I came to the United States back in 1994 as a student and have not left since, except for short vacations. I try to assimilate myself into whatever situation that I get into and this country, now my country, is no exception. I tried my best to become an American. However hard I have tried to look, sound and behave like an American, there is still of a lot of Desi in me. I was even referred to as “an International Experience” by someone very close to me at some time in my dotted past.
My wife Jennifer is painfully aware of my “Indian Standard Time” and gets more than just exasperated at me because of it. I still cannot say laboratory properly, no matter how hard I try to remember the pronunciation. I hate spelling color that way. Aluminum rubs me the wrong way whenever I see it. I refer to my boss as “sir” often and fluster him, and I can never seem to give directions well. All of these fun differences were bought to the forefront last week when I read about Yang Liu’s book on Quartz. I loved the pictures and posted the link on Facebook. I have since thought that it would be fun to post about each of these in more detail and explain the pictures that are illustrated on Quartz. I am not reproducing them here for copyright purposes. Please refer to the article above for my inspiration. Here we go.
Indian Standard Time – Perhaps the most obvious and the most controversial of all idiosyncrasies that I exhibit is referred to as Indian Standard Time by my wife and others. When I am expected to be somewhere at a certain time, say to meet my wife at a party at 7:00 PM, I will almost certainly be quite tardy. I leave time for myself to get ready and get to the party at 7:00 just like everyone else. However, more important things show up in the hours before the actual party or the location is farther than I have given myself time to get to or some other non-trivial event will occur that will result in me being late. I cannot explain it but it does happen. My wife has resorted to subtracting an extra hour from the real time to see if she can get me to be at the party on time.
Loud Speech – I speak loudly. I am actually less louder than other Indians and Asians. It is what we do. Our language requires loud pronunciation or something like that. Liu has a nice image to represent this. You can visit a restaurant in India, even a five star place and it will be many tens of decibels louder than an American or Western establishment. We do not like eating quietly. Now my wife says I am deaf but quiet whispers at the table, or for that matter anywhere, is just irritating to me. I like to be spoken clearly to and you should expect a clearly spoken answer.
Convoluted Explanations – Speaking of clear answers. You will never get a concise answer from an Indian. That is why I hate giving directions. I remember roads by signs and visible entities and do not remember names or keep track of directions by watching a compass. I often do not know which direction is North or East, because I do not care. When I give directions, they are by what appears on the way and thus are very convoluted and often complex for people seeking directions. My explanations for most things are the same way. I do not take anything for granted or imbibe anything mentally without first understanding it my way. When I understand it my way, I look for evidence and markers along the way of that discovery. If asked to explain it, I go back through my personal journey, explaining each of the markers as I remember and understood them. I make sense to me but take winding roads to get to the answer.
High Power Distance – Indians (and most Asians) consider their bosses, parents and older people to be at a higher level of being than themselves. This is also referred to as high power distance. An American might be really open with their boss, make fun of him or her to their face and even argue with them openly. Indians will not do that. They will take their boss’ or their parents’ word for it instead of arguing. They will not show disrespect of any kind. I have noticed that this baffles Americans and might even make them think that Indians are old world or backwards. Know for sure that this is cultural and not evolutionary.
Humble to a fault – It is considered bad manners to think too highly of oneself in India. People tend to be humble and compete with each other on their humility. So when thinking about oneself, people from the East will, in general think of themselves to be smaller or weaker or less prepared than the rest of the world. The western world is taught to be proud and sure of themselves and so the opposite view of the self is often the result. The mistake many westerners make is to assume humility to be weakness or lack of credibility.
I am running out of time. So there will be an episode 2 of these. I know I have a few more to talk about, including the last few from Liu’s book. I hope these are useful in understanding the quirks of Asian people that baffle you.
What quirk would you like to know more about?