FAQs — Indian Style

You hear it over and over again: India is a vast country, one of many contradictions and great diversity. I agree, but one thing that has remained quite the same no matter where in India I travel, work, or study is the questions Indians ask me. Below are a sampling of these FAQs, my responses and reactions to these questions—in good humor—and the insights into India each question gleans.

Questions About Family:

What is your father’s profession? What is your mother’s work?

Thank goodness my father is an engineer, so I can respond to this first question assertively and confidently knowing that no judgment will be passed! But my mom, umm…  she works at a clothing store? This garners blanks stares, so I try another approach. She went to school for cosmetology—you know, cutting hair, doing nails (wrong approach). Then she was a housewife (finally some positive reaction)! But now, yes now, she is a dukanwalla (and the positive reaction quickly disappears).

And what about your brothers’ professions? Are they married? Do they have children?

Darn it—more things that aren’t going to translate. Here goes… Well, one of my brothers is married. They don’t have kids, but they just got a puppy! Does that count for anything?! My other brother isn’t married, and he’s a chef. At this point, I can feel the disdain of my Indian aunties and uncles. They must be wondering what my engineering father did wrong.

Who gets your parents’ home when they die?

This question always catches me off guard. I also admit that I have had to ask my dad on this one. I try to use this as a shining moment for gender equality! I have the same rights as my elder brothers to my parents’ things when they die (as long as they love their children equally and split the property equally in their will—my dad assured me he does, and he will)!

Questions About Marriage:

Are you married?

No, no—I’m too young to be married! This usually comes with a bit of a retort by the asker, quickly followed by…

Well, do you want to marry an Indian?!

My go-to answer is “Only if you can find one taller than me!” This is done to avoid having to say, “No, I would not like an arranged marriage with your cousins’ neighbors’ son.” Unfortunately, it tends to backfire, and they scour their minds for the tallest Indian male they know, who is undoubtedly an engineer or a doctor.

Questions About Food:

What do you eat for lunch in your place?

Anything I want! This is always difficult to explain to Indians the plethora of lunch options that exist in “my place.” It is even more difficult to explain that I generally enjoy eating yogurt and fruit for lunch.

Why don’t you eat rice? Where can you get your energy from without rice?

Well, I eat rice, but cannot eat rice in nearly the quantity that is eaten in South India (in excess of six cups per person just at lunch).  And where do I get my energy? From just about anything other than rice. Fruits, vegetables, protein, that strange black coffee that I consume every morning give me lots of energy.

Are you sure you can eat this? You people aren’t used to spice and like bland food.

Yes, I am positive I can eat it. “You people” clearly have never tried deliciously spicy Mexican food or delectable varieties of stinky cheese.

But, Most Importantly:

How do you find India?

I love it.

Despite the daily criticism from my co-workers regarding my lunch choices and the curiosity that arises when I describe my family, Indians and I share a common love of family, food, and their country.

Keep an eye out for a counter-post: FAQs — American Style!


Caitlin's interest in social enterprise began while working at a nonprofit research and consulting firm in Boston. This interest intersected with international development shortly thereafter while on a field study with Northeastern's Social Enterprise Institute in Cape Town, South Africa where she consulted with local township entrepreneurs. Following the field study, she worked in Hubli, Karnataka at the Deshpande Foundation for six months as a Junior Fellow. During this time, she focused on a number of the Foundation's educational programs to develop, implement, and evaluate curriculum. She also completed a research grant on the Indian higher education system and the impact social enterprises can have in higher ed. Wanting to gain more from her time in India, Caitlin later spent time studying beginning Hindi in Jaipur, Rajasthan on a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State. She also has experience in program assessment, research, and data analysis. Caitlin looks forward to combining all of these interests back in India as a Fellow.

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6 thoughts on “FAQs — Indian Style

  1. These are all the same questions I get all the time!! And explaining my mom’s career is equally complicated. I am running out of ways to deflect the marriage question if anyone else has ideas…

  2. I can totally relate to all of this!! I spent two months there last year and I got so many questions from every uncle and auntie. The thing I was questioned on most was wether or not I could handle the food!!

    Keep writing please! =D

  3. My approach to “why don’t you marry an Indian?” is usually “Sure, why not? Set me up.” Then the person usually quickly realizes that they don’t want anyone in their family to marry me (or any foreigner). It’s a great conversation killer.

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