What is an Auntie in Indian Culture?

Thứ sáu - 26/04/2024 23:11
An easy guide on how to respectfully address an "auntie" In Indian culture, an auntie refers to any older woman. It's a sign of affection and respect that is usually reserved for women you have some kind of social or familial connection...
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In Indian culture, an auntie refers to any older woman. It’s a sign of affection and respect that is usually reserved for women you have some kind of social or familial connection to. If you aren’t Indian or you haven’t spent a lot of time around Indians, this may seem a little strange at first. Here, we’ll cover all of the social norms, uses, and etiquette surrounding the term. As a note, this convention is not specific to India, and you will hear “auntie” or “uncle” across all Desi cultures, although it is most widely associated with Indian people in the West.

Things You Should Know

  • In Indian culture, people will often refer to all older women as aunties.
  • If you’re with Indian friends or family, use “auntie” for any older woman you have a social or familial connection with.
  • “Uncle” is the male version of auntie. You use it the exact same way you use “auntie.”
Section 1 of 5:

What is an auntie?

  1. “Auntie” is a term of reverence for any elder woman in Indian culture.
    If you have some kind of social or familial relationship with an older woman, you’ll often be expected to address them as “auntie” in Indian culture. This is a term of endearment and respect, but it is reserved for women you are somehow connected to if you aren’t Indian.[1]
    • For example, your actual aunt, your aunt’s friend, and your older second cousin would all be referred to as “auntie.” In fact, if your older second cousin brought her friend from Bingo, she’d be an auntie, too!
    • There’s no real equivalent in non-Indian contexts, but “auntie” is kind of like a more respectful and personal version of “ma'am” or “madam.”
    • Just FYI, “auntie” and “aunty” are interchangeable. You’ll see the “ie” spelling in the US, and the “y” spelling in the UK.
    • Variation: Younger people will often use “auntie” as a placeholder for “any older woman,” but only when they’re talking to other young people. For example, two friends at a house party might joke about “the aunties getting upset about the loud music.”
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Section 2 of 5:

How to Use Auntie

  1. Step 1 Address all older women who are socially connected to you as auntie.
    Let’s say your Indian friend invites you to a family gathering. Every Indian woman who is obviously much older than you can be called “auntie” because they’re somehow connected to you and your friend. But, if you were at a soccer game, you wouldn’t refer to all older women as “aunty” since there’s no personal connection.
    • Indians in India may occasionally use “aunty” or “uncle” for strangers when they’re trying to be friendly, but that’s not common outside of India.
    • Important note: Most Indian people will not expect you to call them “auntie” if you aren’t Desi (or potentially, in a relationship with a Desi person they’re related to). For example, if you’re a white American and your white Uncle brings an older Indian date, she’d be very unlikely to expect you to call her “auntie” (“Ms.” would work just fine!).
  2. Step 2 Include the woman’s first name before or after “auntie” if you know it.
    If you’ve ever seen the show Indian Matchmaking, you’d know that Sima Auntie is a widely controversial character.[2] You might notice that “Sima” is her name and it’s in front of the word “auntie!” This is a common configuration in Indian culture, but it’s 100% okay to call her “Auntie Sima” if you prefer.
    • The first name in front of “auntie” convention is probably a crossover from grammar rules in Hindi. Hindi (and most of its dialects) are SOV (subject-object-verb) while English is SVO (subject-verb-object). So, you might say “I eat fruit“ in English, while the order would translate to “I fruit eat” in Hindi.[3]
  3. Step 3 Use “auntie” on its own if you don’t know someone’s first name.
    Let’s go back to that party you’ve been invited to. If you’re standing in line for food and an older woman says “hello” but she hasn’t introduced herself, you might say, “Hello auntie!” In situations where you don’t know their name, it’s perfectly permissible to skip it and stick with “auntie” on its own.
    • This makes trying to remember a lot of names a breeze, since you can always default to “auntie” for older women.
    • In India, you intentionally leave out the person’s name if you do not personally have a connection to them. It’d kind of be as rude as a student using their teacher’s first name in the US.
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Section 3 of 5:

Is “auntie” offensive?

  1. It’s considered rude if a woman is close to your age or younger.
    It wouldn’t be the meanest thing you could ever say, but it would come across as a little impolite if you refer to a woman who is only a few years older than you as an auntie. This title is reserved exclusively for women who are over the age of 45 or so who are also older than you by some meaningful amount. A 50-year-old would never refer to a 60-year-old as “auntie,” for example.
    • There are no strict age guidelines regarding when someone becomes an auntie or not. It’s sort of like “young.” When someone is 8, they’re obviously young, but what about 21? When you’re 28 do you still count as “young?” It’s the same with “auntie;” it’s all relative.
    • If a younger Indian woman does something kind of traditional or old-timey, their friends might playfully joke about them “turning into an auntie.”
    • Milddle-aged women who grow up outside of India will often object to the term. There’s a plot point in Never Have I Ever where a middle-aged Indian character complains that she’s not an auntie, for example.
Section 4 of 5:

Is it rude if I use “auntie” as a non-Indian person?

  1. Step 1 No, it will usually come across as respectful if you’re connected.
    Don’t worry—you aren’t engaging in some kind of cultural appropriation or violating any kind of social norm if you refer to an older Indian woman as an auntie. So long as you two are connected in some way and you’re in a primarily Indian setting, feel free to use “auntie.”
    • If you aren’t actually in an Indian context (i.e. you’re at a primarily Indian party, you’re visiting Indian relatives, etc.), it might come across as a little strange. If you aren’t Indian, don’t call every older Indian woman you run into “auntie.”
  2. Step 2 It may come across the wrong way if you use it with someone unrelated to you.
    When we say “related” here, we mean “connected in any way.” So, if you’re going out to eat and you refer to your older Indian waitress as “auntie” it’s probably going to come off like you’re being too personal or presumptuous (especially if they aren’t actually Desi).
    • It would be normal for Indians in India to use “auntie” for all older women, but it might come across the wrong way if you do that.
    • Pro tip: If you’re not sure whether it’s appropriate to use “auntie,” it’s a big sign you shouldn’t use it.[4]
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Section 5 of 5:

Other Indian Title Conventions

  1. Step 1 Use “uncle” for older men the same way you use “auntie” for women.
    The same exact rules for “auntie” apply to “uncle,” with the potentially obvious core difference that “uncle” is for older men. As a rule of thumb, if you refer to a woman as “auntie,” you always refer to their male partner as “uncle.” It would come off as odd if you didn’t use both.
    • Indians will often use “brother” and “sister” to refer to friends, cousins, or coworkers. This is basically identical to the way a lot of Black Americans will refer to people as “brother” or “sister.”[5]
    • You’ll often hear Indian Americans using the Hindi, Sindhi, Gujarati, etc. words for “brother” or “sister” instead of the English words. The most popular variations are “bhaee,” “bhai,” and “bhaiya” for “brother” and “bahan,” “bona,” or “bahena” for “sister.”
  2. Step 2 Indian English speakers will usually use Hindi terms for immediate family.
    Even if English is the primary language spoken among an Indian family, members of that family will often use the popularized Hindu terms for specific family members. It would usually be considered odd for a non-Indian person to use these terms unless they’re married into the family.[6] Key examples include:
    • Mausi – your mother’s sister
    • Chachi – your father’s brother’s wife
    • Didi/Bhabi – your actual uncle or aunt (if you’re much younger)
    • Nani/Nana – your grandparents
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