‘uncle’ and ‘boss’

It doesn’t bother me or surprise me any more when people whom i know only slightly or not at all and to whom i bear no blood relation call me ‘uncle’. It’s a common and rather charming practice in South Asia and here in South-East Asia and is frequently used by younger people as a term of respect or endearment for older men – nothing wrong with that. My neighbour’s Indonesian maid calls me ‘uncle’ every time she sees me but when a lady in a quiet suburb of Singapore starts calling me ‘uncle’ at twenty paces then little bells start ringing. The old dear in question was trying to show me something buried deep in the bowels of one of her capacious shopping bags. I didn’t wait around for a full excavation but fled the scene as smartly as my sciatic leg would allow.
‘Boss’ can be equally charming when used as well-intentioned respect but frightening when you are being placed in a superior position only to be taken advantage of – an attempt at ego massage so you’ll pick up the tab for all.
‘Uncle’ and ‘boss’ before a fall.

36 thoughts on “‘uncle’ and ‘boss’

  1. The art of praise is a carefully practiced psychological manipulative ploy exercised by many astute schemers. I had subordinates that initially attempted to address me as sir which I did not care for as we were not a military operation. I always told them to skip the sir routine and if they must refer to me with an address of respect that your royal majesty suited me just fine. It brought an immediate end to their frivolous attempts at manipulation. I like this story very much John.

    • i wouldn’t mind ‘Uncle John’ but it’s hardly ever that, it’s just
      ‘Hello, Uncle,’
      ‘How are you, Uncle?’
      ‘Where you go, Uncle?’

      Thank you, Gavin


  2. I’m not sure how I feel about either name, jf. I don’t ever want my using terms of endearment to be considered manipulation, I do know that to be true. I suppose here in the south we use them more than others. Yes, once you start feeling that prickly feeling down your spine, it’s time to move that sciatic leg! Most sincere love and hugs, jf.

  3. I know quite well that Asian custom to call “uncle or aunt”, when they consider they owe respect to that person. In China I write a Chinese girl, about 28, she explains me a lot of her life, husband and child… she always calls me Dear Mama Rosa….
    But the words, uncle and boss, can have other meenings, it depends if the persons are in good or bad terms and as well the tone of the voice.

  4. John, thank you for a wonderful start to my Friday (made me smile). Smart to leave as your “sciatic leg would allow”! Take good care and have a wonderful weekend!

    Always warm wishes,

  5. John, you are well adapted the culture in South East Asia very well! I totally understand how you felt..I think I’d rather call you “Bapak” when I see you – ah well, it depends how old you are, 😀 uncle is more for younger person 😀 – have a great weekend John and hope all is well!

  6. John – This is a powerful post also showing why in other cultures in Middle East and other countries the form of respect is higher. That is one of the reasons calling m grand parents by asking their permission. It is so much different in our culture and also the old generation time!!

  7. Hats off to you Uncle John! Story to learn from- cultures are so different in many places. In TX we call women and young ladies, Miss (whatever their first name is) – it’s really a term for endearment.

  8. Is that an Asian custom? “Uncle” and “Auntie” for non-family members? The reason I ask is that I seem to recall reading a book that was about Asians in which close friends but non-family members were referred to as such.

    • Yes, Kate, ‘uncle’ and ‘aunty’ are everywhere in South Asia and South-East Asia but a little less so here in Singapore than in neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia;
      in family circles nicknames are more widely used than ‘u’ and ‘a’

      Thank you for the great support.

      Best Always


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