Friday, September 7, 2012

How Big Is This Family?


I must have been about 12 or 13 when I got the first really memorable smack on the back of my head.
Not because I had been caught smoking or bunking school or had my ear pierced.... but because I had walked passed my Mom chatting to the neighbor and simply greeted said neighbor with "Hi Sheila."

My 12 year old brain was trying to figure out what I had done wrong, when my Mom brought me up to speed with the threat of another smack unless I addressed the neighbor by her proper name, Aunty Sheila.

Ever since then, everyone and anyone who looks possibly older than I am, even if it be by a single grey hair, naturally becomes my Aunty or Uncle.

That's fine when you're pre-pubescent or even a teenager. Everybody is older than you are... and if they're not, it's easy to spot.
Turn the clock forward 20 years and suddenly kids are calling you Uncle and you're calling their dad's Uncle and before you know it, the vicious circle has no end!
When does it all stop? When do I have to stop worrying about being smacked on the head for not referring to an elder as Uncle or Aunty? Do they have to fit a certain criteria before being given the title? What about the old geezer at the BP petrol station who fills my tank and washes my windscreen? Is he my Uncle too? What about the guy at my cricket club who's considerably older than I am, but who's wife was 2 grades behind me in school? Does she automatically become my Aunty?

I don't know.
I blame my parents for starting this madness. If we had just stuck to the Webster Dictionary definition of Uncle and Aunt, life would be so much simpler and family boundaries would be a lot more clear cut.
I visited a friend once who's dad was telling me a story about a family function they had attended over the weekend. He kept referring to one of the characters in the story as "Your aunty" and I kept wondering which aunty, and how would he know any member of my family.
Finally at the end of his long drawn-out saga which rivaled Days Of Our Lives for boring awards, he could sense I was having difficulty putting this 'aunty' person into context and when I asked who she was, he said "My wife man... haven't you been following?"
Clearly I hadn't.
Somewhere between visiting my friend to play video games and this boring story his father insisted on telling me, the woman of the house had become my Aunty!

I know my Indian friends reading this are going "Hey, that happened to me too! Everyone is my Aunty and Uncle".... and my white friends are going "What the dickens is he talking about?"
White folk don't seem to have this problem.
They also don't seem to get smacked on the head as often as Indian kids do.
My friend Shaun who was 14 at the time came home when it was still cool for Indians to bring white friends home, like showing off to your parents that you discovered a new species and it goes with your jeans and tekkies.
Anyways, so Shaun comes home one Saturday and I'm praying to God as we walked up my driveway that my mom wasn't making samoosa's or frying kebabs, because back then that's what everybody thought happens in Indian homes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Just samoosa's and kebabs non-stop.
Thankfully, my mom was doing neither.
She was vacuuming the entire house with a stocking on her head and slippers.
Not a stereotype at all, thank goodness.

So Shaun walks in, sees my mom and goes "Hi Rashida."
I closed my eyes waiting for the smack, all the while thinking my days of bringing white friends home had just come to an abrupt end.
My mom replies "Hi Shaun. Good to see you. How are your folks?"
I stood there gobsmacked. Seriously? How are your folks? What happened to his smack on the head?

That's when I realized that my parents had two sets of rules.
One for their kids, and one for everyone else's kids.
Our rules always included a smack on the head at some point.
I guess it's that fear that kept most of us in line. I just wished they'd told me when I could stop calling random strangers Uncle and Aunty.