Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Indians in USA: Why we do what we do!

Warning: Quite a lengthy article ahead. No pictures, mere yada yada yada.

I recently came across a post in Facebook (could not link to it as I don't remember who posted it and there is no way to search posts in Facebook - a story for another day). The same article can be found here: http://goo.gl/F31qK. Even though the article is quite old (2009), I've seen the same resurfacing on social media often and it's pretty relevant even today.The article was titled 22 things that Indians do when they return from the US. Though most of it is true, some of it is done as a force of habit and not as an intention to show off.

In this post I would like to go through those points and give more context to why we do what we do. I don't intend to justify that what we do is right or wrong, I would just like to add a little perspective as to what we go through in the USA that makes us behave the way we do when we are back in India.

22. Use Nope for No and Yep for Yes.

This is absurd. All the peters (Tamil slang for – oh man, what a pseud) in India these days do this. You don't have to come back from the US to do this. Ever since facebook and whatsapp became the norm of communication, "yep" and "nope" have become the norm too. This could be one of those things that could have been relevant in 2009 but certainly not today.

21. Tries to use credit card in road side hotel.

Yes, it is true. It happens because in the US, even the so called potti kadais (small shop usually as a part of a moving truck or some such) accept credit cards. I hold a credit card in my phone's case and that acts as my wallet. I do not carry a separate wallet. I mentioned this on one of my earlier posts as well.

20. Drinks and carries mineral water and always speaks of health conscious.

I haven't done this personally and I believe not many people do this. It may be true that Americans do that when they visit India as they grow up in a little better hygienic environment, they are less immune to lower hygienic environments like India. So if an Indian who grew up in India does this after coming back from the US, you have all the rights to mock at him as he doesn't have any immunity issues.

19. Sprays deo such so that he doesn’t need to take bath.

Name one software engineer in Chennai/Bangalore who doesn't do this.

18. Sneezes and says ‘Excuse me’.

I have seen this a lot among those MBA type people, but it isn't very common among Americans either. So I don't honestly understand why we do this (although I don't). A common thing that Americans say is "bless you" when a person nearby sneezes. I think this more of a manner than show off.

17. Says “Hey” instead of “Hi”.
      Says “Yogurt” instead says “Curd”.
      Says “Cab” instead of “Taxi”.
      Says “Candy” instead of “Chocolate”.
      Says “Cookie” instead of “Biscuit”.
      Says ” Free Way ” instead of “Highway”.
      Says “got to go” instead of “Have to go”.
      Says “Oh” instead of “Zero”, (for 704, says Seven Oh Four Instead of Seven Zero Four)

This is absolutely a force of habit. It is not about showing off. Had the Americans invaded India instead of the English, this would seem natural to all of us (and words like Biscuit and Taxi would have seemed absurd). In the US, everybody uses the words that the Americans use. I have gotten weird looks from many shopkeepers when i ask for Biscuit. I have been stared at for saying Capsicum. So, as time goes by, you get used to these and it becomes usual. It takes time to change it back when we get to India.

On a similar note, does anyone know what the back portion of a car is actually called? "Trunk" may be? After coming to the US I learned that it's called "boot" here. In India (atleast in Tamil Nadu) we call it "dicki". Does anyone even know what language that is? I am 20+ years old and I don't know it.

16. Doesn't forget to crib about air pollution. Keeps cribbing every time he steps out.

If someone does this, he/she is showing off (or putting scene, if you will).

15. Says all the distances in Miles (Not in Kilo Meters), and counts in Millions. (Not in Lakhs)

Lakh is a term used only in the Indian sub-continent. Million is used pretty much every where in the rest of the world. So when you are away from the sub-continent you tend to stop using the word Lakh. You tend to count in millions (for heaven's sake even your salary is counted as hundred thousand dollars or some such and not as one lakh dollars).

In the US, all distances are in miles. Google Maps gives you miles, all sign boards are in miles, all cars' speedometers are in miles. When you live here for a while, you forget to count in kilometers. Miles become an inherent part of your life. So it is really hard to change that mindset when you are back in India. So this is absolutely a force of habit and not a show off scheme. To quote Sheldon, America should have followed the metric system, but sadly they don't.

14. Tries to figure all the prices in Dollars as far as possible (but deep down the heart multiplies by 50).

I would say this is natural human behavior. When your income is in one currency and you are spending it in the form of another currency, it is natural for you to convert it to the currency that you are actually earning. I don't see anything wrong with this. For example, I have seen many Indians say "you can get an iPhone in the US for 10000 Rupees" (referring to the $199 2-year contract price point). It is exactly the same, people earning INR see all the prices in INR. Same applies for USD.

