Call Me Madame!

by Neil Thomas
September 29th, 2011

One of the current debates in France is apparently the discriminatory use of the term ‘mademoiselle’ as opposed to ‘madame’ when there is no such option in the use of ‘monsieur’ for men.

For a description of the minefield that has to be negotiated in selecting mademoiselle or madame, take a look at Wikipedia about the socially accepted rules on usage. Even Proust apparently (the epitome of style and social correctness) struggled with which form of address to use. What hope for the rest of us?

Who can blame the French for concentrating on such matters at the expense of debates about the economy and the woes of the eurozone? And at the root, it is perhaps as difficult to tell whether a woman is under or over 30, married, divorced, widowed or qualified as an actress and to apply the correct term to her, as it is to work out whether the euro will survive, whether Greece will default and if so, when. For the rest of us, we should try to know when to get out of an awkward social situation or when to exit and avoid an economic catastrophe.

Given his job and his alleged ‘extramural’ activities, presumably Dominique Strauss-Kahn mastered both the nuances of the appellations for women and the complexities of the financial markets. Still, if addressed by him, surely any woman would respond and know when to get the hell out of it: “ Don’t call me madam or mademoiselle, call me a cab!”

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