Aunty! Aunty! Aunty!

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The other day I was having lunch with my colleagues. (We are all in our late 20s by the way). One of the girls (25 years old) mentioned that her landlord and his wife are a very nice couple. Since her kitchen is not yet set, they offered her to have a meal with them.

“No Aunty, I’ll eat out.” She had said to the landlady. They are very nice people, she added. Husband, wife and a 3-year-old daughter.

“They have a 3-year-old kid, and you call them Uncle-Aunty?” I asked in disbelief.

“What will I call them?” she blurted out, annoyed.

“Is it necessary to call her Aunty?
” I asked.

All the other people on the table (men and women in late twenties) looked at me as if I have come from Mars. How else was she possibly supposed to address them? They vetoed the following alternatives with instant rejection:

1. Addressing by name – Disrespectful!
2. Calling Bhaiya Bhabhi – Mere relation mein thode hi hain! (They are not related to me!)
3. Sir and Ma’am – It’s not office!
4. Don’t call anything – ?

Some things are peculiar to India. I remember studying in the United States when I was in school. I had realized as a kid there that every man and woman you meet is not to be addressed as “Uncle” and “Aunty”. Even friends’ parents were addressed as Mr./ Ms followed by their last name. I once referred to a Chinese friend’s Mom as “Aunty” and then quickly apologized, attributing to it to Indian culture. The friend clarified that it is the same in their culture, and that when she goes to China she has a hard time figuring out who is a blood relative as everybody is called Uncle / Aunty!

Back in India, when I was 20, I was attending my 2-year-old niece’ birthday party. A small kid called me Aunty. I didn’t mind. Her elder sister who must be 10-11 years old corrected her matter-of-factly:

“She is not an Aunty, she is a Didi (Sister). Not yet married!”

Coming from a kid, this logic was adorable. But I have seen many adult women follow this logic too (as in the case of my colleague).

A married woman is an Aunty! Period! Her age (or your age) does not matter!! Case closed!

I know we love being pally pally with strangers. People we meet in supermarkets and elevators who we don’t know. Unlike in some parts of the world where we have no clue who our neighbor is. Our culture preaches respect for elders. All this is great..

I just don’t understand the unstoppable urge of calling women a few years older than us ‘Aunty’ as a sign of respect?

One of my dear friend’s 14-year-old daughter calls me by my first name and I love it. I don’t feel offended. I know she respects me and is fond of me, and I find her completely adorable. Neither would I be offended if she did, because by virtue of my friendship with her mother, she has the right to call me Aunty, if she so wishes.

It is her choice. More importantly, it does not mean anything, certainly not a sign of respect!

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