13. Tries to see the % of fat on the cover of a milk pocket.

People in the US are really health conscious. At the same time, they know the difference between being health conscious as opposed to being health freaks. So, they do look into calorie count on every food product they buy. Almost all restaurants list the calorie content of every dish they serve. Few Indians might have genuinely picked this habit up while living here. But most of us do it for showing off. Accepted.

12. When need to say Z (zed), never says Z (Zed), repeats “Zee” several times, if the other person unable to get, then says X, Y Zee(but never says Zed).

Despite being good at English, only we know how much we struggle to make people over here understand our accents. When talking to any sort of customer service representative, making them understand your name itself is a huge pain in the a** (my legal name is Vignesh Venkatasubramanian - try pronouncing that to an American and make him understand). Also, many customer service IVRS systems here work on Voice Recognition rather than keying in numbers (instead of saying "Press 1 to make a reservation", it says "Say 'make a reservation'". So it is absolutely necessary to have some sort of a fake accent so that everyone here can understand what you are saying. Again, force of habit.

11. Writes date as MM/DD/YYYY, on watching traditional DD/MM/YYYY, says “Oh! British Style!”

When I first entered the US, the immigration officer wrote the expiry date on my I94 in MM/DD/YY format. I was totally puzzled at first and it took a while for me to realize that. All the forms that you use on a day to day basis (bank, government forms, etc.) all require the date in MM/DD format. All television channels, newspapers and posters have the date in MM/DD format. So, naturally, once you are here for a while, you will start writing that way too. It's hard to switch a 20 year practice of writing it in DD/MM format when you get here from India. Similarly, it's hard to switch back. Force of habit.

10. Makes fun of Indian Standard Time and Indian Road Conditions.

Indian Standard Time itself begs to be made fun of. It's not just us, even people in India criticize IST. No other country in the world that has 2.5 hour time difference between its extremes has a single timezone throughout the country. No comments on Indian Road Conditions.

9. Even after 2 months, complaints about “Jet Lag”.

Showing off. Accepted.

8. Avoids eating more chili (hot) stuff.

Honestly, I haven't seen anyone doing this. If anything, I was totally sick of lack of spiciness, so I have all sorts of extra spicy food when I go back to India. To give more context, most Indian restaurants here serve sort of Americanized Indian food. Because Americans generally have a low tolerance to spiciness in food (most of their food is bland). So to make business here, restaurants have to reduce the spiciness. Unless you go to a Andhra restaurant, most Indian restaurants serve less spicy food by default unless you explicitly ask for super extra spiciness.

7. Tries to drink “Diet Coke”, instead of Normal Coke.

This is something that many people see as a show off thing, but it is not. Whenever you ask for a coke here, the shopkeeper replies "Regular/Diet/Zero?". Have anyone heard of Coke Zero back in India? Nope, me neither until I got here. Every soda product has a diet version here (ever heard of Diet Mountain Dew, Diet 7up, etc?). Naturally, we end up choosing Diet Coke/Coke Zero when given a choice over Regular coke (as it all practically tastes same to us Indians). It becomes a very heavy force of habit that at some point of time, we start looking at regular coke as some high calorie'd demon that could induce a lot of fat in you. Force of habit.

6. Tries to complain about any thing in India as if he is experiencing it for the first time.

Accepted. Even I am annoyed by people who do this. Especially, second generation Indian kids who despise India and Indians.

5. Pronounces “schedule” as “skejule”, and “module” as “mojule”.

No one does this. A better accusation could be, "Talks in a fake American accent". Even though some genuinely can't lose their accent, most of us do it to show off (even I have done it a couple of times).

4. Looks suspiciously towards Hotel/Dhaba food.

I don't think most of us do it. On the contrary, roadside food is something that is practically non-existent in the US. So most of us miss it like crazy. For instance, I went to the roadside bhel puri shop when I visited India (I took 30 minutes off to do this despite all the other important stuff I had to do).

3. From the luggage bag, does not remove the stickers of Airways by which he traveled back to India, even after 4 months of arrival.

Agree that this happens. But it is more towards the sense of happiness of having been in the US than to show off. Also, most of us do it within India when we take a bag on a domestic flight. It's very rare for Software Engineers in Chennai/Bangalore to go on a domestic flight home. But when he/she does, they don't remove the flight's baggage tag either. I have seen many people doing this.

2. Takes the cabin luggage bag to short visits in India, tries to roll the bag on Indian Roads.

I got nothing to say about this. I am surprised that people have even noticed such minuscule things.

Ultimate one: 1. Tries to begin conversation with "In US..." or "When I was in US..."

Guilty as charged. :-)

If you read this far, you should probably follow me on twitter.

-Vignesh

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