Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Navy Girl in an Air Force Town

(I know my post is late! But better late than never! Here is a Western Wednesday.)

My father was in the Navy, so in many ways I was "raised in the Navy." I know a lot of the weird Navy quirks and traditions. However, Albuquerque is an Air Force town, thanks to Kirtland Air Force Base, and aerospace engineering is in many ways an Air Force business. So I've had recent encounters with Air Force members.

I have two friends in the Air Force who I see regularly. They're my age and my friends, so there is no need for me to call them by their rank. But as my friends know, I often like to call people by their Jane Austin names. Not out of any love of Jane Austin, but because I feel there are some occasions that call for a little bit of formality. For example, if I'm a little bit angry at my friend I'll call him "Mr. Last Name". Or if I'm just in a formal feeling mood.

So on two occasions I called one of my Air Force friends "Mr. Last Name" within hearing of my other Air Force friend. The one I called Mister didn't seem to mind, but both times the other friend corrected me. "Captain Last Name" she said.

I was completely miffed by this. I mean, not because of the title. I get titles. I would never call my boss "Mr. Last Name" even if I was angry at him, because he's a PhD. I would call him "Dr. Last Name." However, I was fairly certain that for junior officers, which a captain in the Air Force is, Mister was a perfectly acceptable form of address. If this was a mistake, it was a mistake I'd been making all my life with Naval officers.

So I asked my dad. And thus struck my Navy upbringing.

Mister is a perfectly acceptable form of address for a junior officer in the Navy, he told me, but not the Air Force.

So you can call an Ensign Mister--like they do in Star Trek. But you can't call a Lieutenant Mister. Even though they're basically the same thing, just different branches.

It's not a big deal. From now on, when feeling formal or upset, I'll call my friend "Captain Last Name". But it’s just another example of culture shock--not necessarily a Southern culture to a Western one, but a Navy culture to an Air Force one*.

I had never before really thought about how being raised Navy affected my culture, but there it is--it does. It'll probably take a couple of corrections until I remember that. I'd never call a high ranking officer "Mister". You don't do that in the Navy either. So at least I shouldn't be making any big errors in this Air Force town. At least, I hope not. Hopefully, there aren't a lot of other Navy tendencies I've learned that will get me in trouble.

*Not to be confused with THE "Air Force One". :)

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