Avoiding trouble at all costs – Indians like to avoid trouble if at all possible. Like most generalizations, it is only true for general provocations and simple conflicts. When provoked enough, an Indian can also become a mean son of a bitch, much more than would be expected by a Westerner. But that is another story. A story from my life comes to mind. At one time in my life, I had a very difficult boss. He was not very good at hiding his annoyances and appeared to be peeved all the time. I never knew what to expect from him. Much to my dismay, I worked directly for him and could not avoid working with him every day. However, I could not stand up to him. I would rather feel like crap twice a day, potentially for many years to come, than confront him and create a scene. Many Americans are surprised by what they perceived as my cowardice and have called me out on it. Conflict avoidance is part of our culture. If you consider this a weakness and push an Indian too far, you might have a mess on your hands you in the future that you did not expect.
Lining up to wait – My wife and I fly to India through Dubai often. We line up at Chicago to get on the plane and the line is orderly and there is respect of personal space and dignity. Once we are in the waiting room in Dubai, all the rules are suddenly different. Even before the flight is actually announced as ready to be boarded, every Indian in the room will rush up to the front of the room, in a large, unordered mass, around the exit to the aircraft. There is pushing and shoving and mass mayhem with absolutely no regard for personal space or for deodorant use. The two of us wait for this spectacle every time we fly through Dubai. The concept of standing patiently in line, in order, simply does not exist for us. This is even demonstrated in our (in)ability to drive within lanes. I have lots of stories about my first few months of driving in the US. Ask me about them sometime.
The truth is colorful – The truth has many flavors for us Indians. For us Indians, the truth is quite colorful. Embellishments are considered to be a normal part of the truth and exaggerations are expected to be delivered with the truth. This fact that our truth is not a concrete fact but more of a moving scale is demonstrated by our need to bargain for everything (even at upscale malls!), by taking others truths with the same trepidation, being more flexible and forgiving for shifts from facts and finding it hard to stick to the facts when confronted by others. This has gotten wiped off me to some extent because I have lived with and among Americans for a while, but it rears its head once in a while.
Anger is a no show – Indians who are angry will not readily express their anger on their facial or bodily expressions. It is bad form for an Indian to show anger and anger is only expressed under very extenuating circumstances. If an Indian is openly showing anger, know that something big is brewing. This follows from the conflict avoidance concept. Most Indians will actually show a smile while seething and possibly swearing and scheming on the inside. An American on the other hand has no problem wearing his heart on his sleeve.
An American who does not immediately flare up when provoked will be considered a coward or to be cold, which is bad form in this country. Gandhi’s Ahimsa (non-violence) philosophy which is derived from Hinduism, is probably the cause for much of this behavior.
Bravado is commonplace – Indians are not short on bravado. They ooze machismo, devour and reciprocate it openly and are not fazed by others displaying the same signals. This confuses most outsiders. Since the brave face is often not followed through with confrontation or violent behavior, it is different from Westerners. When not directly confronted with trouble, an Indian might make a big show of their prowess or skill, but will often not follow through with the expected aggressive behavior once actually confronted. Even worse, Indian might just drop out of the conflict or competition at the first sign of a challenge.
Money and Family always mix – I am a worldly person. I like wealth, have spent most of my life chasing it and can safely say that accumulation of it occupies my thoughts all the time. However, I am ashamed of my desire of it. I consider my family to be much more important and know in my heart of hearts that wealth can only be measured in terms of what it can do for my family. To belabor the point, I accumulate the wealth, I run after it and pine for it but I do so ashamedly and only do it for my family. I do not know this for sure but I think this is due to our poor beginnings and our fear of going back to being poor. When I spend money, I am further afraid of spending too much or not saving enough for my family and for our future. This is somewhat different from wealth in the Western world where divorces are common and money is often seen to be separate within the family. Parents often manage separate bank accounts and only save in a common pile which is eyed tentatively by both parties. It might finally end up with one person or the other and often does not belong to everyone in the family. Kids might inherit wealth from their parents when they pass away, but it is not shared with the kids in the same way during their lifetime. Wealth is not collective family wealth. Financial independence of the participants might also have something to do with this perception in the Western world.
Love is Eternal – Most Indians fall in love once, deify their partner and are very enamored with not only the person, but also the feelings they associate with their loved one. Love has a certain pious tinge to it and deification of a loved one is the result. A partner is often completely crushed if and when their love is removed from their lives. Indians who fall in love and are unreciprocated, often end up either unmarried if given the option, or in loveless arranged marriages. Divorced partners often do not remarry. It is hard for an Indian to date multiple partners or to move from one love interest to the next. Even among Indian movie stars, partner jumping is much less popular than in the Western world. As India becomes more westernized, I can see this changing in some ways. What I see remaining the same is this religious sentiment associated with love and the strong desire to keep the same partner throughout ones life.
What are other idiosyncrasies of Indians do you know of?