Addressing customers at a retail store? (madam vs. ma'am)

Which phrase would be more appropriate to greet a customer at a retail store:

Good morning, how can I help you, ma’am?
Good mornng, how can I help you, madam?


TOEIC listening, photographs: Waste disposal[YSaerTTEW443543]

I think it might depend on the individual store, region or country it was said in. If the Queen came shopping, use the first example. If anyone else, maybe the second example would suffice.

Use ma’am.

“Madame” is pronounced the same as “madame”, which means the woman who manages a house of prostitution. Most women addressed as “madam” will know you don’t intend to call them a “madame”, and won’t even think of it, but on rare occasions you’ll insult someone with the word.

Besides, most retail establishments are not formal enough to require “madam” instead of "ma’am.


In Britain?

Down here it’s more common to use “ma’am”.

Often people will affix “Miss” to the woman’s name, especially if that woman is elderly:

“Good morning, Miss Shirley!” (Shirley is 80-something years old)

Oh, jeez! That’s really southern. I have to work hard to break my ESL students of the habit of calling people “Mr. Tom” or “Mrs. Jennifer”. I tell them they sound like they’re living in the 1850s and they’re our Negro slaves. The other rude thing they do is address us as “teacher”.

It seems like every form of address that’s polite in their culture is impolite or excessive in ours.

How do you expect them to address you then? Tutors? :?
(I thought that teacher-student is a well-established form of addressing in the field of tuition)

In North America it’s impolite to address your instructor as “Teacher!” and they make sure we’ve stopped it by the time we’re 7 or 8 years old.

Instead of calling you “Teacher!”, they’re supposed to address you by your name. Some instructors prefer their title and last name (Mrs. Schmidt, Mr. Abdullah, Dr. Kowaleski, etc.), but many prefer to be called by their first names, so you just call them “Frank”, “Jennifer”, etc.

It’s rude to call someone “Mr. Frank” or “Miss Jennifer”, etc., in most of North America.

Hi, Jamie

I have to confide to you that in my parts it would be totally out of place to address your teacher by “teacher!” either, it would sound plain weird !
Instead, we use the name and the patronymic (derived from father’s name). So, you’d hear “Мария Ивановна” as a handle for a teacher.

Hi Torsten

Generally speaking, I don’t think sales people in US retail stores use either madam or ma’am in such a greeting. Such words would generally simply be omitted.

In addition, most sales people don’t actually say “How can I help you?” – even though their bosses might tell them it would be better to use such an open-ended question instead of the usual “Can I help you?” (which almost guarantees the response “No, I’m just looking.”)

However, of your two options, only ma’am would sound “natural” to my ears if used in that context. The word madam would sound awkward to me in the context. (In that context, I would expect any possible use of madam to be jocular, or perhaps sarcastic or angry).

(My comments are not intended to represent British usage. I think there may be some differences between BE and AmE usage in this context.)