 year old guy and the employee is 50 year old man. 🤔 Then it would be very uncomfortable to address someone as ‘Sir’ who is his son’s age maybe. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Mahesh.
    Well,this post of yours reminded me of my schooldays.
    I shifted to a new school in grade five and my Principal there introduced herself during the assembly.I’m Ratnalekha Shetty,she announced and you all are requested to address me by my name.
    We were all puzzled,how could we call her by her name? She ought to be addressed as ‘madam’.But ever since,the rules of the school changed and we started calling her Mrs.Shetty and other teachers as Mr.Sharma,Mrs.Verma etc.
    This was a new concept for me but it had become a norm now.
    I agree with the fact that terms like sir/mam create a feeling of superiority and inferiority at workplace but that’s how it should be.No two people are ever equal in the society and nor at workplace.The boss is superior in every sense,he earns more and has a better position in the company,so it is fine i guess to address him as ‘sir’.I believe,hierarchy is intrinsic to all institutions in the society and help in maintaining the orderly arrangement of the institution,it brings a sense of discipline.
    So in a hierarchical setup,if ive to address my senior(elder,boss) as sir/mam,i wont hesitate.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey Pratishtha,
      Well, If elders/teachers have no problem with addressing them with their name… that’s great !

      In an American workplace the management approach followed in both top-down and bottom-up managerial hierarchies, does not actually result in much of a hierarchical system there. But on the other hand in India, hierarchy is mostly experience-based and hence mostly our seniors are elder to us and in most of cases this seniors will remain seniors in rest of our career, so we have respect them and like you, I won’t also hesitate to call them with such honorifics.

      Thank you for stopping by 😇

      Liked by 1 person

    1. We say “I shall give respect to my parents, teachers and elders and treat everyone with courtesy” in OUR national PLEDGE … so I guess gratitude is a part of our GREAT INDIAN culture and we should preserve it 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Lucky me, never had the scenario in either school or college! And now at a workplace where it is not encouraged either. However, I believe it differs from field to field. And also comfort. The point you are right about is it should not be conditioning but a choice between the two people involved!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Mahesh, thank you for liking one of my posts, lead me straight to your blog☺️☺️and I’m glad to be here. In context with Sir /Ma’am culture.. I have worked in Investment Banking field for five years now, I had to deal with professionals from public as well as private sector banks… Now, I vividly remember that people in SBI etc were too particular about getting addressed as Sirji!! If missed they used to make a ego issue out of it while the company I worked for had open culture and we’d call even the senior of lot by Names☺️☺️👍👍 and I really liked that. It enhances communication and trust withing the organization. Cheers, Charu

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First of all you don’t need to thank me for liking your post/s… your blog’s content is worth liking ! Thank you for sharing your views and experience on this topic, it’s always a pleasure to get comments from professionals like you, it helps to broaden my perspective… As I have said in this post, this unwritten rules are ingrained deep in our society and maybe that’s what you experienced in SBI. Thank you once again for stopping by to share your thoughts 😇

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Calling sir/madam is personal choice, it is showing way of respect to our seniors, experienced person. This has been tought this since our childhood.   So difficult to change it. But yes,  this feelings should come from heart not forcefully,  calling directly by name  depends upon perspective of both person also.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. ‘ Honorifics ” is a big deal in Philippine culture. Even here in the US, I call my older sister ” Ate” and older brother ” Kuya” . In the Philippines , it’s unthinkable to call older siblings by their names. I remember I posted the same topic ( honorifics ) on my blogsite a few years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you Mahesh Taking on #nosirnomadam to you blog. Yes, together we can make the difference. Please feel free to use other available resources at #nosirnomadam website, social media to have grassroot reach.

    Again, thank you.
    The Team No Sir No Madam


  11. I work at an MNC in Bangalore, ours is a corporate company with corporate rules being followed throughout the organization. We don’t address anyone, be it the CEO, MD or a person with 20+ or 0 years experience as sir/mam. There are mainly two reasons for this:
    1) What is meant as a form of respect in India, is meant differently in other cultures/countries, one cannot address a man, as ‘sir’ in England, unless he is knighted by the queen of England. Madam in United States simply translates for, a person owning a brothel or a member of it. Since most of our clients are from US/UK, we avoid this practice of addressing people as sir/mam. In case it slips out of our mouth during a client call, we’re losing business for our company, and I am talking millions here.
    2) To promote oneness, unity and harmony, what is seen as a form of respect, is actually never ending years of slavery, brought to our country by Britishers. Unfortunately we have been preaching this for so long, that we’re now divided by statuses, sirs, mams and others. To avoid this, we address everyone by their first name, people don’t have any problem whatsoever happens outside the company gate, once we’re in, there’s no sir, mam, bhaiya, chacha, mama, mausa etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here in my little corner of the world I like to show respect to elders by addressing them as sir and ma’am. I also like to address most of the people who serve me in one way or another during the day with the same respect. Bank tellers, car washers, waiters, customer service on the phone from another country, it doesn’t matter, I answer their with questions with sir or ma’am. Although, sometimes I’m not sure which one to use… that’s another issue. So that’s just how I like to walk through the world, assuming that everyone deserves my respect until they prove otherwise. Wishing you Peace and Poetry….

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This is an excellent post. It should go on engendering constructive conversation. I must admit, occasionally I use “sir” or “ma’am” and attribute that to being from and having family in the American south. I also have to say, frankly less favorably, that the bosses I have worked with have acted as if they like the interpersonal distance maintained (by them) between themselves and the rest of the staff. The distance implies power and a lack of interest in the happiness of other workers. Sigh.


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