I wouldn’t exactly say I’m a walking talking Indian stereotype. I am 27, unmarried and have a white boyfriend. However, I live with my parents, work in an IT job and love cricket. Whenever I have travelled in India or abroad, there’s always been a good long soul searching session to figure out how Indian I am. The verdict, maybe a 2.5 out of 10.
I truly felt the guilt of not knowing enough about my culture when I was in France as a teen and had to conduct a 2 hour workshop on India. I drew a blank and my peers took over. I had spent so much of my youth trying to get out of the country that I forgot to take a look around.
Shame on me!
I spent the next few years growing to love the quirks that make India who she is. All communities in India are usually divided by language they speak, geography next. The language you do speak is usually an indication of the culture you grow up in. Despite how we are typecast, India is not of homogenous language and culture. We don’t all speak ‘Indish’ or ‘Hindu’. Those are not even languages. It wasn’t till I was at a work lunch that I realised people identify which community/religion you belong to by your surname.
Of course. I don’t have a surname.
And while most situations go like this –
“What are you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, Kannadiga, Tamilian, Malyali …”
“Erm, I don’t know”
“What language do you speak at home?”
“So you’re Anglo-Indian?”
“No. I don’t have a single British ancestor”
“What is your mother?”
“Erm, I don’t know”
“What did she speak at home?”
“So she’s a Kannadiga? So that means you are a Kannadiga”
“No, she just grew up in Karnataka so they learnt to speak in the local language”
The conversation gets really, really confusing after that. If I were to sum up, we are a non-traditional family. Mum’s parents were from two different communities and spoke two different languages. But, they both grew up in the same state and so the local language of Kannada was their go to language. It’s the same with my parents. Their common denominator in terms of communication is English. So what does that make me? A cultural melting pot of South India with a hint of Malaysia? Or just plain old confused?
My despair at being a terrible Indian has gotten less intense after I started dating an Englishman. I notice everyday how some of our conversations start with me saying “In my culture …” and then I wax ad nauseum about things I’ve been told not to do (or do 3 times a day) because that’s the Indian way.
The latest in this string of conversations was about the Indian gift giving etiquette. I am visiting the UK this month and I was starting to make lists of presents to take for everyone to the sound of the boy’s great confusion. Apparently, I’m a weirdo for wanting to buy everyone presents because the gifting culture among the youngsters has a motto – ‘meh!’
However, we have very specific rules here. Everyone we meet after ages gets a present. If this everyone stays in your city or country, it’s usually a box of sweets or dried fruit. If it’s someone abroad, it would be something that screams India. If you are just returning from a trip abroad, EVERYONE gets chocolates. Even your colleagues whose name you don’t know.
We have this odd rule about gifting in evens. If you don’t want to invoke a butterfly effect type disaster, you have to make sure to gift in pairs. You can’t take just one cushion or throw, it has to be two. I think that this comes from a wish that you won’t ever be alone and that you will always have someone to share it with. So gifting in even numbers is a blessing of sorts. This rule does not apply to money, if that’s what your preferred present is. At weddings, birthdays and any big event, we always add a Rs. 1 coin to make it an odd number. So you would gift Rs. 1001 instead of the boring old Rs. 1000. There is a feeling that odd numbers in finances are lucky and will lead to your wallet being quickly filled up till you reach the next 100 and then another 100.
All this to say that I’m really confused – my Indianess dictates that I buy presents. I am in no doubt though that I am going to viewed as a total weirdo. So just in case, I’m looking up YouTube videos so I can blend in the rest of the time.
Oooh look. Already found one about pub lunches!
20 Comments Add yours
But…but…but you’re my go-to person for all things Indian. Now you declare you’re only 25% an expert? I’m speechless! (Well, not really. I’m seldom speechless about anything.) Yet after your declaration you went on and taught me about Indian gift giving etiquette. I would bump you up to at least a 40% competency just with this post.
Haha. I don’t know how to tie a sari. So maybe a solid 35% I do know a lot of theory that I have picked up in the past 3 years or in a retrospective “Aha!” moment!
So? I shall probably never need to know how to tie a sari. No. I believe a solid 40% is in order.
You made very good points as always, Norm. I bow to your superior logic!
Aw shucks, ma’am.
Nicely put. I can totally relate! 😀
Haha. *fist bump*
This…this is precisely what is wrong with today’s Indian youth…I say the culture is going to the vultures! Are you not aware that the culture of our country is totally dependent on the ability of its women to wear a saree( don’t even think about asking the men to wear a dhoti…after all, we are men..period.) 😛 😀 And to think, that you speak ENGLISH at home!! I think I am gonna take a dip in the muddy ganga! 😛
Hahaha. YES! Sayantan for Superintendent of the Moral Police Brigade! VOTE VOTE VOTE! 😛 Beware of cooties!
Oh no!!! NOT Cooties!!!( look of shock and horror on face) 😉 😛
(EN) Great post yours 🙂 I think to understand what you mean. I’m western and I know how to tie saari and little bit how to behave there…but I’m not indian. I find that “being indian” means several things,not one and that you can be simply proud to be indian in your own way 🙂
(IT) Fantastico post il tuo 🙂 Penso di capire cosa intendi. Sono occidentale e so come mettere un saari e un po’ comportarmi lá….ma non sono indiana. Trovo che ” essere indiana” significhi parecchie cose, non una e che puoi semplicemente essere orgogliosa di essere indiana a tuo modo 🙂
Thank you so much! And you are absolutely right! How’d you learn how to tie a sari?
(EN) Thanks to you! 🙂 I learned in India …”dravidian” 😉 women taught me. Half of my heart is there…
(IT) Grazie a te! 🙂 Ho imparato in India…le donne “dravidiche ” 😉 mi hanno insegnato. Metá del mio cuore è lá…
I’ve grappled with the same inner crisis when we moved to India. I was so ashamed that I ended up reading the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and even the Bhagwad Gita.
Of course it didn’t help that the English translations spelled names with a silent ‘a’ at the end…And I pronounced the names the way they were spelled.
“But I know all about Ram-aa!”
Travelling always reminds me about how German I actually am. While I’m here, I don’t feel like I fit in very much but when I’m abroad I suddenly see how much I enjoy my punctuality and German way of doing things, it’s all rather odd.
The gift giving sounds crazy to me, but I’m also glad because it gave me the sweet elephant that’s on my desk at work 🙂 I’m still bummed we’re missing each other by one month.
I’m from the US and I think giving gifts to everyone is ok actually, not weird at all. I think I’d find some expedient way to do though, like getting everyone the same thing.
Hey 25 percent isn’t that bad. A lot of people expect me to be an expert on all things American. When they ask where in American I’m from, I stumble since I’ve moved around. Then they ask what Americans think about this or that. How can I say how Americans thinks. I don’t live there any more and I’m pretty sure there isn’t a consensus. Many say I don’t sound American, but Canadian. Then they ask me about Canada. It’s awkward.
I met a Brazilian woman at Sheffield who insisted on talking to me in Portuguese cause I was obviously from the motherland. She couldn’t believe I was not. I totally understand about your Canada dilemma. Do you ever just answer them, just for kicks?
Really fascinating cultural insights, and I love the way you write.
Thank you so much Michael!