Back in my youth, I volunteered for a national youth leadership organization. We worked with local businesses like Alexander & Baldwin, First Hawaiian Bank, JC Penny, and Bank of Hawaii. One of the volunteers from BOH used to remind me, “Please call me Bob. Mr. Fujii is my father.” It was difficult. I had just finished with college and still could feel “the look” my mother gave when I didn’t address people properly. (I probably could also feel that pinch she would give me if I misbehaved!)
My practice of addressing people with a Mr./Mrs./Miss/Ms title was reinforced as I worked at an elementary school where the staff would purposely make of point of addressing each other formally in front of the students. I didn’t mind. I was trained to do so, it didn’t seem overly formal, uncomfortable, or even less comfortable.
Bob finally pulled me aside and said, “I know that your parents have told you to address people properly, but we’ve worked together for over a year. I’m asking you please, just call me by my first name. I’d prefer it!” I knew I had always been “on a first name basis” with him, however, it was reassuring to have his permission. I want to train my children to feel and do the same.
These days, I appreciate the friends of my children who call me Mrs. Bartolome. I hope that my own children do the same when they speak to adults. I also understand that in Hawaii, the practice is a little less formal, by changing the Mr. or Mrs. to Uncle or Auntie and as much as it makes someone feel more a part of the family, I think that we toss those title around too freely. Without the initial formality, we lose some of the respect an elder deserves. Without these social graces, it makes it difficult to appreciate the relationships and importance we have to one another.
I don’t mind being introduced as Auntie Christina. I also notice I make a distinction by introducing work friends with Mr./Ms. and close friends, and yes, locals are Auntie/Uncle, but I do also feel a little proud when I hear my son call his friend’s mother, Mrs. Kawai, only to hear her say, “Cortez, call me Auntie Brenda!”