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.

  • 23
    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
  • 2
    @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
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    @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

3 Answers 3


Just drop "sir/ma'am" entirely and say "Hello and welcome to tech camp! How many 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 to transgender or androgynous people. That would sidestep the issue entirely and give you one less thing you have to think about when you're 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
  • @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.

  • 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
  • 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

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.

  • 4
    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

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