FAQs – American Style

A nation built by immigrants sees an immigrant with an interesting pair of eyes. My few years in the US gave me a nice insight of how Americans view the world, especially India as my interactions with the Westerners would invariably lead to a set of recurring questions/ statements about my homeland. The statements did not seem as much to me as Americans reflecting American culture on to mine, as is the case with many Indians, but as closer to validating a stereotypical Indian image photographed in their mind– a call center chap named Kevin and the chap who runs the Seven Eleven – Kris (erstwhile Krishna).

How do you speak such good English?
Sometimes their surprise surprised me. I had expected Americans to know this one, but I let it go. India was ruled by Imperialist British Overlords for almost two centuries. One would think that a couple of us picked up their language just to know when we’re being cussed at.

How do you say “Hello” in Indian?
Well, in “Indian”, whatever that language is, we say Hello or Hi most commonly. In “Hindi” we might use words like Namaskar or Namaste, which for some reason in the US seems to be associated with Yoga. Well, Hindi 101: Namaste is just hello. And the language is Hindi.

Questions about Marriage:

Your parents must be looking for a bride for your now.
Unfortunately this stereotype is very justified. Most families start looking for a “girl” for the “boy” when he reaches the “marriageable age” and vice versa. However, I would like to point out that many of us do belong to progressive backgrounds and are breaking the said stereotype. Choice and opinions in today’s educated India, may still not be paramount, but we’re getting there.

About work:

Where do you work? IT?
Of course, I am Indian, educated, working in New York. What else would I be? The stereotype doesn’t get old. However, a pleasant nod and quick explanation is either met with a raised eyebrow and uncomfortable shrugs or, to my joy, comprehension.

You studied Engineering in college right?

Ok. So I did! And so did many Indians working in the US, but as a country of over a billion people, we produce a little more than just Engineers- doctors, artists, lawyers, economists and other professions of varying glamour quotients. In fact, Engineering is just one of the popular fields of study in India, and many ‘Engineers’ don’t even end up in engineering jobs, which makes the value of the degree not all that its pepped up to be.

On Indian Food:

Indian food is soo spicy, followed by –
Chicken Tikka Masala is my favourite Indian dish.

To answer the first one – I would just like to respond with something my management professor used a lot, ‘it depends’. The two ambiguous words leave room for them to interpret every possible scenario – maybe its a personal choice, regional preference, spice palate variance or simply relative in how much spice Americans can take. And each case is valid! The food ranges from the sugar filled Gujarati Dal to the chillies flavored with some vegetables in Andhra Pradesh. Hence the two elegant words do the job – ‘It depends’.

To the following statement – Chicken Tikka Masala is considered a major dish only outside India. Most menus in India don’t have that option. It is just a mixture of chicken tikka, a popular non vegetarian snack or alcohol companion, and masala, which is just strong flavours thrown together in reasonable quantities to open up your sinuses, let alone senses. In fact, if I remember this correctly, unofficially the British consider it one of their national dishes. Considering the popularity of the dish abroad and the significant love shown by Brits to the dish, I’d happily concede it as part of British or International cuisine rather than the Indian culinary textbook. Bon apatite!

After graduating with a Masters from Duke University, Nikhil joined Deutsche Bank's Investment Banking group in New York. Following four years of work in the Financial Services and Consulting in New York, Nikhil, taking the advice of some of his favorite authors and innovators, moved back to India to learn about the disruptive nature of innovation. Within an year of traveling, Nikhil interacted with start-ups, social and tech entrepreneurs, and people pursuing interesting projects from across the country. His interest in innovation let him to join an innovation-consulting firm in Hyderabad. Most recently, he designed strategies to help rejuvenate the Microfinance business for one of the leading livelihood promoters in India.

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5 thoughts on “FAQs – American Style

  1. This is hilarious! I’m American (obviously) and my family friends still ask me if I can speak and write in Indian on occasion. Or, they get Hindi and Hindu mixed up. Great post!

  2. So often we hear an American talking about all the funny things Indians do, or an India talking about all the funny things Americans, but this is a first hearing an Indian talking about all the funny things Americans think they do. It could go the other way around; why do Indians always think I love Pink Floyd and hate spicy food? That’s England.

  3. Nikhil
    Great blog. Ofcourse my generation paved the way by reducing the number of questions or at least the number of questioners. When I want to England in 1968 Brits would tell me “oh you are just like us”. They thought they were paying me a compliment and I accepted the statement in that spirit.
    But even as late as 1997 when I came to India to work, some people in the US would ask me whether Indians spoke English . But post 2000 and the exposure to Indian IT engineers working on the Y2K projects and the Indian entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley changed the perception of Indians at least in Coastal US. Now the stereotype is that we are all in IT. It actually works in favor of some Indians. I wrote an article in ET in 2000 titled ” A question of Ijjut”(respect) based on a comment from a young Indian limo driver who was thanking TiE ,the organisation I belonged to , for giving him Ijjut. He said all his passengers thought he was an IIT graduate moonlighting as a cab driver to make some money before starting his own company.
    As for cuisine , Balti( bucket) curry is a UK ( Birmingham?) invention for the after pub closing business. You sobered up by eating it in restaurants usualy run by Bangladeshis, before going home . That said some of the most innovative Chefs and healthy variations hof Indian food come from London .

    And Eli you should expand your network beyond the 100 Indian Indians who have heard of Pink Floyd.

    Sridar

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