POWER TO THE PINOY: Goodbye, Mam-Ser.
By Lalaine Chu-Benitez
Hello, mam-ser! Thank for coming mam-ser. How are you doing mam-ser?
Is it a ma’am or is it a sir, or is it both? Foreigners are baffled. But that’s just our kababayans being respectful. The same kababayans, who, for the life of me, just can’t stop referring to me as “madame” (cringe), “ma’am” (sigh), or “miss” (hissss…).
Part of our Filipino conditioning since childhood, is to respect our elders by saying “po” and “opo”, and by referring to people as “ma’am, sir, Mr., Mrs. or sometimes, with their professional or educational titles. This is so deeply ingrained that a lot of us can’t shake it off even when it sounds awkward or is totally uncalled for. A couple of years back, I saw a Pinay member of a Pan Asian girl group being interviewed on the E! Asia channel. She was gushing about how privileged she felt to be collaborating with “Mr. Snoop Dogg.” “Mr. Snoop Dogg”? You mean the rapper former gangsta ‘stoner extraordinaire’ “Mr Snoop Dogg?” She was so respectful I felt like I had to put my hands in front as if trying to make a path to say “excuse me,” lest I offend with my objection to the reference.
Let me be “pasaway” by saying that I beg to disagree with this highly-extolled Filipino practice which is a throwback to our indio past. Having spent over two decades out here where others are so adept at self-promotion and most other people have a more dominant DNA than the shy and yielding Pinoy, I have to say that’s it’s long overdue – we need to ditch the damn “mam-ser.” Now na!
It’s one of the first things I tell people who join our team. Throw the “ma’am” and “sir” out of the window. Include the “madame”, the “miss”, and while you’re at it, and your “po” and “opo” as well. Just ditch the titles. In fact, let’s call each other on first name basis. Can you handle that?
In progressive companies around the world, people call each other by their first names. I belonged to a Fortune 500 company worth over US$250 Billion and we used to refer to the CEO as “Larry.” Not “Mr. Larry,” “Sir Larry” or anything else – just “Larry.” Can you imagine Mark Zuckerberg being called “Mr. Zuckerberg, Sir”? (“Would you like to have some fries with that?” seems like the natural follow-up to that one.) So it just baffles the mind why we just can’t let go off the titles. Or why some of us refer to themselves in first person with honorifics that flaunt their certificates – i.e. “Architect, Engineer, Attorney, etc.”
In a place where we have to compete shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the world, oftentimes what is respectful to us Filipinos actually comes off as being subservient to others. There’s a big difference between showing respect to another person regardless of titles, to unnecessarily putting yourself at a lower level. It’s like saying – “Here I am. I’m a doormat. Come step on me… please, mam-ser (smile).”
All these unnecessary kowtowing prevents us from communicating on equal footing with people, which, is what we should be doing out here – regardless of our age, what jobs we hold, or whether we are rich or poor.
Of course, there are very specific instances where titles are a must. When you are working in the retail or hospitality industry for example, where customer titles are part of the service culture, or when you have to address people of a certain stature – say government officials, royals, etc. , or to show respect to senior citizens (read 60 years old and above, here we are not talking about using of po and opo for everybody just for cuteness sake).
Plainly speaking, if you don’t want to be treated like the help, then don’t speak like the help.
Power to the Pinoy. It’s time to level up, speak up and act as equals.
Editor-in-Chief and aspiring urban farmer “almost superwoman” Lalaine has been driving Illustrado’s mission to uplift Filipinos in the region for almost a decade now. A former corporate dynamo living in Dubai for over 20 years, she has seen enough to appreciate that the best things in life can’t be bought, and that in this day and age, authenticity could be one’s best asset.