In Hawaii, “Aunty” and “Unko” (Uncle in Standard English) are used as a sign of respect towards elders. While it is common practice, there are times when these terms of endearment can be used in woefully wrong ways. Soooo… to save you from possibly coming off as disrespectful, here are four times (backed by real-life examples) when using the term “Aunty” or “Uncle” could be considered inappropriate.
1. In a Business Meeting
This really happened. My coworker and I went on a sales call to one of our local business establishments in Hilo. My partner, who was born and raised in the mainland, was given a basic understanding of “local kine” etiquette from his wife who was born and raised in Hawai’i. Confident with his knowledge, we walked into the local establishment and began speaking to the owner who was an older local woman.
He starts the conversation off with, “Aunty we are very excited to have the chance to sit down with you.” He then proceeds to tell her about our offer and uses “Aunty” again and again and again. Each time he says it, I’m wincing, knowing full well that we are absolutely done! Once the agonizing meeting was over, we all stood up, she looks him in the eye and says, “Don’t call me aunty.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh because that’s how local aunties do it or cry because I felt sorry for him. I explain to him why it’s not the right time to use “Aunty,” and he tells me that his wife told him that he should refer to any female older than him as “Aunty.”
This is true most of the time…but not here. But let me tell you why he’s so confused with the whole “Aunty” thing. The very next day, we go into another establishment where he had already made contact with the owner but was bringing me in to meet her for the very first time. Once again, this business owner is a local woman. She’s several years our elder so definitely qualified for “Aunty status.”
As he introduces me to her, she immediately recognizes my last name and asks about an aunt of mine. After a short, but very friendly conversation, we get ready to leave. When I walk out, I give her a kiss on the cheek and tell her, “bye Aunty.” She responds, “bye love!” He stares at me with great confusion on his face and utters, “I don’t get it.”
“I can’t explain it,” I tell him, “I guess it’s a local thing.”
2. When Someone Is Close In Age To You
When using the term uncle or aunty, it’s a sign of respect for an elder. But when your hairline is receding and your beard is gray and you call someone “Aunty,” you may have to be prepared for a shellacking. If she sees herself as close in age to you or even younger than you…. you may as well call her “Tutu.” She going get nuts either way.
Today’s 30 and 40-year-old women are a different breed from the aunties we grew up with 20 years ago. They are trying to hold off on the Aunty status for as long as possible. No ack! You know it’s the truth.
Here are some simple rules with using “Aunty”:
· If she’s your friend’s mom or Aunty, she’s Aunty.
· If she’s your Aunty’s friend or mom’s friend, she’s Aunty.
· If you’re both adults and you don’t know her very well…DON’T CALL HER AUNTY. Unless all your friends are calling her Aunty…then you’re good to go.
These three simple rules have probably kept me out of trouble more times than I realize. I’ve gotten scolded for not using “Aunty” with someone that I should be calling “Aunty,” but it’s much easier to deal with that.
“Oh I’m sorry, Aunty. You look too young to be called Aunty.”
3. When Trying To Get Someone You Don’t Know To Do You A Favor
I was in the long a** line at the DMV a while back and the guy at the window apparently forgot something he needed to get his paperwork complete. This is how the conversation went.
Unprepared Guy: Shucks I forgot it at home, can you just print up what I need and I’ll bring it back cause I gotta come back anyway to complete everything.
DMV: No, you gotta bring everything before I issue you the paperwork.
Unprepared Guy: C’mon Aunty, I gotta come back no matter what so you can’t just help me out on this one.
DMV: First of all, I’m not your Aunty. And second…if I do this for you then everyone behind you is going to want me to do something for them. Go home, grab what you need and come back.
Using “Aunty” to try and get a favor from someone you don’t know? So not the business. Don’t do it.
4. When You Can’t Tell if You Should Use “Uncle” or “Aunty”
I’m not even gonna lie to you…I’ve done this. That’s why it made the list. When I was a teenager, my mom introduced me to a friend of hers that looked like a man, sounded like a man and had an androgynous (could go both ways) name. I was genuinely unsure on the gender of this person, but I took a chance.
As the respectful young Hawaiian that I was I walked up to her and said, “Aloha Uncle.” She stared at me, my mom looked at me and they both started laughing hysterically. Fortunately for me, it was the 80’s where people didn’t get offended at everything. The aunty looked at me and said, “Bebe, if I’m your uncle then what does that make my husband?” And they both started laughing hysterically again. I was, of course, extremely embarrassed.
So there you have it, four times calling someone aunty or uncle could be a bad idea. Did you ever have a time where using aunty or uncle turned into an awkward situation? Please share it in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.
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