DEAR MISS MANNERS: My son is a polite, respectful and kind-hearted child. As my mother before me, we only use the terms "Yes, ma'am" and "No, ma'am" to much older ladies and gentlemen. A simple "yes" or "no" spoken in kindness was always sufficient.
In my nephew's home (my son's cousins), the expectation is for their children to use the ma'am/sir terms for every person and for every possible scenario -- ad nauseum. They are charged a quarter every single time they do not.
I view the cousins as little robots who speak few words other than the constant "Yes, ma'am, no, sir," etc. What is your view on this?
I told my son to respect their home and try his best to please his aunt and uncle when he visits (When in Rome, do as the Romans do). I honestly believe that Southerners have really gone overboard on this.
GENTLE READER: Robotic? Do they say "sir" and "ma'am" to the cat and dog? Is that the way they address their playmates?
Miss Manners suspects that the cousins are being reared on pretty much the same system that you taught your son, with the difference, perhaps, that you do not require him to address grown-up relatives that way. And she hopes that you do not give him the job of distinguishing among older and younger grown-ups; everyone looks old to a child.
But please control your nausea. Certain polite forms are best mastered in the automatic way you call robotic. It is always a great moment for parents when, after years of "Say 'Thank you,' dear" and "Do you mean, can you PLEASE have that?" the right words come out of the child's mouth without his or her having to think about them.
And by the way, if there is any part of the country that suffers from an excess of etiquette, Miss Manners has not had the good fortune to encounter it. Fortunately, she does often encounter polite individuals everywhere, and she would not dream of trying to discourage them.