It seems that there's always something to be sensitive about. Another social landmine is how you address strangers. Having worked as a barista, I've done my share of this while purveying natural caffeine-based highs to people. Now I was not so crass as to address people as "dude," even if they were wearing faux western garb; nor do I address a mixed group as "guys." even if they are conspiring to blow up Parliament. No, Mama brought me up right. Sorta.
So how do we address people whose name we do not know? Some people use terms like "honey," "sweetie," or "dear"; but this might open them to criticism, unless they're waitresses who happen to be characters and address everyone in that fashion. Then there's the old standbys, "Sir" and Ma'am." Those generally are noncontroversial in the Deep South; but some from other parts find the latter to be offensive due to it being gendered, subservient on the part of the user, or implying that the person being addressed is decrepit. "No, Ma'am. You would rate a ma'am even if you were 20!"
"Wham, bam! Thank you, Ma'am!"
Therefore, don't get your knickers in a knot when visiting the South and hearing that form of address! Now here's Angel's rule when it comes to using ma'am or not: If grits are on the local restaurant menus, it's okay to "ma'am." If not, then you're on your own.
Now this would not fly outside of Orleans, Jefferson, or St. Bernard Parishes, but addressing people as "podner" or "missy" or "dawlin" is usually taken well there. Well, maybe not Uptown. Those uptown women do stand on ceremony.
Finally, one last point. It's considered bad form and too old-fashioned to call or address letters to boys younger than 8 years as "Master." It may cause them to assume they're boss, or worse. Think of Norman Bates! Could being addressed in that manner have made him self-conscious and affected him later as an adult?
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