This is for all my non-Indian friends, co-workers and acquaintances in Australia, UK, mainland Europe and everywhere else. You have made me generally feel very welcome in your respective countries ever since I have migrated from India. Over the years I have picked up a number of wonderful things from the culture of my host countries and have made those a part of my own life such as pasties, panettones, the Henley Royal Regatta and the Melbourne Cup.
However there is a lot of ground for me to cover. So please excuse me if I appear lost at times. My upbringing taught me nothing about footy, rugby, windsurfing or skiing. I had not tasted scones or cannelloni before. I have not attended the coming-of-age Schoolies at Gold coast, Byron Bay or anywhere else. I was quite surprised when I found that Dirty Granny was a brand of cider. In India, grandmothers are the most venerable of creatures and it would be almost a blasphemy to call such a person ‘dirty’. So when such references come up in conversation, I have trouble keeping up and no doubt I make a fool of myself many a times.
In my defense I know more now than I did when I first moved out of India but I guess it is difficult to get the knowledge of a lifetime in a few years. Some differences between the east and the west (or the east and down south in case of Australia) stemming from our vastly different upbringings and social climates, are difficult to bridge. We come cannot help but see the world with differently colored glasses.
In order to help my non-Indian friends understand my psyche a little better, here is a random list of some rituals and rules that are commonplace in your countries and yet they are not things an Indian would do whilst on his home soil, such as –
1) Sunbathing- As a tribe, we do not sunbathe. Never. We are blessed with ample sunshine in our home country. We do not plop down on the beach, the back garden or the rooftop in skimpy clothing to soak in some vitamin D. Yes, we do go to the beach – to play in the water, gather seashells, to see the sunrise/sunset, to chill out at a beach shack. But never to sunbathe.
2) Love tans – Nature has made us coffee coloured; café au lait in some cases, Americano in others. As it is human nature to desire that which you do not have, we are obsessed with fair skin. Pale skin is always in for Indians. A million products that promise to deliver perfect white skin are sold to the gullible in Indian bazaars. People arm themselves with umbrellas to escape from the melanin inducing effects of the sun. Fair maidens are prized above all in the marriage market. So in India, you will find no solariums or tanning lotions.
3) Have dinner early – Indians do not dine at the time the rest of the world does. Dinner is always after 9pm in most households, with a fair number even opting to have dinner at around 11pm. So it is needless to say that when Indians come abroad, they are amazed to see restaurants packed to the rafters at 6:30pm. That happens to be the time for evening snacks back in India.
4) Put children to bed early – As a corollary of above, Indian children are not put to bed by 7:30pm. They run riot through the house till 10pm. Yes, even on weeknights. Of course some children might be totally knackered by indulging in too much of cricket (the whole nation is cricket crazy!) and as such may crash out by 9 or 9:30 pm much to the delight of harried parents.
5) Do his/her own washing up and household cleaning – This is one of the greatest luxurious of living in India and one that is sorely missed by all expats. Almost all households, middle income group onwards, employ one or many maids to do the menial tasks of washing up, vacuuming and laundry. Additionally many people keep cooks, nannies and drivers. These services are surprisingly cheap and one does not need to be a millionaire to enjoy these comforts.
6) Have summer barbecues – Indians love their winter picnics. They carry pre-cooked lunches or else they take the cook and various cooking utensils along and set up a temporary kitchen at the picnic site. Elaborate curries, puris and pulaos are then cooked. The concept of barbecues in the back yard or in parks, where one char grills large amounts of meats in the open air and devours the same with sauce and buns, is completely unknown in India.
7) Have wine with meals – Wine or other forms of alcohol are not an integral part of Indian meals. At the dinner table in most Indian households, food is served with glasses of water. Whisky, gin, rum , vodka and other hard drinks (wine is never big in India – one hardly gets decent local wine in India except at good restaurants) are consumed separately and accompanied by a variety of fried spicy calorie-laden snacks. Incidentally alcohol consumption is still not socially accepted in many parts of India, though that part is rapidly changing these days due to the upwardly mobile Indians.
8) Take a ‘gap’ year –Indian youngsters do not take time of off from studies to visit faraway lands. The Indian education system is extremely competitive. One jumps straight from high school to college and from there on to jobs or further higher studies. Any sort of ‘gap’ between these logical stages is considered to be a sign of failure in making it at the first go. So Indian students do not have the luxury of dreaming of backpacking through South America or Australia for a year or two.
9) Pay for own at someone else’s celebration event– In India the person whose birthday is being celebrated always picks up the tab. Such a person invites friends to a treat at the restaurant or bar and pays for his guests. Many Indians when invited to birthday parties abroad, are confounded when at the end each guest pays for his own dinner or drinks.
There are many other differences that I can write about. But for the sake of adhering to a reasonable blog length, I have only put down only a few. Will keep to the rest for another day!
Note: Based on the above, it might appear to some readers that Indians are missing out on a lot of fun. That is not true. On the contrary, you will find Indians are a happy lot having a ball most of the time. No doubt it is a different world – one of dazzling colors and heightened sounds, where nerds are looked up to more than jocks, where there are festivals by the dozen and each is an excuse to devour enormous amounts of food and hang out with friends and family, where marriage ceremonies last for days and involve thousands of people, where movies are filled with song and dance.There are so many things that happen only in India! Maybe soon I will post a blog on all those wonderful things.