Balachandran’s blog on his trip to Germany took me down the memory lanes.

It was way back in 1986 that I went to Germany for training on Ultrasound. The procedure was just coming up in India and many hospitals didn’t have the device. It was my first time abroad and I had the usual anxieties. Trier is a small town at the banks of the Moselle river.Quite honestly I didn’t know anything about Trier till I reached the place. This town has one heck of a long history behind it. It was founded by the Romans as “Augusta Treveorum” in 16 BC. Over 2000 years of history! Without doubt, it is Germany’s oldest city. Trier also boasts one of the most colorful markets in Europe with its outstanding ensemble of historical buildings.

Trier Hospital

Porta Nigra.The Roman Gate

Just after I reached, the winter started, and along with it, snow fall. The temperature was minus 10. I would spend the evenings at the hospital guest house; sipping the fine liquor the director had gifted me, watching the flecks of snow forming sheets of white carpet all around. Trier is close to Luxemberg and incidentally, is the birth place of Karl Marx. The hospital was run by monks of the Barmherzigen order.( Krankenhaus der Barmherzigen Bruder ,Trier Bruderhaus) My introduction letter had mentioned that I was working as a consultant in a big hospital in India (Elsewhere in the world, you have to put up many years of experience to become a consultant. It is common practice in India to place the title “Consultant”, just after someone finished a post graduate degree or even diploma!)
Prof. Yamus was one of the pioneers in the field of Ultrasound. I met him at his office. I knocked at his door and entered and started off with the usual” Good morning, Sir”.
And he replied, “My name is Yamus, not Sir.” Obviously, he had no idea what this sir business meant.
There is no sir business elsewhere, unless it is some kind of honor conferred up on you .Everyone in the department, from the attendant to the director called him just Mr.Yamus.  He was in his fifties at that time. Having used to calling everyone at the Medical College sir, sir, it was new experience to me. They gave me all the respect a consultant deserved. At one time Yamus mentioned, “I am surprised, at this young age you could become a consultant”. He had no idea that “consultant” was a self declared title in India. When I was leaving the hospital, he took me to his personal library, and said, “Thomas, take any book you find useful”.

I used to have breakfast at the hospital canteen (it was free for me !  ) I always noticed a graceful looking elderly man in his sixties who would come to the canteen at the same time. It was winter time and he would come immaculately dressed, and would take time in removing his hat, coat and muffler and hang them at the proper hangers, and would then take a table for his breakfast. Whoever would come there, he would offer a polite  “Guten Morgen”. I thought he was one of the senior professors or so at the hospital. One day while at lunch, I asked a colleague, in which department this gentleman worked and she said “Aah..,Mr. Merckel, he is our cleaner”.
This is how they are different and that is why I think they are better people.. They haven’t made a class difference. They respect mutually. And every job is given the respect it deserves. I would say, the cleaner is one of the most important persons in the hospital. Without him, the hospital would become a junk yard of fragmented organs and remains. But, would everyone take it? If not treat them as equals, at least we can stop insulting and abusing them for no reasons.

Over years we have accumulated so much of unhealthy practices we are proud of. We have been taught to respect elders and teachers, it is good as well, but that shouldn't just boil down to calling them Sir. These days students have no hesitation to f...the teachers after calling them  Sir,Sir.

And talking about   f…ing business, I learned that it was, after all, not such a bad term, from one of my colleagues whom I respect most. He would say “Aah … fuck” when ever something goes wrong in the ward. If he sees a patient deteriorating, or a bad lab result, he would  say “Ooh..Shit or.. ..Fuck”.To me,it was just a sign of his commitment to his patients, and there was no easier way to express the desperation.

He was one of the honest and disciplined persons I have ever worked with. He set good examples for me in profession and I have learned from him. Coming from him, I knew he meant no obscenity. But in India, we don’t talk about that business. It is not allowed to f…, leave alone talking about it in public. These are things we are supposed to carry in our perverted minds. We really mean fuck when we say that!
(I didn’t mean to write a blog on f….But it so happened and just came. Honestly I don’t think there is anything obscene in the word, it is the way we use it. After all, we hear it a hundred times in any English movie)


  1. I think the IT industry in India is devoid of the habit of calling "Sir/Madam"...One of the first things I was instructed after joining the company from campus was to call/mention people with their names...And I should say that I have grown quite comfortable with that practise.

