The uncle and auntie is a social phenomenon making an impressive entry in the cultural evolution of societies where it is poised to create an informal yet respectable relationship between young and old. It is smart, respectable and even practical.
Uncles and aunties’ designations have become popular among the younger generation of South Asians to address their parents’ friends or older contacts. Instead of calling them by their first or last names, with prefix Mr. or Mrs., the unrelated nephews and nieces develop a kinship with the choice of etiquette which is more personal.
The uncle-auntie entitlement is in vogue in other cultures as well. But the South Asian youths go a step further. To show more reverence, ‘Ji’ pronounced like ‘g’, is attached to address the instantaneous relatives as uncle Ji and aunty Ji. Perhaps this arrangement establishes a more amiable and closer connection.
The conventional practice of using Mr., Mrs. or madam is not only becoming obsolete in casual encounters, but these appellations create ritualistic formality. Whereas, the consensual tie-up among universal ‘‘uncles and aunties” and their equally universal “nephews and nieces” introduces a mood that is more intimate and informal but still courteous.
Within families, the uncle-aunty expression makes an all-in-one entity that can cover all the close relatives from both sides of parents.
Otherwise, in the Indian culture children address relatives by their designated titles. 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 (quite a mouthful). And from the mom’s side, her brother is Maama and wife Maami; sister Maasi and her husband Masser (a bumpy accent).
All these distinct monikers of close relatives are covered within the generic uncle and auntie entitlements. Still, the conventional titles of relatives are also reserved as a family tradition. But for non-relatives, the uncle and aunty application is more common, convenient and pragmatic.
The practicality of the trend is illustrated in the following episode:
The young man in a family function while introducing guests to each other, was often heard “meet my uncle, meet my aunty”. And when somebody asked him “how many uncles and aunties you have”, the poised “nephew” had to tell the truth. With a smile on his face he said: “no, they are not my real uncles and aunties, but by addressing them so, I don’t have to remember their individual names”. The statement has merit and adaptability in any social environment.
Besides its social aspect, the uncle and aunty culture has a working assignment also. When it comes to playing smart South Asian young salespeople have a reason to use the viable uncle-auntie technique. They often address their older clients as uncle Ji and aunty Ji to establish a trustworthy relationship as part of their sales pitch.