Different Spin 21st Feb 2014 – Are Malaysians obsessed with titles?
While writing a script for an emcee gig a few days ago, I came across this: Dato’ (Ir) XXX in my emcee notes. I know that it means he’s 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 Dato’ XXX?” I ask.
“If the dude or his public relations (PR) guy specifically highlights it, that means you need to mention it in your welcome note Daph.”
So, that’s what I did. I’ve learnt to be extra pedantic when it comes to greetings.
Many years back, I interviewed a Tan Sri Dato’ Sri 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 postmortem, the Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Dr. XXX complained about me needing to learn “some manners and to address people correctly!”
From then onwards, I am very careful with my salutations. If the person wants his name to be addressed as “Tan Sri Dato Sri Dr XXX OBE” in the future, I will do just that. If his first name is XXX followed by his father’s name and title (eg: Abu bin Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Dr Ali bin Baba) and that is written on his namecard, I shall follow suit.
(Yes. There are folks who do 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 Sri prefers being called XXX). Again, to warrant I don’t get into trouble.
I have friends who are Dato’s and Tan Sri’s. 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 nick, 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 call them by their title but if it’s just us, then by their name.
And then there’s the other scenario. School mates who are now title holders and insist you refer to them as such, which I’m very respectful of. Afterall, you don’t slog away in medic school for years and to not get the recognition you deserve, right? I just find it amusing how they correct you everytime.
“So (friend)…I was with Diane that day and you know how she can be right (friend)?”
(Uncomfortable silence from friend).
She corrects me.
“I’m 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.
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, pontianaks and all things big/long/tall (check out our Malaysia Book of Records as reference).
And apparently, titles can be bought. There’s even an open secret understanding that if you get a datukship from a certain state(s), then it’s less revered compared to titles from states that don’t practice “selling of datukships”.
I feel sorry for those who have received their datukships (without paying) from states who are known to “sell titles”.
“Wah…now he’s a datuk ah? From who? State Y. Oh. He beli ah?”
Yes, according to reports, Malaysia has one of the world’s highest rates of royal title-holders thanks to “a centuries-old royal patronage system linked to its now-ceremonial Malay sultans”.
Nearly all of the gigs I emcee will add VIP prestige to the event with a title-bearer as an honored guest. Exceptions are made if the VIP is a Minister/celebrity. But then again, most politicians ARE Datuks. Most. And celebrities too – from singers, TV hosts and sports personalities. It seems that, having a beauty queen title adds ‘ompph’ to the resume of one who wishes to enter into 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’m sorry if I call you Datuk instead of Tan Sri though; I don’t keep up with all investitures. It’s just the allegations of fake or purchased titles and reports of corrupted title holders that threaten to tarnish our nation’s name that slightly irks me.
So hopefully, the Council of Federal Datuks can address this matter.
TV Host & 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.