By Promod Puri
It is smart, respectable and somewhat practical trend these days when youngsters in the Indo-Canadian community address their parents’ friends as uncles and aunties.
Instead of calling them by their first or last name, with prefix of Mr. or Mrs., these unrelated nephews and nieces make the acquaintances more personal and to some extent honorable.
Although the use of uncle and auntie is very common in most other communities to express endearment, these English words are favorably adopted and are very much in vogue these days in the Indo-Canadian culture.
And if one goes a step further to show more reverence, suffix “ji”, pronounced like letter “g”, is added as uncleji and auntieji ; thus giving a new twist or transformation to this customary expression to establish a more pleasant, amiable and closer connection.
The conventional practice of using Mr., Mrs. and especially the more-than-one meaning word madam is not only becoming obsolete in casual encounters and meetings, but these appellations create a very stiffen and reserved occasion. Whereas, when our instant young nephews and nieces appear on the scene, the on-the-spot kinship makes the atmosphere more intimate, informal and still courteous.
The uncle and aunty trend is popular not only to address parent’s friends, but for close relatives or anybody older as well. The expression makes an all-in-one entity that can for all practical purposes wrap up all the close relatives from both sides of parents.
Otherwise in the Indian culture children address relatives by their designated names. For example in Punjabi customs, from the dad’s side, his younger brother is called chacha and his wife chachi; older brother is taya, wife tayi; sister is addressed as bhua; her husband fufar (really a mouthful pronunciation). And from the mom’s side the brother (thankfully no distinction between younger and older) the classification is maama and wife maami; sister maasi and her husband masser (a bumpy pronunciation).
All these distinct titles certainly are hard to keep in ethnic memory cells for youngsters, but these can be easily replaced with one sweep by simply using the all-purpose generic uncle and aunty formula.
However, the traditional names of relatives are still being proudly reserved as part of cultural identity and are used to express respect. But for non-relatives the uncle and aunty application is very common, convenient and functional.
A close family friend’s son is very traditional as far as tackling his parents’ brothers and sisters is concerned. He respectfully calls them with their respective titles, but when it comes to dealing with his parents’ friends, he refers them as uncles or aunties. But here, he has some different, but valid reason.
In one family business function, this pleasant and sociable young man was introducing guests to each other. While in this formal exercise he was often heard saying “meet my uncle; meet my aunty.” However, when somebody pointed out to him ”how many uncles and aunties you have,” the poised “nephew” had to tell the truth and with confidence and smile on his face he said “no they’re not my real uncles and aunties, but by addressing them so, I don’t have to remember their individual names.”
It was a pretty honest and smart answer to which everybody smiled and accepted the explanation in its stride.
And when it comes to play smart South Asian working youth have another reason from business point of view to use the workable uncle-auntie technique.
These young enterprising and fairly innovative salespeople, while doing business within their community, very often address their clients, even if they’re little older, as uncleji and auntieji to establish a respectable and trustworthy relationship.
In fact the uncle-aunty approach which nobody minds, is also successfully applied to please older employers, or at any place else to get the things done in a polite and expecting way.
The uncle-aunty phenomenon may be exploitative from business and social points of view, but it’s indeed a cultural evolution which is very helpful in successful marketing and establishing contacts.
This small but worthy- of -note motivating evolution should find its place in Canada’s cultural diversity.
If multiculturalism is a business as well, then the uncle-aunty mantra can help in its boom.