Re: Is this just an English thing ?
It is just an English thing.
What makes it contentious, I feel, is that despite the renowned flexibility of the English language, no one has been able to invent new pronouns that sound natural as drop-in replacements. So that is my suggestion - drop-in-replacement-pronoun or DIRP - pronounced 'dear', as in "Dirp Smith".
Bit tricky in a letter though: "Dear Dirp Smith, ..."