Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Generation Non-Gap

*Gasp* was probably the sound..

that would have come out of me if i had allowed it. You see, the first time I heard David's nephew/nieces call him by name ( and without the customary "Uncle" in front ), i was shocked...and when they teased him or took jabs at him, my jaw must have dropped open. He took it all good naturedly and teased them back. I quickly realised it was all friendly family banter. David's oldest sister is about 13 years older than he is, so his nieces and nephew are either older than I am, around my age, or not that much younger.

Even so, it took me a while before I could call David's dad Walter, without feeling like I was supremely rude and disrespectful.

On the other hand, in Asian cultures, there is always a hierarchy of who comes first on the family tree and hence needs to be duly respected and addressed by their respective titles i.e aunt/great-aunt/grand-uncle ( as you can see from this list ). You name it, there is a chinese title out there for your mother's uncle's cousin twice removed and so forth but NEVER EVER call them by their first name.

At the dinner table, an Asian person would be considered rather rude if he did not address all the older people by turn, at the table and "invite them to partake in the meal", as it were, before they dug in! I still do that with my parents and family back in Malaysia.

Everyone in David's family calls me "Letti" - even his little 4 year old great-niece ( OMG i'm a great-aunt ) - and you know what? I love it because it breaks down all the generation barriers and allows you to be closer to one another on so many levels.



Laane said...

This is one of the most clear examples of difference in culture.
Here in The Netherlands (Europe) we have two forms to speak to a person: U (which is for older, very very respected persons and strangers) and jij.
We almost always use "jij" and like you describe, leave the uncle and aunt words out.
Respect is in the way you deal with people, not in the words.


Kamigoroshi said...

Yeah...for some reason I'm kinda used to that a bit. Though I compensate with a more asian-ish way by giving my Australian relatives nicknames of seniority like Chief or Big Guy, Spud or little man. Works out anyway.

At least for me.

Tammy said...

But in a way I think the Asian way of doing things is much better. Kids today are so disrespectful...and I don't think they even mean to be, that's just the way they are. It's kinda sad.

Thanks for stopping by my blog...I've enjoyed visiting yours!

-yuni- said...

hmmm..i can imagine how awkward that could be..i dunno y but sumtimes i prefer the asian style, but still the mat saleh style is ok too..i tink it depends on the family..i was in Switzerland once, and i remember my mum reminding us not to address our neighbor as Uncle..coz u know over here in msia,we use to call our parents malay friends by uncle or aunty..heheh..ermm,kind complicated all these things..but then any way, the respect should oweis be there..keep on blogging~ hehe p/s: can i link u?

Anonymous said...

I kind of like having my nieces call me Auntie. I told my DH that I was going to teach my future kids to call aunts and uncles, Tante and Oom.

I still have a 'gulp' feeling when i call his step-mom, Mom. BC I can hear a confusion on the other end of 'I don't have a daughter' But it is getting easier by the day.

:: Mona ::

Animesh said...

Hey!! Same in India. We have a different title for all types of relatives. Even the father's elder and younger brothers have different titles!!

Anonymous said...

oh, so so true.

Russia's not quite that extreme, but we're getting there. You have the normal uncle/aunty, grandma/grandpa stuff. but theres also a form of address to strangers that varies with age. girl/boy, younglady/young man, woman/man (and this applies to people older than you), aunty/uncle, grandma/grandpa (though the last two are usually used by kids and teenagers).

it's going to be a long time before that changes, if at all :)


Anonymous said...

I agree, I wish it were that way here in the US. Today's generations are growing up into disrespectful adults. It's sad.

<"3 )~

biggaysam said...

My nephews and neices still refer to me as Uncle Sam. Always. I guess it's native New Mexican thing. We always address our elders with a respectful title. I still get teased a lot but they never refer to me as just Sam.

When are you going to come visit? I want to show you the sights!

makuahine said...

Very interesting post, Letti, as well as the link you posted. I have a feeling this might end up to be a long comment.. ;-)

It is interesting to me to see how other cultures are in this area (ancestors, respect, etc) and it is even more interesting to see the variations within my own culture.

For instance, in my family, we ALWAYS referred to and addressed aunts and uncles as "Aunt so-and-so" and "Uncle so-and-so" etc. Grandmas were addressed as "Grandma" and referred to as "Grandma [insert last name here]." We have only one 'grandmother' that we do not call by that name and she is my grandpa's third wife, not blood relation, she married him when we were older so we already knew her by her first name. Now, we do refer to her as "Grandma" when it comes to my little guy because as far as he is concerned, she is his grandmother. And we have one 'uncle' that we just call by his first name because... well, I'm not sure why, my cousins call him "Uncle." He's adopted and is not very much older than me, so maybe that's why.

Now, on my husband's side, he and his siblings refer to his aunts and uncles by only their first names, I am the one that call them "Aunt" and "Uncle." I think sometimes their youngest sibling refers to them with the titles though.
But he was... er, shocked almost that we refer to our great-grandmothers as "Grandma" as well. He said, "she is not your 'grandma' she is your 'great-grandma'!" In his family that's how they referred to their great-grandmothers.

I love genealogy. :-)
I have a couple of genealogy websites, even. I haven't had as much time for that kind of stuff since I had the kid though.
Have you done research on your families?

Desmond Goh said...

Hi Letti, I am sort of come in late on this one. I was in one government dept once and this lady at the counter looked elderly with her head scuff. I called her "Kak", and she thought I was rude and should call her "cik" instead. She gave me the run around afterwards. I think calling a person by their first name is better. But grand parents and parents must retain their title of Grandpas grandmas and mom and Dad.