Monday, May 27, 2013

I Am Also My Uncle's Uncle and My Aunt's Aunt

A couple of weeks ago, my uncle visited. When I saw him, I said Salaam Amoo! He replied Salaam Amoo! This weekend, I spoke to my dad. Hi Baba! To which he replied Salaam Baba jaan! Later, I called my aunt in Iran to see how she was doing. Saalam khaleh jaan!, I said. Salaam khaleh jaan! was her answer. 

What was going on here? Being a language student and teacher has made me extra sensitive to the subtleties of language.  They were my uncle, dad and aunt, yet they we calling me uncle, dad and aunt.  And so it suddenly hit me. This is what Iranians do. Sure, amoo is your paternal uncle, daei is your maternal uncle, ammeh is your paternal aunt and khaleh is your maternal aunt. But they also call you these names.

Often times, when my dad wants to get my attention or ask me something, instead of saying my name, he says baba: Baba? Can you come here for a second? Similarly, at my aunt's house, she'll call me khaleh instead of Pontia: Khaleh jan, would you like some tea? When I spoke to her on the phone this weekend, she said When are you coming to Iran again, khaleh jaan? We miss you!

This also happens with my mom, maman, though in a somewhat different manner. When my mom calls me maman is usually because she is trying to drive a point home: If you don't like it, don't do it anymore maman jaan! or I know you are busy at work, but you need to eat right maman jaanI take this as a sense of endearment. Somehow it would sound a lot harsher were she to call me by my name. But calling me maman somehow makes our relationship even closer. It sounds as if my pain is her pain. It's not that I'm never called Pontia, but perhaps this sense of closeness is the concept behind this kind of name calling. Or maybe it has to do with politeness and respect. That's why jaan is often added after names. Or maybe the answer is a lot simpler- that's just Iranian culture. 



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