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Miss Conduct

Ma’am? Miss? What’s the best greeting for a ride-share driver to use?

A driver wonders about the best greeting to use with passengers.

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I’ve been doing the ride-share thing to help pay the kids’ college tuition. I have any number of ways to address male passengers: sir, chief, buddy, man. Couples are easy: “OK, folks, we are here.” And even a pair or more of females: “Here you go, ladies, we’ve arrived.” But when it’s a single female, I’m never sure. I understand that women can be turned off by “ma’am,” and “miss” is probably too old school. How can I address an unnamed woman with respect?

F.P.E. / Roslindale

A picayune point: You do know their names, or at least their chosen monikers, because it’s in the app. Don’t you greet riders by name to make sure you’ve got the right person? You can say goodbye to them by name, too.

If you name-check riders more than that, though, it sounds like you’re angling for a tip at best, and trying to sell them something — Amway, God, or your own personal charms — at worst. So you still need a better way to address everyone.

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Because not everyone is the gender you might assume from a glance, and because some people are nonbinary and do not identify as male or female, and also because some men feel old if you call them “sir” just as some women do if you call them “ma’am.” So find something that works for everyone, including you.

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How about “friend” or “my friend”? And I think “buddy” would be a charming way to address any passenger. Another option is to semi-address them by location: “Here you are, Fenway Park,” just as a barista might call out your order instead of your name. This is also a good option when you’re taking riders to different locations and need to get the attention of a particular one.

And a note to my fellow women — and “sir”-hating men — please don’t get snippy with service workers about this. There’s no insult intended by “ma’am” or “miss” or “sir” or “you guys.” Our language hasn’t kept up with social changes, and linguistic habits are hard to break. If someone is driving you through Boston traffic, you want their attention focused on the task at hand, not on your preferred honorifics.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.