Don’t call me Auntie, please
The announcement of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s vice -presidential running mate has led to the resurfacing of a video from last year, showing Harris cooking masala dosa and reminiscing about her childhood growing up with an Indian mother and Jamaican father. In the video, Mindy Kaling ponders how to be respectful to Harris and avoid the Indian faux pas of addressing elders by their first name and asks instead whether she should address her as “Senator”.
“Just don’t call me Auntie”, Harris responds with a burst of laughter.
Do you really think that calling someone ‘auntie’ is giving her respect?
Since I was a child, we heard this phrase ( don’t call me auntie) in tv shows and had a good laugh each time we heard that. Now that I have children, so many times people just a little bit younger call me auntie. Each time, I am compelled to think, “Was it really necessary for them to address me as an Auntie?”
I have travelled to many countries and every country has got its own culture. When I went to Japan, I addressed a woman working in a toy shop as ‘Obasan’ (Auntie). I thought she will be happy and give me some local tips but what happened was enough to alert me from calling anyone else with that title. So, I learnt that calling someone auntie is considered rude, or at least not welcome, in Japan.
Unlike Japan, in Singapore when we call someone much elder and known to us Auntie, it gives a sense of friendship and not considered disrespectful.
In India, everyone has a right to call Auntie to anyone who looks or is elder to them. If you are a Mother…you are an ‘Auntie’. If a young girl aged 26, who has a kid in her arms meets another girl who is 20…she is called ‘Auntie’ by the younger one. If, kids call you ‘Auntie’, I am sure you won’t mind. But when people just about your age who have younger kids than you call you Auntie, its offending.
After having been at the receiving end of this ‘Auntie’ business for a while, I want to tell everyone to call me by my first name. Stop giving me that ‘Respect’. But is that actually easy to do?
In the US, all Indian Americans are comfortable calling everyone ‘Auntie’ who is older than them by just a few years. It becomes an easy fallback when addressing people including distant associates, neighbours, and even total strangers who are older than oneself. I have watched an attractive shopkeeper girl in my neighbourhood Indian store cringe when another jean-clad girl called her ‘Auntie’. As an adult woman who has also been called ‘Auntie’ so many times by too many adults who I barely know, has become a topic to discuss this titling practice.
Today, the title of Auntie has lost its meaning. ‘Aunt’ was supposed to be someone close in relations and who used to take care of the kids in some households. Individuals who are close family members and deserve rightful respect in the family were called auntie – maami, masi, chachi, and so on all validate close family relations. But calling anyone Auntie by just guessing their age is not giving respect but judging them.
In my opinion, I am not your Auntie:
if I have not known you since your childhood,
if you are an adult with or without wrinkles on your forehead and we have never met before,
If your children are younger than mine, or you are the same age as my own children.
And if you are not sure what to call someone, just ask.
I would like to give you an example:
Most of you would have experienced this already. When as parents you go to visit your children in the US, you feel like a tag-along there. Even though most of you are still working adults, professionals in your respective fields, some retired perhaps, you are pushed to the auntie /uncle zone. That then starts becoming the reason that you prefer to stay home and do not want to attend those lunch or dinner parties with your family. You don’t want to be judged.
Let us redefine words like” Auntie “and “Uncle “in our vocabularies and restore their use to a rightful person. Give respect to our extended families where our Aunts play a role next to our own mother. Don’t call anyone who just passes by Auntie when you don’t know better.
None of the blogs or opinions expressed within are meant as advice to you or anybody else on any matter, including but not limited to, personal finance, health, or other matters of life. If you need advice, speak to a professional!