This is a post that I contemplated several months ago that probably most Indians who live or travel abroad can relate to regarding the questions they get asked all the time! I hope you read it in the same lighthearted vein that I wrote it in! These are comments as well as questions! Do add your personal stories, if you have any, in the comments!
1. “You guys look so much alike!”
I suppose we deserve it because of our own jokes of how all Asian people look the same! However, if you point to me and then to another woman and say we look the same only because of our skin colour and hair length, the whole thing sounds quite ridiculous!
2. “Do you know X (who lives 300 miles away)? He’s also Indian!”
A while ago, I stopped for gas amidst running errands and decided to grab a bite from the deli within the gas station. After I had ordered and was waiting for my food, the owner, who was Greek, beamed at me and started making small talk. One of the first questions was where I was from…no, where I was originally from…and, after learning that I was Indian, he asked me if I knew the lady who ran the dry-cleaning shop next door. The reason that I could possibly know a person from a completely different neighborhood was that she too was Indian. After seeing my impressive eye-roll, he added a free drink to my order and all was well!
3. “But, I thought you were vegetarian!”
Many people have automatically assumed that I am a vegetarian, when I actually will eat any and everything (except, really ‘vile’ stuff!). It’s important to note that most (over 70%) of Indians are non-vegetarian! I know this goes against the whole non-violent saintly image that you have of Indians, but there it is!
4. “Do you speak Hindu?” “Is this food Hindi” and “Are you speaking Indian?”
I think these questions really get my goat about how people, even with Indian Americans living next to them, still haven’t figured out the basic nomenclature!
Hinduism is the religion; Hindi is the language; Indian is the nationality!
5. “Yours is a very patriarchal society, right? I mean, women are supposed to be subservient in your culture!”
This happened as recently as last year and I laid it thick on the guy who had the audacity to make that statement. Look, I know with all the media horror stories on India, it’s easy to make this blanket assumption and I admit that I struggle to present an honest, fair picture. However, I completely abhor these kind of patronizing questions and will always fight anyone who makes them! (check out my posts about my grandmother to know my background on this!)
6. “Are you a software programmer or in tech support?”
I hear this from other Indians too. It’s harder in southern California where Qualcomm is one of the biggest employers! But, it’s true; Indians can have other occupations, from restaurant workers to scientists!
7. “I love curry so much! Can you make it?”
How about if I ask someone to make me a salad? Would you automatically know what kind of salad I would like?
I’m always delighted to cook for my friends, but I do need more guidance of what kind of gravy-based dish you liked before agreeing to cook it for you! Besides, as I have mentioned many times to anyone who will listen; there is no such thing as ‘Indian food’! The stuff you get at restaurants is usually from one or two regions, and that too, severely modified for your taste; but in reality, every state in India has its own specialty, so it just cannot be muddled together!
8. “You have such a strong Indian accent” or “How do you speak English so well?”
I have been complimented by many people on how good my English is but rarely has there not been amazement that I learnt it in India. I then go into my whole spiel (I’ve fine-tuned it considerably by repeated discourse) of the British Raj, the importance of Calcutta as the British capital, English medium education, the fact that English is our unofficial national language, and that India is the second largest English-speaking nation!
Regarding the accent, all nationalities that don’t have English as their native language would obviously have an ‘accent’, because they’re not used to the intonation and nuances of the language! I agree that sometimes, it’s not easy to understand, but there’s not a lot we can do about it!
9. “Your kids must be Math whizzes! After all, all Asians are Science geniuses!”
I’m afraid my sons aren’t quite this adept and to me, it’s sad that this is a stereotype that not only do others impose on us, but which we ourselves take supreme pride in! As a result, any child who is not good at Math or the Sciences tends to get overlooked compared to his more nerdy sibling or classmates!
10. “I watched a Bollywood movie the other day where people were dancing on the streets! So colorful! Do you really do that in India?”
Yes, of course! Just like people here do the same in prisons (Chicago), orphanages (Annie), schools (High School Musical), forests (Robin Hood: Men in tights), and right in the heart of cities like Paris (Les Miserables), London (Sweeney Todd), Buenos Aires (Evita), and Los Angeles (La La Land).
11. “So, did you own an elephant when you were in India?”
I was asked this question by an undergraduate student, a Chinese American, who worked in the same laboratory I was in. Sometimes, you just give up. “No,” I said, with a straight face, “we weren’t rich enough, so I had to travel to school on our water buffalo.” His eyes nearly popped out of his head before a French colleague slapped him across his head for being ‘so stupid’!
12. “Did you have an arranged marriage? How could anyone agree to marry someone just like that?”
The concept of an arranged marriage has been part of all cultures at some point of time. Gone are the days, though, when the bride and groom were given photographs to look at or, worse, met each other only on their wedding day. Arranged marriages are not that bizarre to think about when online dating sites and forums are very much the norm nowadays. Instead of a computer matching you up, it’s your parents who do the grunt work to make sure that you aren’t going out on a date with a serial killer!
13. “You two must be Tiger parents! I also demand that my kids get straight A’s in school!”
Maybe this is one of those questions that personally annoys me while others are proud to don the mantle of being strict parents. Having been brought up in India and seeing the mental torture and the drudgery that some of my friends went through, I shrink from this ‘accolade’. There’s definitely nothing wrong in demanding that your child does his or her best, but the idea of keeping a child on her piano bench for 7 hours until she plays her piece to perfection is just abhorrent to me. I guess my family’s style of parenting is just different from others.
14. “Can you teach me this yoga asana?”
It is probably sad that coming from the land of this now highly acclaimed spiritual discipline, that enough of us neither learn it nor appreciate it, but all Indians are not adept in all or any asanas.
15. “Is India as noisy and smelly as they say it is?”
Honestly, I really need a great STFU response for this one!
16. “Wouldn’t it bother you to see some white person wearing a sari or a bindi?”
I differ from many in this regard that I don’t see how other people wearing an Indian attire could be cultural appropriation. Many of my Indian friends and relatives have married non-Indians and the fact that the family took care to wear Indian outfits for the wedding and beyond only demonstrated their consideration and courtesy. The fact that you would go out of your way to buy an outfit and learn how to wear it should be taken as a compliment! I took a brief survey among my Indian friends on Facebook about this, and everyone of them agreed with this! So, unless you specifically are wearing a sari or kurta, or getting henna done in order to make fun of it, don’t worry about whether it’s ‘insulting’ to us!
Oh, I see I lied about there only being 15! And there are actually more that I can think of but am too lazy to write about! Do let me know your ‘favourite’!!