  2. enjoyed this post.
    tho SIR is a colonial baggage, it is a very convenient term - affords respect and distance. a term of respect too.
    the F term - sorry,. am too oldfashioned to justify its usage and dismiss it as harmless.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I think I have been there. It is a nice place.

    India is the worst place for class discrimination.

  5. The organizations based out of America dont have the "Sir/Madam" culture. The first day of my work as a fresher; I addressed my manager "Ma'am". She said "My name is Divya, nod ma'am"

    Few days later, while talking to VP I said "Sir". An senior member of organization having more number of years of experience than my age and he said "Call me by my name"

    Its nice. No discrimination. Its our society that discriminates at all levels. Profanity? Uttering it without having any intent is much better than not uttering but having the intention.

  6. When our culture was very young. there was more respect. The English are supposed to be the more polite of people. I have no idea how people in different business address each other. My mom taught us while growing up to be respectful to the elderly. It sounds like you not only had a nice trip but you learned something also. Thank you for coming by and leaving a nice comment. Have a nice weekend.

  7. very nice blog...A class difference of mind and status is clearly visible in India...I went to school here in US for two years completing my IT .. but never said "Sir" to any was always by last "MR Brown" and came to know about college culture and how system works..which was unusual for me...
    Swearing words are used by professors and teachers too but ..always as a part of conversation..As an Indian I always felt little embarrassed with the lingo...
    but overall I would never suggest my kids or anybody use them as part of conversation!
    NicE BLOG DOC!!

  8. Marin Scorsese is a director I respect, but his movie, The Departed, which won the Oscar for best film in 2007, was a f***ing movie. My son and I are avid Hollywood movie buffs; we went to watch The Departed together. He already knew about the birds and the bees, but sitting with me for nearly 2 hours of a movie, in which the 80% words of the dialogue consisted of the single word, Fuck, was exhausting for us. I thought and still think that is gross. Perhaps thats the way Americans talk? I don't know, I have seen America only in the movies, and the movies could be a reflection of the real, wouldn't it?

    Like your Irish doctor, maybe the Americans also use the word 'fuck' quite frequently. I don't think much of that. If they are not talking about fornication, there are better words to use as a curse. And they don't say the F word in front of children or allow kids to say it, do they?

    Oh, F*** Americans anyway. Long Live Assange! (Clean tongued Americans, forgive me!)

  9. Quite enjoyed the post. Bring on more stories...

  10. Isnt it true that it is more of SIR in Europe and not so much in the US?

  11. I don't like to hear the F word especially when it is said in front of children.Granted some will pick it up later in life but leave innocence alone. Teach them well.

  12. Lovely post ..very interesting writeup..will be back to check updating posts..
    Tasty appetite

  13. India is the only place that has 2 words for 'you' with respect...aap/ningal and the other tum/ni. The whole thing is ingrained in us since birth. Now a days it's gotten Andhra we say Madamgaru...or Sargaru...and worse Gandhi'ji'garu...:)

  14. This thing about giving respect by way of words is reflected in Indian languages too. You would not find the same in the English language. But, I like the whole doing away of Sir business.

  15. nice trip down the memory lane ..
    I live so close by to germany never had the time ot go ahhhh maybe i shud visit it .. :)


  16. Doc didn’t you see that travelling and observing can change us for the better, bring about different perceptions than a long pilgrimage or fervent prayers in places of worship.
    We have to imbibe the respect and value of labour – the quality the West has. The hangover of casteism in our culture with caste determined by the division of labour, has retained its negative side in us. And perhaps, we demean labour and are scornful of what we call lesser labour.
    We also have bestowed liberally, knighthood on any one who we deem a level above us in the hierarchy. Well as a token of respectful salutation I do not find any harm in that.
    I also agree with Insignia that, intending profanity without uttering it is to be guarded than the casual utterance of the word fuck. What is wrong in uttering the word fuck that merely means an act of sexual intercourse or mess up?
    If the word is vulgar, ugly well then we all have been or are indulging? Quite bad! The stiff upper lip and high nose are still with us – the hangover of the qualities of the Raj and its aristocratic social times.

