Tuesday, 8 September 2015

India vs America Diaries

Hey guess what? I'm in the US of A. Or in Umrika as us desi people put it. Hai na? (See how hard I'm trying?) I'm here in the heart of the swamplands of Louisiana with the organization I belong to to get some experience with the yearly training programme they run here, so I can help start something similar in India.

This is my second time in the US, the first time was five years ago when I was a nervous 24 year old who had never lived away from home, never been on a plane and never left the country. When I first came, EVERYTHING was strange and different. *I* felt strange and different, not really like myself. This time I was interested to see what would strike me as different, after having learned to become more comfortable with changes, living in several new homes in the Philippines and India, and then living and working with Americans over the last five years.

Of course I decided to document my observations. You're very welcome.



Road Chaos vs Road Discipline

So when I ride my bike in India, I'm a rule follower. Even so, all the rules involved with being on the roads in the US are so confusing to me. Granted, I don't KNOW the rules. But when an Indian sees a space, they go for it. All the pausing at stop signs, slowly circling parking lots, dawdling before switching lanes, well, even the existence of REAL lanes, is befuddling to my chaotic Indian driving soul. Of course it is nice to feel like you don't have to be trying to to protect your life at every moment. But everything takes so much longer when you can't just go from Point A to Point B, and expect everyone to just look out for themselves.


American Confidence vs Indian Diffidence

Americans seem to be brought up to be adventurous, to confidently stride into situations and feel like they have every right to be there, and demand the assistance that they require. I don't see Americans (in the USA or in India) self consciously wondering whether they are fitting in. Indians on the other hand- we're so self-conscious! We don't feel like we belong, and we carefully watch to see that we're doing the right thing, not being culturally inappropriate, not sounding ignorant or uncouth. Even in India, when I enter a new situation, I'm not entirely sure if  'it's allowed'. If you're American, the good thing is that you're much more likely to try new things, you have the boundless confidence that all things are possible. You might come across as brash or insensitive though. If you're Indian, you are much more sensitive to cultural differences, but you may never leave your home to find out because THERE ARE SO MANY POSSIBLE MISTAKES YOU CAN MAKE!


American Courtesy vs Indian Awkwardness

So this is totally a Southern thing, but complete strangers keep asking how I'm doing, and my Indian awkward introvert self isn't sure whether they actually want to know, and even if they do would it be rude if I just smiled, mumbled something and walked away? My awesome friends took me for a girls' trip on Labour Day weekend, and we stayed at a nice resort in Mississippi. But everyone kept chatting to each other. Small talk, small talk every where! In my city in India, we don't even make eye contact when we don't know each other. It's weird to have people so chatty and courteous here, but mostly nice. I'm just not good at responding. Or initiating. It's like everyone wants to be your friend, but I'm all like, "Me? Are you sure you want to talk to me?" I think it's probably connected with the confidence diffidence point above.


Personal Boundaries vs No Personal Boundaries

So in India, we don't make eye contact or small talk, but we are quite used to sharing our space with a lot of people. We LITERALLY rub shoulders when we're walking on a street, in a shop, travelling by bus or train (well, on a Mumbai local during rush hour you're rubbing a lot more than shoulders. Okay that sounds kinda creepy. But it is kinda creepy.) Now in the US I'm constantly afraid I'm going to get into someone's space accidentally, because when I pass someone on the stairs, with more than a foot of space between us, they say 'Excuse me'!!!!


Hot Summer Experience vs Hot and Cold Summer Experience

So in India, when it's summer, it's just hot. You wear your thinnest cotton clothes, take a lot of showers and try not to move too much. In the Deep South, it gets hot alright. I was surprised at how hot it was.

But here's the thing- air conditioning is everywhere. So when I dress each day, my body is so confused. Jeans and a sweater? Or shorts and a t shirt? I step outside the house for a few minutes and I'm suffocating. I step back in and I'm freezing. My body can't decide how to adjust!

More to come in further posts. If and when I have time.

What differences have you noticed between Indians and Americans?