2

Is it fine to call an unknown lady on phone as 'madame', like 'Bonjour madame, je voudrais...'
or it is considered too archaic and should be omitted?

3 Answers 3

6

It is good to say this and the most respectful way :

Bonjour Madame …

Bonjour Monsieur …

If you know the name you can add it after.

It is not outdated but recommended.

4

It's not archaic and it is commonly used.

At least in some formal contexts, omitting madame or monsieur after bonjour when talking to an unknown person might be considered to be rude.

4
  • … comment dit-on quand on passe du bit au q-bit dans l'indétermination sociale d'un·e iel ? — NB : « Bonjour » seulement, avec le sourire dans les yeux passe très bien, même chez les personnes [pas trop] compassées.
    – Personne
    Jul 31, 2022 at 13:24
  • Bonjour personne, bien sûr ! ;-)
    – jlliagre
    Jul 31, 2022 at 13:26
  • 2
    @Personne Difficile de regarder dans les yeux une vieille dame au téléphone...
    – jlliagre
    Jul 31, 2022 at 13:31
  • … Encore piégé par mes survols oculaires … au-delà des “tatillonneries” : si les yeux ne peuvent pas parler, la voix n'est-elle pas la messagère de l'âme ? Selon le motif de l'appel, être neutre vis-à-vis d'un·e inconnu·e dont on ne connait pas l'état mental du moment et pas encore le timbre vocal peut éviter de braquer : « Trop poli pour être honnête, encore un tireur de sonnette [téléphonique] … ». Le contexte se vit au présent, pour une démarche personnelle : « Bonjour, Madame UneTelle/ Je suis bien au service…/ Puis-je parler à la personne qui s'occupe de/ … ? »
    – Personne
    Jul 31, 2022 at 14:55
1

Both answers from @jlliagre and @ptit Xav highlight that it is common, courteous, and respectful to use madame or monsieur in a greeting in French. I agree.

You ask if it works the same way as ma'am in American English: not quite. It depends on how the speakers (including you) use ma'am. The use of ma'am is complicated by social factors, especially regional usage and cultural usage. In some variants it is just as common and respectful as using madame in French. Omitting it could be considered rude depending on the context, notably in the American South and in the military.

However, in your example of placing an order or reaching someone you don't know over the phone, I wouldn't open with "hello ma'am." I would assume a scripted translation if I heard that; it is not an idiomatic expression to me in AmE despite how common the term ma'am is in my dialect. One would likely use it in "yes/no ma'am" and "thank you ma'am" in the same conversation as a polite form of address or common courtesy. In French (as with the corresponding terms of address in many languages), I would use both "bonjour madame" and "merci madame." "?Hello ma'am" not so much. It does not work the same.

For other variants of American English the use of ma'am or sir is rare, unnecessary, bordering on old fashioned and antiquated, and it can even perceived as rude. Peers might find it too formal in the workplace. This public radio interview, "Please don't call me ma'am," shows one issue with how ma'am can be perceived to imply a certain age or marital status or detract from a greater honorific. There is a parallel in French and other languages with madame and mademoiselle. See Comment s'adresser à une femme dont l'état civil est inconnu ?

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