  17. Thanks for sharing your trip details. Enjoyed reading it very much :)

  18. I appreciate for your wonderful post. Excellent. Keep it up! I enjoyed reading it.
    You are welcome at my new post-

  19. Enjoyed reading...The Sir business is a leftover of the colonial rule...It is time that we break from the leftovers...

  20. Very interesting read Doctor..Every job is important, I always think how terrible it will be for us to work if we don't have the office assistants..Yes in most IT companies nobody uses Sir. But there is no harm in giving respect to elders. And no harm in calling one by name, when you still respect them.

  21. Absolutely agree with you doc...things are changing. Private jobs, and frequent traveling abroad is changing practices in the private sector..Great blog.

  22. @Elizabethe
    Some establishments still keep this tradition.What I have felt is that many people secretly enjoy such an addressing.
    I changed it as you suggested.Honestly I also don't use it it conversations.It simply doesnt come to us
    I thought so as well.There is not much of the affluence we see in the gulf,but people are different.
    The IT industry id probably the first place for such a change in India.Probably because most are equally qualified,and there is not much place for buttering.
    In India traditionally we used to call all elders with some respectful terms.We never used to address teachers by name!
    It is easier for the newer generation.needs getting used to.

  23. Nice post. Yes, we have these lofty ideas about our status! But that is in our culture too. Our Indian languages too, if you notice, we have to be careful to frame our sentences when it is to a senior or an elder. Like Thum and Aaap and the like. And English does not have those nuances. So, this creeps into our daily lives. How else would we show respect to a superior? Except otherwise by the tone?

  24. I think there is a difference in both cultures, abroad sometimes they call the parents also by name but can we ever do that?

  25. What a fascinating post and such a personal story, many thanks for sharing it.

  26. @balachandran
    I liked that movie. What the f... is a very usual fucking hot..fucking cold.. fucking good fucking bad...naturally the list would go is as if the word has no serious meaning at all!
    @ NRI girl
    Thanks for visiting.
    I think so. Sir is a colonial relic.
    Most women hate the term !
    Good, you found time away from cooking ! Need a break!
    Tamilians use this sir term too often. Enna the usual addressing.
    @Bikram..You wont find much of a difference,being in Europe
    Most of the things people enjoy doing are prohibited.Doing is one thing.Talking about it is another!
    @Madhu,Babli and Stranger
    Thanks for the response.
    IT field is different.Most are on equal terms,it is easier.
    Welcome.Nice to see you here.
    No for sure.It is our history to respect elders.But what did we do before we learned 'sir"
    How is your cough and fever? Are you OK?

  27. Dr.Antony , very pleasant read, enjoyed it.

    In USA, I observe great dignity of labor. Person doing fine office job don't mind delivering news paper for whole year in tough weather. Many Americans do two or even three jobs of different kind.

    In India we don't need F word..Don't we have similar words in each language for expression..It is just imitation of USA culture and is good as long as used in light sense.

    I just wonder if India has adapted "Bless you" expression which is used after one sneezes. This is American great don't need to know the walk on road and sneeze, next person near you will graciously say.."Bless you". I will welcome such imitations of American culture in India. :)

  28. I live in Texas. Here to call people Sir out of respect is usual. Kids sometimes call their parents Sir or Ma'am. It is their old habit that the traditional people would like to keep. They call everybody,cleaners etc with Sir/Ma'am title. I think that is not a bad thing. But I agree in our places in east it implies sometime different meanings and that is not good.

  29. I am a die hard fan of your posts, and can't stay away from your writings for a long time. Keep up the good work.

  30. You know something. You are a real hero. You make us think, make us laugh, and entertain us so well. I real have a great time when I visit your blog.

  31. I don't know how you express your thoughts so skillfully. It's always a very thoughtful read that I enjoy in your articles.

  32. Now, this is what I call a superb article. I wonder where you get so much resources from. Whatever, you have real power of words.


Post a Comment

Please spend another moment to make your comment before leaving.

Popular Posts