It is universally acknowledged that most Asian cultures perceives their elders with much elevated sense of respect rather than their Western counterparts. And saying this doesnt necessarily speak with regard to poorer countries unadulterated from modernization (nor am i implying that people in the West are rude). Take Japan for instance, the culture of respecting elders is immensely imbued in the society until it became a problem in the corporate world. Younger employees enjoy less chance to accelerate the corporate ladder–however productive one might be–just because seniority is priority in Japan and given more headway. On the positive side, stemming from the same motivation of respecting elders came a unique and sometimes creative nomenclature system of having a ‘calling’ preceding the name of anyone older than us : Uncle Johnny, Savitha Mauusii , Dai Dai and so on.
I cannot speak for other races, but being born and bred as as Malay, they take the nomenclature to a much higher level. Not only they manage diversify the “Makcik and Pakcik “( Uncle and Auntie) to a list of endless variations of the same meaning–Maksu, Makteh, Makyang, Makngah, Maklong, MakUda, Paktua etc.. depending on birth hierarchy in the family, they also believe the definition of ‘elders’ should be expanded as well. That means anyone older than thou,–even one year–should be subjected to the nomenclature system for easy distinction. Hence, the titles:
Kak and Abang (“Sister” and “Brother“)
The operative word here is even one year older. During my schooling days, all seniors older than me even by one year was called by having a “Kak” preceding the name. I just realized how unique and distinct this was when i first came here and have to call the TA’s by their first name which poses my first ever social dilemma. Let us give an illustration with a local flavour:
Theres a TA. Her name is Maisarah. She is 10 years your senior and teaches you Math and helps you integrate stuff. She’s also responsible for your marks and give wise words in class. And she said: “you can call me ‘Maisara’ ,” in an i’m-your-buddy kind of way.
Of course, this made me shift uncomfortably.
How can i call this person who is older than me, teaches me math, give me tips in exams, corrects my paper and said things like ” hand in your assignment this evening” on a first name basis?
“Hi Maisara, why did you deduct two marks from here…”
“Hey Maisara? How to solve this using Stokes..”
For the love of God.
It felt really rude. I feel sorry that ‘rude’ is a short,four letter word because the magnitude of the adjective ‘rude’ is huge, not at all consistent with the word. I would have hoped the mat salleh actually HAD a system that i not know of but my hopes all become dust. It took sometime getting accustomed to this form of culture shock although up till now if the person of female descent , i prefer not using first name basis. In mat salleh conversations, first person ‘I’ is just ‘I’ and ‘you’ is still ‘you’ irrespective of age. Unlike us, we have to tactfully choose between ‘aku-kau/kamu’ and ‘saya-awak’. The convenience provides me a leeway to utilize: ” Excuse me, do you ..” in conversations. No need for names thank God. ( Try translating that in bahasa and see how it sounds. Kamu? Kau? Awak? Theres no way out. You would have to use names to prevent sounding disrespectful).
However, i dont really mind not being called Kak Farah Hanani from people younger than me ( kalau budak darjah enam panggil aku Farah Hanani memang nak kene lempang la).
P/s : Still winces whenever theres a need to call akak-akak TA older than me without the preceding nomenclature ‘Kak ____’.