Fair dinkum, Aunty Ann gets used to it
AT FIRST I was enchanted, but then it turned on me. Now I'm not so sure.
I'm talking about being called aunty. Aunty Ann. I am a fair-dinkum aunty to a few nieces and nephews and it is one thing to be called Aunty Ann by them (even though I'd rather they just dropped the Aunty bit to make me sound younger), but when an entire country starts on with the Aunty Ann business... well... as I said, I'm not so sure.
It happened in the Cook Islands, a most friendly and warm and beautiful place. We were greeted at the airport by Cook Island tourism ambassador Aunty Nane.
Her head bedecked with flowers and with a garment we used to call a mu-mu cascading dramatically over her wonderfully plump curves, Aunty Nane embodied the essence of everything you'd expect in a seasoned Cook Islander. She kissed our cheeks and put strings of perfumed gardenias around our necks and we loved her immediately.
"How come you're called Aunty Nane," we asked when we'd got to know her (a whole five minutes after meeting, she was that friendly).
"Any woman over a certain age is called Aunty," she said giving me a knowing look. And then: "It is what we do here, Aunty Ann."
Well, it was all Aunty Ann coming at me from then on.
Everyone we met - and we met many in the hotels and restaurants and cafes - automatically called me Aunty Ann.
At first I enjoyed it.
It had a personal affection about it, a 'you-are-my-family-now' inclusion.
But the small problem was, I was travelling with a couple of younger women, both in their mid-30s, and each time we were introduced to others, it was a case of "This is Miss Penny and Miss Angela... and Aunty Ann."
That's when the 'not so sure about this' part kicked it.
Everyone we met automatically called the girls by their first names and then tacked an 'aunty' onto mine.
My age became a glaring factor in the Cook Islands. Now, this was not a bad thing, as I said, it had a sincere warmth about it, and I knew it was done out of respect for my superior age.
But it took a lot of getting used to in the week I spent in this tropical island haven and just as I had accepted it, and was almost basking in the 'aunty' title, came a real downer.
One man, a distinguished European hotelier who hadn't been in the Cook Islands long himself, called me 'Mamma Ann.'
Mamma! It was said with respect, but still Mamma! This title, I learnt, is reserved for really old Cook Island women. What could I do?
The Cook Islanders love and revere their seniors and there is no doubting I am a senior. If I am fortunate enough to go back to the Cook Islands, I'll make a point of travelling with women much older than me. Maybe then I'll be referred to as Miss Ann.