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Friday, 21 February 2014

Addressing people by their correct titles a social minefield

WHILE writing a script for an emceeing gig a few days ago, I came across this: “Datuk (Ir) XXX” in my emcee notes.

I know that it means he is an engineer, but I wanted to know how to pronounce it correctly during my salutations.

My friends came quickly to my aid (thank you Facebook).

“In-see-nyor… or you can just say engineer, as long as you mention it.”

“But if it’s in brackets, isn’t it more of a “by the way, I’m an engineer”, so I just address him as Datuk XXX?” I asked.

“If the dude or his public relations guy specifically highlights it, that means you need to mention it in your welcome note, Daph.”

So, that is what I did. I have learnt to be extra pedantic when it comes to greetings.

Many years back, I interviewed a Tan Sri Datuk Seri Dr XXX on my show. Because his title and name was quite a mouthful, I thought greeting him with his “highest” title would be sufficient (Tan Sri Dr XXX).

I was wrong.

The interview went well, so I thought. During my after-show post mortem, the Tan Sri Datuk Seri Dr XXX complained that I needed to learn “some manners and to address people correctly!”

Oh-my!

From then onwards, I am very careful with my salutations. If the person wants his name to be addressed as “Tan Sri Datuk Seri Dr XXX OBE” in the future, I will do just that.

And then there are those who refuse to use their titles when I interview them, but their PR or entourage insists you address them as such. It gets very difficult for me, especially when I know the interviewee personally.

I usually compromise, by introducing them, title and all, and then throughout the interview, I will call them by their preferred name.

Just in case, I usually do a disclaimer at the beginning (Datin Seri prefers being called XXX). Again, to warrant I do not get into trouble.

I have friends carrying the title Datuk and Tan Sri. We go way back and amongst friends, they prefer to be called by their nicknames. But during formal or official events, it gets a bit tricky because if you call them by their first name or nickname, others, who might not know your history with “title holder”, might assume you are being rude (for not adhering to protocol).

Most of the time, I would refer to them by their title but if it is just us, then by their name.

And then there is the other scenario. Schoolmates who are now title holders and insist you refer to them as such, which I am very respectful of.

After all, you do not slog away in medical school for years and to not get the recognition you deserve, right? I just find it amusing how they correct you every time.

Here is an excerpt from a conversation I had with a friend.

“So (friend), I was with Diane that day and you know how she can be right (friend)?” and there was an uncomfortable silence from the “friend”.

She corrects me.

“I am a doctor now.”

“Oh! Sorry doc. And you know how Diane can be right Dr (friend)?”

Suffice to say, our catch-up session was cut short.

Sigh!

Are we a society obsessed with titles?

We have all heard the “throw a stone anywhere and you will hit a Datuk” line.

I read online that titles are an obsession amongst Malaysians besides nasi lemak, and all things big/long/tall (check out our Malaysia Book of Records as reference).

At nearly all of the gigs I emcee, a title bearer as an honoured guest will add VIP prestige to the event.

But then again, most politicians are Datuks. Most. And celebrities too — from singers to TV hosts and sports personalities.

It seems that, having a beauty queen title adds “oomph” to the resume of one who wishes to enter the world of media and entertainment.

To each their own.

I have no qualms about addressing friends or strangers alike with their awarded titles — I am sorry if I call you Datuk instead of Tan Sri because I do not keep up with all investitures.

TV host and emcee Daphne Iking is not too bothered with titles. Her recent obsession is the “Malaysians for Malaysia” Facebook group and brainstorming new ideas for her side projects in comedy and design. Follow her rants on twitter @ daphCLPT or instagram: daphneiking.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion , Central Region , daphne iking

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