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Embracing Your Inner Auntie (or Uncle)

I have now reached the age when I am regularly addressed as “auntie”. Widely used across Asia to refer to a middle-aged lady, this is supposedly a term of respect – or is it?

Friends who were not raised in this culture often have difficulty reconciling themselves to the sudden appearance of previously unknown relatives, such as “Taxi Uncle” (your taxi driver) or “Cafeteria Auntie” (the lady who serves lunch). Our schoolbus driver insisted on being addressed as “uncle” and at Chinese New Year, he would even give out hong bao, or red packets, to us with 50 cents in it. But first, we had to greet him respectfully and say “Happy new year, Uncle” and various other lucky phrases like “May 10,000 things go according to your wishes” (this is a direct translation).

Now that I am older, I can see how attractive this prospect is. A line of small children, bowing and wishing me success for the new year? Definitely worth 50 cents per child. As you can see, the term “auntie” or “uncle” is used to denote respect. But it is a double-edged sword.

Don't do this if you are single and want to change your status.

Don’t do this if you are single and want to change your status.

For example, being told that you dress so “uncle” means that you probably like to wear plastic sandals (the orthopedic kind), shorts pulled up to your tummy, and glasses without the anti-glare coating. If you put a seat cover made of wooden beads on the driver’s seat of your car, then you are even more “uncle”. It turns out that the average Singaporean taxi driver falls into this category, although surprisingly, they love being addressed this way. Perhaps it’s a quirk of the transportation industry.

So what does being called “auntie” mean? Take this easy test to find out:

1. An acquaintance runs into you on the street. You are carrying:

a. A Prada bag
b. A gym bag
c. A plastic bag stuffed with groceries

2. When asked if you would like to join them for a meal, you say:

a. “I’d love to, darling.”
b. “I can’t, I have to go back to the office.”
c. “I can’t. My favourite Korean soap opera is on tonight.”

3. When you finally do get home, you:

a. Take a leisurely bath and have a glass of wine
b. Take a quick shower and have a cold beer
c. Drink some warm water and make sure that the electric fan is switched off, because if you let your head get cold while you’re sleeping, you will surely die.

gong-li If you answered “c” to any of these, then unfortunately, you’re heading towards auntie territory. However – there is a certain class of person who will never, ever fall into this category. For example, Gong Li. Despite turning 47, she remains immune and I’m sure even if she were caught boiling a large pot of red bean soup while wearing a fanny pack, she would manage to make it look alluring.

Reading Suggestion:

  • Reader’s Digest

Snack Suggestion:

  • For the Asian “uncle” in you, Guinness Stout or black coffee, preferably drunk in a coffee shop with big posters of Miss Chinatown stuck to the walls.

Photo credits: Photo 2 – http://www.admiringgongli.com/

How do you embrace your inner auntie/uncle?

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17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jane Paris #

    Love this post! I think the most “auntie” thing about me is my fear of cold. I make my kids wear undershirts even in 80 degree weather and I have been known to wear a cashmere sweater to bed. Also, definitely no walking around with wet hair.

    May 7, 2013
    • Hmm… a cashmere sweater in bed sounds a little too glamorous for being an “auntie”!! Now if it were a cardigan…

      May 7, 2013
  2. oh no! c for all three!!! i am officially ajjummah. (korean older woman)

    May 7, 2013
    • Well, have you considered that you might be one of the rare “immune” ones?

      May 7, 2013
  3. Ralph Y #

    This is too good to pass by, Yangsze. May I repost it on my facebook site please?

    May 7, 2013
  4. Here in the Southeast (US), it’s “ma’am.” When the younger set starts calling you “ma’am,” you’ve arrived at that certain age. Oddly, the equivalent phenomenon doesn’t seem to apply to calling men “sir.”

    May 7, 2013
    • Very interesting – does that mean you can be “sir” even if you’re a 16 year old boy?

      May 7, 2013
      • Oops, I deleted a sentence when I wrote that comment, and with it the relevant thought: there’s a bit of tension to reaching the “ma’am” age. We’re all taught to respect our elders — but what slightly vain southern belle wants to hear others opining that she’s entered “elder” status? No thanks. 🙂

        So no, I didn’t mean you’d call a younger man sir, but that men don’t take offense to sir like youngish-older women might at being called ma’am.

        And the sentence I deleted was about when “ma’am” happened to me, so… yeah. Not awesome.

        May 8, 2013
  5. Oh boy – I have a fanny pack! And I’m not afraid to use it. (To be fair, it’s a hipster-y one from American Apparel. But still….)

    May 8, 2013
    • Use it! Use it! I have one too and it’s very handy (although my sister says I look like one of the vegetable sellers at the market). I’m sure you look much better than me 😉

      May 9, 2013
  6. OMG i am a c category. I had to answer i cant due to watching my korean drama. But right now i am watching a Tiawanese oldie one, i like to watch older finished ones so i dont have to impatiently wait weekly for a new one.. I love this post thank you for the laugh,

    May 8, 2013
    • Aha! I admire your foresight in choosing finished dramas! You’re clearly an experienced strategist in this art-form…

      May 9, 2013
      • Hahaha… im too obsessed, i have to remind myself go clean the house before son gets home from school or itll never get done. Dramas distract me yet i love them

        May 10, 2013
  7. It’s horrifying. I can answer c to the k-drama one. and I’m 18. At work one time, a lady told her 10 year old to ask the “ai-yi” for help. ._.
    I went to the back and freaked for a little bit…

    May 29, 2013
    • Oh no, no, no… 18 is far too young to be an “auntie”! You are definitely still in “noona/unni” territory (if you watch K-dramas, you’ll know what I mean) 😉

      May 29, 2013
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    August 6, 2013

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