Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Strangers And "Apne Log"

He drives the big machine in the corridors of the place where I sit and never fails to give me a broad grin and call out “Happy Monday/Tuesday…” (based on which day of the week it is). I don’t know his name; just know that he is a mechanic working in the same area where I sit. He might be an American, Mexican or some other race – I don’t know. There is another “he”, who waves or slightly nods in acknowledgement when he crosses my place and catches my eye. On Days when I am sad / blue / thinking of something bothersome when one of these two smile/wish me – for a moment there I feel so cheerful. I have heard often and got many forwards that say “A Smile can change the course of day / A Smile is a curved line that sets things straight” – it is in these moments of cheer that I feel all that is so true.

And that sets me thinking – there are zillions of Indians working in this place (in fact at lunch you see such a crowd that you wonder if Americans are at a tourist spot in India) – and atleast 10 people in my area whom I cross almost every single day – but not one of them has ever smiled at me or said so much as a Hello. I always thought that belonging to the same race/religion/state/community gave one a feeling of togetherness. When we lived in Vizag, we would often find so much solace in finding a fellow Tamilian. But, coming to the US of A made me realize that it is not so – or atleast from the experiences I had, or my friends shared with me. Why do Indians run away from fellow Indians in this country? Why are they so wary to even share a small courteous smile or “Good Morning”?

For nearly 90 days, I took the same ferry from Newport across to New York and each day I would see this trio of Indian girls – talking and giggling. I am not a person to go out of the way and start a conversation – I am too terrified to do that. But, after a month or so – I decided to take the bold step (especially after hearing snatches of conversation in Telugu from them) and talked to one of them – that too in Telugu. All I could get out of them was a “Yes” or a “No” – close ended answers that were hinting – “why the hell are you still standing here making a stupid conversation?” I was not asking them for money, nor was I threatening them and neither do I look that bad/dull/boring – then why this cold shouldering? Even the other day, here, I tried smiling at 2 girls who walk past my suite for lunch – and then tried to squeeze out a half baked smile before hastily turning away their eyes.

When we trekked in Smokies, every single American/Chinese family that crossed us said “Hi” and few of them would smile and remark – “That is one wonderful trek”/”Boy! You have a long way ahead”/”Hang on – you are half way up already” – something nice, polite and charming. Then comes this Indian group/Couple and the moment their catch us, they either start furiously searching for something they “lost” on the ground or start admiring non-existent flowers high up the trees. Hey! Mister/Miss – why happened suddenly? Don’t I look familiar? Coming from the same mother land as yours? Will smiling at me reduce your bank balance by 1000$? Oh! I give up! A couple of years ago – on my 1st and 2nd trips to this country – this bothered me a lot – but now I guess even I don’t care!

My day started off well today. This German person, Michael was trying to take out something at a Vending machine, close to where I sit, and his Dollar would not work – so he caught me on the way back to my seat to ask if I could exchange my Dollar for his. While walking to my place, he started a conversation – inquiring which part of India I was from. He told me about his visits to India – where he went and how he liked the place. He is never going to meet me again for all that I know – what was the need to talk to me? He could have just taken his dollar and walked off! But that small conversation with him was nice – just humane.

Before I end off – though I have seen this typical behavior of Indians avoiding unacquainted fellow country men, I was pleasantly surprised one day in the Gym – when this elderly Indian person started a casual conversation with me – of this and that. Maybe things are changing .... for good.

12 comments:

Gomathi Sarma said...

Hey .. its not that indian ppl lack the ability to smile.. its just that we are not used to it.
May be we Indians are so deeply involved in a gazillion thoughts all the time..or may be we dont know what it means to pass on a smile.. Remember, the female crowd have started coming out for work say 100 yrs back.

You pass on your wonderful smile and I am sure, they will smile back at you.. if not today.. they will defenitely smile at you some day. Lets change and bring the change in others :)

:)

Chandrika said...

Vidya, I totally agree with you. Do you remember my grumbling about not having enough friends out here? In just my building alone, there are 5 Indian families and even when we meet, not a smile on their lips or a twinkle in their eyes...Even when I smile or try to start a conversation, their cold looks and abrupt answers make me feel so stupid... In the 80s when I lived here with my parents, things were different...A fellow Indian on the road was a welcoming sight and a new friendship would be created...Well, I am not asking much...Just a smile would do..

Anonymous said...

I have noticed this many times..some people will just ignore and move on without a response,maybe its about self-esteem, who knows? There are many Indians who feel inferior/superior to other Indian folks just like them and it shows, in their behavior,( I could write a thesis on this!)but, then again, there are those who just yearn to see another Indian face in the crowd and will pleasantly smile and even start a mini conversation...Me, I belong to the latter..there arent that many Indians here in Nfld. and I just love to see people from India and I always smile and say a big hello! Whats there to lose?

