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Dude, Raj, Dr. Joshi, Sir, or Uncle?

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
October 2011
Dude, Raj, Dr. Joshi, Sir, or Uncle?

Dear PMG:

Two friends of mine and I graduated from college recently and actually got jobs. We also found a great apartment in New York. Two of us roommates are of Indian origin; the condo owners are also Indian—a middle-aged couple who, for the sake of this column, I’ll call Raj and Mangla Joshi.

Our problem is not anything earth-shaking, but still bothersome. Whereas my non-Indian roommate calls the Joshis by their first names, I call them Dr. Joshi and Mrs. Joshi. And my Indian roommate, who, like me, grew up calling all elderly Indians Uncle or Auntie, minimizes the confusion by avoiding addressing them altogether.

Any ideas on how to get around this naming conundrum?

Dear Friend,

“I had fortunately not yet become ‘Mahatma,’ nor even ‘Bapu’ (father); friends used to call me by the loving name of ‘Bhai.’” (M. K. Gandhi)

There was a time in India and America when youngsters addressed elders a bit more respectfully than just by first names. As the quote above shows, Gandhiji felt not only respected but also loved when friends called him “Bhai” (brother). (The quote also suggests that Gandhiji did not welcome the honorific “Mahatma.”)

Clearly, times change, and we now live in an informal era. As with all change, something is gained and something is lost. Sometime in the second half of the last century, Americans, young and old, seem to have all begun referring to each other by their first names. Perhaps this laid-back approach began in California even before the egalitarian work culture of the Silicon Valley, with its unreserved parking spaces and cubicle- style offices. As the Valley’s economic power grew, so did its cultural influence. Even in Bangalore, where once a manager was called “sir,” today it is not far-fetched to hear him addressed as “dude.”

Your question suggests that confusion arises when there are multiple value systems at work. One approach is to honor the other person’s values and simply ask, “What should I call you?” If that feels too forward, then use “Dr.,” “Mr.,” “Ms.,” or “Mrs.” until the other person invites you to use his or her first name.

As for me, away from work, I prefer to be called “Uncle” or “Mr. Oza” by those who are my children’s age or younger. If you are closer to my age, “Bhai” is fine, but please don’t call me “Bro.”

[Dr. Rajesh C. Oza serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at raj_oza@hotmail.com.]

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