From the time I was old enough to be adult, I’ve been called countless of times the dreaded name ‘auntie’. In the Singaporean context, it usually refers to women that kids assume to be older than they are. Never mind that these women are in their mere twenties or not even married yet, as long as it’s an older woman.
Personally I detest this form of address. For someone who prides herself on looking youthful (ahem), it is really a put down when kids innocently walk up to you and address you as ‘auntie’. Or worse, when their parents in an attempt to teach their children respect for elders ask their children to address you as ‘auntie’. I sometimes wonder if it gives certain parents some kind of pervasive pleasure to see an obviously young and unmarried woman being addressed like she passed her expiry date a long time ago. Not that I have anything against these parents. I admire them for trying to teach their children good values but must it be at our expense? I imagine that you will not feel so smug if you were in our shoes, young, single and so loving it.
It’s funny how in Singapore the term ‘auntie’ has such negative connotations. Try using it in countries like Britain and people would probably look at you strangely because in their context, ‘auntie’ inevitably means a relative of yours and not some strange older woman. In such cases, ‘auntie’ carries with it the respective overtones that befit the person so addressed. To be honest, I won’t mind if a younger person addresses me as Auntie Lilian if I’m an older relative of theirs but to be simply dismissed as ‘auntie’ by a kid who will not understand the sensitivity of such usage until they are my age is irritating, to say the least.
This is why I hardly ever address any woman as ‘auntie’ for fear that I’ll bruise their fragile ego. If at all possible, I avoid using any form of address. I figure that a simple ‘excuse me’ should suffice since it gets their attention anyway. Why risk incurring their wrath if they are not married and thinks that they have not reached the ‘pedestal’ of auntie-hood? Better to be neutrally polite than make an assumption that could put me in the range of firing squads. I should know because there were no few times when I could almost see red, until I remember that the kids don’t know better. Some of my friends have resigned themselves to being addressed so but I can honestly tell you that I’ll never reconcile myself to being called an ‘auntie’. Until the day I’m married and have kids, I deserve to be addressed as Miss. Or Ms at the very least.
What happens if I’m not married even when I’m well into middle-age? Well, the same opinion still applies, I suppose. If you really want to get my attention, a simple ‘excuse me’ should suffice unless I’m hard of hearing. Then again, it does not give you the excuse to call me ‘auntie’ so you better not try.