I am manning the front desk at a tech conference and I ran into a situation where I did not know if I should address an individual with Sir or Ma'am. My salutation is "Hello Sir/Ma'am Welcome to Tech Camp! How may I help you?"

But given the sensitive topic, I am at a loss as to what to say.

I've reached out to the conference's organizers, but my immediate supervisor cannot be reached (phone, slack, text) or found.

  • 48
    Whenever you are the front face on any event, drop the gender in your greeting. Regardless of who you talk to. "Hello. Welcome to Tech Camp. I will be happy to assist you today"
    – Isaiah3015
    Oct 20, 2017 at 19:54
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    Why would you feel the need to ever say hello sir or hello ma'am?
    – HLGEM
    Oct 20, 2017 at 20:20
  • 7
    @HLGEM indoctrination from educational and cultural development addressed towards unknown individuals.
    – Bluebird
    Oct 20, 2017 at 20:55
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    @sumelic received no specific training or procedure as a volunteer. Absent of an established SOP, default behavior is to rack up the formality.
    – Bluebird
    Oct 20, 2017 at 20:56
  • 8
    @HLGEM hi, I'm a man who doesn't like being called "sir". (Although I generally don't care enough to actually complain about it)
    – Erik
    Oct 20, 2017 at 21:43

6 Answers 6


Just drop "Sir/Ma'am" entirely and say:

"Hello and welcome to tech camp! How may I help you?"

It doesn't seem like such a formal environment that omitting that would be too casual.

You could also consider addressing everyone that way, not just transgender or androgynous individuals. That would sidestep the issue entirely and give you one less thing you have to think about when you're welcoming them or helping them out.

  • 5
    "Hello and welcome ..." sounds a bit less like something's missing IMO. Oct 20, 2017 at 20:18
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    I say sir/ma’am to everyone if I do not know them personally. I rack up the formal addressing by default. The mental error code was raised when meeting the aforementioned individuals. But your answer is noted and being applied.
    – Bluebird
    Oct 20, 2017 at 20:58
  • @FrankFYC I totally understand. I also default to being highly formal in such situations. I'm glad I could help, though. Oct 20, 2017 at 21:00
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    The OP seems to be using sir/madam as a way to insert formality into the statement. In such a situation, something along the lines of "Good morning/afternoon/evening, welcome to tech camp. How may I be of service?" may be closer to the desired degree of formality.
    – Cronax
    Oct 23, 2017 at 9:28
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    @Cronax the require level of formality varies by country in the UK the only person I would call "ma'am" would be the Queen - but I agree with dropping the sir / ma'am Dec 24, 2017 at 18:54

I am manning the front desk at a tech conference and I ran into a situation where I did not know if I should address an individual with Sir or Ma'am. My salutation is "Hello Sir/Ma'am Welcome to Tech Camp! How may I help you?"

There is never a need to mention gender when greeting someone in person.

"Hello! Welcome to Tech Camp! How may I help you?" is completely appropriate.

  • 8
    Some cultures require honorifics, and those honorifics are often gendered. It seems quite clear that the OP is in and/or from such a culture. I don't see what being in person has to do with it. Oct 23, 2017 at 3:26
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    The fact that the OP is asking this question is extremely strong evidence that they are in/from such a culture. Your mention of them being in the US is a non sequitur. You seem to be relying on the premise that such culture does not exist in the US, which is both absurd and disrespectful, and a premise that you didn't have the decency to explicitly assert. Oct 23, 2017 at 13:41

I have organized a number of conferences in the American South, where simply forgoing salutations is socially uncouth.

In your case it’s too late to really do anything about it, but this is the reason at registration people are given options to submit their pronouns nowadays. But what use are pronouns really in a conference setting? Pronouns are for talking about someone, not to someone. Honorifics and salutations are for talking to them. The organizers should either ask for salutation at registration and print it on the badge, or have stickers people can choose from. (Sir, Ma’am, Mx, none, and so on).

For example, from a real event in Texas:

enter image description here

Without that, just do your best, accept correction quickly and graciously, and consider substituting something more neutral like “friend” when really puzzled.


Hmm ... there are intergenerational and inter-subcultural (word?) considerations here.

Specifically, many people (myself included!) were raised with the notion that omitting the honorific in a formal situation is staggeringly rude. For this and for practical reasons -- I doubt that there's enough cultural impetus to discard honorifics entirely, for the benefit of the small amount of people who are in honorific-ambiguous territory -- I'd suggest the following:

Take your best shot on honorific. The vast majority of people, it's pretty clear which one to use. If you get it wrong, person will tell you what he or she wants.

I've been asked by someone to use 'zir' before. I gamely promised that I'd try.

  • 7
    You're wrong about there not being a cultural impetus to getting rid of honorifics. I haven't been called sir in months. In the US, sir is only really a common thing in the south. Almost nobody will care that you leave out an honorific, but many will be HIGHLY offended if called the wrong one. Oct 21, 2017 at 19:55
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    @GabeSechan I'll say that there doesn't seem to be a "cultural consensus" any more on a lot of topics, this being one. Am very interested to see how it plays out.
    – akaioi
    Oct 21, 2017 at 21:16
  • @JoeStrazzere hence the "try". I clearly didn't quite get it...
    – akaioi
    Oct 22, 2017 at 1:56

There’s no guarantee that you get it right for everyone. And you can’t even ask because some people will find it rude to be asked.

The safest is to avoid calling anyone “sir” or “madam”. And I don’t know about “madam”, but many men don’t like being called “sir”.


A friend pointed me to the essay at https://www.them.us/story/gender-neutral-pronouns-101-they-them-xe-xem

I can't vouch for that essay's correctness, but it seems plausible, and suggests a solution:

Traditionally, proper manners is always to introduce yourself first and then invite the other person to do likewise. This can be extended to stating your own preferred pronouns (even if they are the older ones) as an implied invitation for the other party to inform you of theirs.


"Welcome! I am Doctor Archibald Farnsworth, but most folks call me Arch. My pronouns are ze and zim. Whom do I have the pleasure of meeting, and how would you like to be addressed?"

If your going to insist upon formality, do it right.

  • This type of behaviour is completely out of place IMHO Mar 27, 2023 at 12:30
  • This type of behavior used to be common (well, minus the pronouns) and is becoming common again as people who care about the issue make an effort to normalize the use of nontraditional pronouns. The simplest alternative -- as others have said -- is to avoid the gendered formalism in the first place, but it sounded as if the querant's culture made that an unacceptable choice. The more complicated alternative, if the culture really does require them, would be to develop non-gendered formalisms -- but that has to be done by folks in that culture and in those communities, not by us.
    – keshlam
    Mar 27, 2023 at 17:07
  • I was referencing the pronouns. Can't envision a place where speaking that way would be acceptable, except in a very democratically liberal-progressive USA subculture. Mar 27, 2023 at 17:09
  • As I say, the pronouns are becoming more common, for exactly the reasons this question is based on. Get used to folks stating their preference, and get used to being implicitly invited to state yours. It may not have hit your part of the world yet, but unless we establish a non-gendered form first it's going to. There's a lot we can't envision if we haven't seen it happening.
    – keshlam
    Mar 27, 2023 at 17:45
  • The implication behind asking for pronouns is that there is more than one gender, and half the population likely is not amenable to having this forced down their throats. Asking this type of question would therefore trigger other tensions. If a person's appearance is sufficiently androgynous to warrant asking about their gender, fine; but if they are sporting a full beard and collared shirt... asking for their pronouns may be perceived as a borderline insult to their appearance. Mar 27, 2023 at 18:33

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