What if I do not know whether to say sir or madam?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Instead of “sir”, “madam” and “miss”, how should one approach a non-binary person or a person whose gender is unknown when one does not know their name?

I once asked this to a friend with a non-binary child and she became very defensive and insisted that saying “sorry” was a good enough way to approach someone. I just do not think that “excuse me” conveys the respect I want to give to a stranger, nor does it go beyond getting someone’s attention.

HAPPY READER: “Gentleman”, “Madam”, “Madam” and “Miss” also fail to narrow down the details – and run the same risk of insulting: “I’m too young to be a lady!” or “Do not define me by my marital status!” are the most common (and rude) remarks.

Miss Manners will do her part to ask everyone to calm down and show tolerance when it comes to these inaccurate guesses. But if we can avoid guessing altogether, it would also be useful. She therefore defends your friend’s opportunity – if not its defensive delivery – simply to say “Excuse me.”


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