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The ‘sir’ culture

Prerana Marasini

Prerana Marasini

The ‘sir’ culture

I said ‘sir’ because it’s so prevalent that although there are women in a group being addressed, the likelihood of only ‘sir’ being used is still high

Do you prefer to be called by your first name, full name, or some suffix/prefix added to your name such as sir/madam/maam/miss/dai/didi or ji at the workplace? Although I do not have data on the use of people's preferred suffix/prefix, what I've noticed is that the practice of the 'sir culture' is widespread. Yes, I said 'sir' because it's so prev­alent that although there are women in a group being addressed, the likelihood of only 'sir' being used is still high. Of course, it's not every­where, and not everyone disregards the presence of women, but I have witnessed this on several occa­sions. I've made it a point to let the speakers know that there are women members too who don't feel comfortable being overlooked, but the behavioral transformation is hardly seen.

 

This 'sir culture', I believe, is an outcome of a hierarchical mindset and our traditional thoughts that suggest we need to be too respectful and too humble in front of a boss, especially a male boss. It's a fact that it took a long time for women to deserve and secure senior positions at work and it could be a reason why many stick with the old-fash­ioned style, as workplaces are still dominated by men.

 

At schools and colleges in Nepal, it's fine to call your teachers or faculty members sir/miss/madam. Perhaps, through a demonstration effect, people use the same word beyond the educational institutions. But they could simply be called a teacher, just like we call a doctor ‘doctor’ and not 'sir' or 'madam'. Our culture and limited vocabulary to address people higher in author­ity or their professions could be another reason why people use the word 'sir', so much so that a group comprising men and women also appears as 'sir' to them.

 

As most people would know, 'sir' is a honorary title given to people who have done something extraordi­nary, where it is used as a prefix. Sir Elton John for example. But in Nepal and many South Asian cultures, it's used as a suffix: ‘Elton sir’ or ‘Lax­man sir’. Unlike other countries, we simply cannot call people by their names, particularly those who are senior to us, both by profession and age.

 

It can be a problem when in the quest to show respect you're still promoting the stereotype. Although Nepali society is changing, people in senior positions still do not eas­ily welcome challenging thoughts and critiques and find it uncom­fortable to engage in constructive discussions. That's why there still are terminologies like 'yes man' or 'yes woman'. I see a direct relation between the 'sir culture' and these 'yes fellas'.

 

So, how should the new gener­ation show respect for their col­leagues without being offensive? Well, I think, just add a 'ji', which would be suitable for both men and women, regardless of their age or authority.