As I Grow Older, These Aunty-Uncle Habits Still Don’t Make Sense To Me
STORY: Pearlyn Tham
11 January 2021
In other parts of the world, when someone calls you “aunty” or “uncle”, it means that you are family.
But in Singapore, it’s a different kind of name game. We like to anyhow call anyone “aunty” or “uncle” – from the nasi lemak stall hawker to the taxi driver to our neighbour next door – as a mark of respect for a stranger who is supposedly older than us. I say “supposedly” because the following has happened so many times:
a) A much older person calls a younger person, usually working in the service industry, “aunty” because the much older person doesn’t know what other honorific to insert into “XXX, one kopi siew dai.” Then the much younger person gets offended and an honorific turns into a horrorific.
b) You hop into a taxi and say “Uncle, Jurong West Street 65” and then realise the uncle is an aunty.
c) Random children of random people call you “aunty” or “uncle” at festive gatherings and you start to question your SK-II miracle water regimen because it seemed just two minutes ago when kids addressed you as “chae chae” or “gor gor”.
Also, sometimes, “aunty” or “uncle” isn’t used as a honorific. It is used as an adjective to describe habits, behaviours or dressing styles that you would typically associate with an aunty or an uncle.
Initially, this website’s editor assigned me to write about how as I grow older (hello, I’m only 123 years old, can), aunty-uncle habits start to make sense to me. But since I think it’s more of the opposite, here are the aunty-uncle things that still don’t make sense to me.
1. Whacking a public transport seat that someone has just vacated
Real aunties and uncles have told me before that doing this helps to dissipate the previous occupant’s bodily heat and cool down the seat surface. Don’t say got Covid-19 or don’t have Covid-19 – I would never want to sully my palms touching a seat or anything that has been graced (and grazed) by 4,521,930 hot, sweaty butts.
2. Sprinting to a public transport seat that someone has just vacated
Doesn’t matter if the rest of us are pregnant, disabled or with a baby. Nobody can Usain Bolt faster than aunties and uncles who spot empty seats on the train.
3. Not clearing their food trays and utensils
“I’m old and my arms not very good liao, and got the cleaner aunty and uncle what,” say aunties and uncles who arrow the clearing up to staff who are older and more frail than they are.
4. Breathing down other people’s necks in a queue
The best thing that came out of 2020 for me was social distancing measures and that everyone-please-stand-1m-apart-rule. Because the same aunties and uncles who feel that the MRT seat is too hot for them will also be exhaling their hot, steamy, phlegmy breath down my neck on an escalator, in an ATM queue, at the NTUC checkout line... why so kan cheong! You will get there when you get there, even if you stand 10cm away from my pores.
5. Pressing and poking groceries at the supermarket
Obv, there must have been enough assaults made on those poor battered fruits, squished chye sim and dented chicken thighs for the FairPrice chain to put up cute posters of sad-faced cartoon fruit begging customers not to manhandle their vulnerable bits. Please, if you poke everything (or worse, swop eggs and fruit from box to box so you can get the perfect genetically-chosen combination), other people don’t need to buy or eat hor?
6. Watching forwarded videos in public – with volume on
It was boomer enough having a certain demographic mass-forward unfunny videos all day long. It’s more boomer and booming when you are in the train or bus, and the aunty or uncle beside you decides that it is only right to share their choice of phone entertainment – think Hokkien music videos, talk shows with canned laughter, video chats with friends and mobile games – with everyone else. At full volume. I guess it’s their idea of making things go viral.