I remember the first time I was called ‘auntie’. It was after I my marriage. My husband’s niece called me so. Technically, yes.. I was her auntie but she was in her college and I had just gotten married. I could see she was hesitantly calling me auntie because how else would she call me. I politely told her not to call me auntie but call me by name. From then, she stopped calling me auntie. But she doesn’t address me by name. She doesn’t call me anything. She phones me often and even now goes, ‘This is A’ and pauses hesitantly.
Once I had kids, I got accustomed to kids calling me auntie. Right from ‘just-able-to-speak’ kids to college kids, everyone addressed me by auntie and it didn’t quite shock me. Probably because I saw my kids addressing my friends as ‘auntie’.
When we first moved in to a new apartment in Hyderabad, the kids had another kid going with them to school from the apartment. So, this kid’s mom and I became good friends. This little kid used to address everyone by their first name. The first time she asked, ‘Indu.. Can I have some nutella with toast?’, I was shocked. I know.. The same me who was so hesitant on being addressed as auntie, was now shocked that a pint-sized-one was calling me by my name. The friend helpfully chimed in, ‘My daughter addresses everyone by first name. I hope you are okay with that!’ Of course, I was. It was just the initial shock of being called by name by a little one after a prolonged auntie phase.
Slowly, my kids being friends with this girl, they began addressing everyone of my friends by their first names. (They still call BM by her name!) I was okay with it. In fact, I welcomed it.. only until my next Chennai trip. Where they started addressing all the extended family (both from the husband and my side!) using their names. And then, we had to revert to ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’.
This memory came up because now in the US again they have had to change how they addressed people. One day, about a month after school started, the son came back from school and said his classmates clapped for him. It seems it was the first time he addressed his teacher as ‘Ms. E’ and not as ‘Teacher’. Heh.
Now we are again learning to address people not as ‘uncles’ or ‘aunties’ but by their names. If we don’t know their names, we call them Sir/Maam instead. Hmph. This life has so much to learn, then unlearn and again relearn.