Cheers,Trupti

Vidhya Rajesh said...

$$ Gomes- Maybe you are right. But sometimes it is too irritating when you try your best and get hardly a response.

$$ Chandrika - I can totally understand what you say. When I lived in NJ, the whole building we stayed in consisted of only Indians, but not one would say a hello or smile. Strangely I found this 'bad habit' in B'lore also. But I must say, one day while walking back from the grocery store - I met an Indian lady who was so sweet - she became friends with me and invited me home also. I do hope you find some good friends.

$$ Trupti - I really don't get it. Why should one feel inferior/superior wrt to people you have never even met before. But you are right - I have seen this attitude a lot. Am glad that you belong to the 2nd lot - who love to atleast acknowledge with a smile.

Kumari said...

You know i think the reason is coz distrust and cynicism is ingrained in us. Growing up in a city like Madras, the first commandment I read was 'not to smile at strangers'. So i always had a stony face; unless it was a familiar route and I knew everyone from autowallahs to the bus drivers, in which case i did smile.

Initially I found it hard to relax here, tho I knew it is safe to smile at co-passengers in the train, strike up conversation with the bus drivers etc. After awhile I started smiling and even greeting the Americans :)

But am still not comfortable doing that with Indians. The las time I did so in a grocery store, the Indian couple took down our numbers and then started calling us with some sales talk. And after hearing testimonials from friends on the 'QuickSta' and 'Amway' group parasites who clingonto fellow Indians, I kinda of froze when it came to greeting Indians in the mal or anywhere.

At times I smile but most times I just stick to my world. And u know what, i guess i don't regret it so much :)
U know i wanna have conversations that are fun but last only for the ride. It's okay with me not to exchange ph.nos or be invited and become jigdi dosth. Most Indians are not ready for that i feel. Everyone has this inherent fear, "what if she asks for my number? Should I invite her home coz we live in teh same apt?" that i just let them be :)

Sorry for the long comment. My 2 cents :)

But yeah, if u ever move to Nashua, i will def smile at you :D

Vidhya Rajesh said...

$$Kumari - You are very right. I have heard of many cases where people were bothered with these kind of 'sales tactics' - why even my Mr. had such a bad experience.
No wonder people don't want to make small talk. But , why only Indians resort to such stuff? Just because a couple of them turned out to be rotten eggs, now almost everybody in the indian community is fearing to talk to the other in indian community.
You know a lot of it comes from our inherent nature I feel. The point that you mentioned - "Should i call her to my place now that we haved talked?" - this fact is also something that weighs a lot on the mind preventing us from starting just a casual friendshi - because the moment you get talking, it becomes mandatory to invite the other person/family home. WHY? Why can't we just meet in bus/train/office, have a conversation ; say a bye and continue from there on the next day?

Anyways - thanks for the 2 cents :) They were really good thoughts!

You better smile and invite me home when i come to Nashua - illaina nalla adi vizhum!

Usha said...

This is so surprising because foreigners who come to India are always praising us for the warmth and friendliness and hospitality. Why is this happening among Indians?
Is it because Indias friends are no longer tough to come by in the U.S., that you don't feel that pull towards a fellow contryperson?
Is it because we have a reputation of being nosey and getting too friendly that people want to keep their distance?
In any case, I would be very hurt to see this kind of treatment.
Interesting, as one doesnt always hear stories like this from people living in the U.S. It is always about how everything is sooooooo good there and how everything is soooooo bad back home!

Anonymous said...

I am reading this article and suddenly this blog came to my mind. I thought it might squeeze in this topic of mannerisms..


Nandu Madhekar
18 July 2006

Indians and Mumbai residents may not say THANK YOU and PLEASE as often as Americans and Europeans do. They may appear rude, but they can be most helpful and human when one needs it. Is that not better than all the hollow mannerisms that are parroted around?


http://www.samarthbharat.com/rudeindians.htm

- Prasanna

Anonymous said...

I am reading this article and suddenly this blog came to my mind. I thought it might squeeze in this topic of mannerisms..


Nandu Madhekar
18 July 2006

Indians and Mumbai residents may not say THANK YOU and PLEASE as often as Americans and Europeans do. They may appear rude, but they can be most helpful and human when one needs it. Is that not better than all the hollow mannerisms that are parroted around?


http://www.samarthbharat.com/rudeindians.htm

- Prasanna

Usha said...

hey where did my comment go missing - I left a pretty long one...shall I bawl? or sulk?
Really blogger chews up my comments all the time!

Foodie's Hope said...

I feel ya, Vidya!:))

It's just nice to be nice! We don't lose anything,do we?!

Anonymous said...

I think Indians have very inquistive behaviour. Instead of talking about general stuff ( I am not sure how much they know) they resort to personal questions like do you work ?, where do you work ? or do you have green card ? (especially the newbies to US ) or where your husband works?. Why do you ask such a question to strangers ? I had a really bad experience with my next seat neighbour in a flight. She was a person trainer from Bombay. I understand her excitement on coming to a new country and being on a plane for the first time, but generally I don't do useless or I should say irrelevant talk for hours. As a techie I even talk comparitively less. If Indians have decency to maintain a distance I would be more than happy to say a Hello !!

I have heard being part of Indian groups being more than a nuisance then a friendship. My friends used to grudge how they cannot miss someone for a party or keep up with groups expectation (like visit if someone else parents visits and stuff). Hmm and dont forget the cheap Indian gossips that goes around.