Cultural differences

Questions foreigners living in India are sick of hearing

1:19 PM

This past week my Facebook friends were all sharing a Buzzfeed called “26 Questions people from India are sick of answering”. I know some of them, I have been asked them when people realise I live in India, and am married to an Indian.
That link circulated interestingly mostly in the “gori community” and all agreed these questions are disturbingly annoying.
What I offered though is that as annoying and tacky as these questions can be, ignorance is not a privilege of the West, and living in India for 10 years I have been served a whole lot of questions that are equally tacky, annoying and insulting. Heck half of the time they were served to me as fact without even as much as an interrogative word in the sentence by some people that were just about dead sure they knew what the “West” was like better than me who was born and bred there. While I don’t have 26 of them to share, here are the “facts” served to me and fellow expats, and often enough to be disturbing:

1) What do you guys eat apart from junk food?

Number one question, if I had a rupee for each and every time I had to answer a junk food question I’ll probably be a millionaire by now. Sadly this kind of question comes from bad TV shows, movies and the fact that the ambassadors of continental cuisine in India are KFC, Pizza Hut and Mc D. Thankfully Masterchef Australia, and Goodfood magazine are now working at dispelling that nasty belief that people in the West only eat oily crap.

2) Can you cook? I heard people in the West have only packaged food in stores.

Pretty much a re-hash of the above fast food question. Can we, people in the “West” actually cook? Do we actually have access to fresh fruits and vegetables and markets, and do we actually know how to use something else beside the Microwave oven? Sigh! Sigh Sigh! We have open air weekly markets all over Europe, Farmers market, a large produce section in most Supermarket, and yes we are still familiar with what a sauce pan looks like, and how to fire stove. If the TV is telling you otherwise I suggest a bit less Keeping up with the Kardashians, and a whole lot more of the Discovery Travel and Living channel.

3) What? You lived in an apartment? I thought people in the west all lived in these big houses we see on TV!

Wouldn’t it be neat? No really, I would love to live in one of these, if they were actually real to begin with (the ones in movies are likely to be a Hollywood set). We aren’t all made of gold, and like in any other city around the world, people are more likely to live in apartments.

4) How do you cope with the weather in India not having the luxury of central climate control?

Ah! In Switzerland apartments have central heating, but it is strongly subjected to regulations, people can’t just fire up their furnace whenever, usually it’s from November until early March, after that there is no climate control. We don’t have AC outside offices, and those who are willing to buy something for their home usually can only get their hand on a cooler, no windows in apartment buildings is meant to receive an AC unit, and since there is no apartment individual ownership, the building belongs to the developer, who will not let you punch holes in their building to install one. We cope with cold and hot just fine, and no we are not pampered little thing who can’t face the elements. My building had a set thermostat for the heating, meaning nobody could really create a tropical climate in the middle of January in their flat, it was pretty much 20 degrees Celsius for everybody, less for me and my neighbour living in the attic, as we were having a cold roof over our heads.

5) You people love to divorce!

That one was never fired at me as a question, always a cold truth fact. No we don’t love to divorce, no it’s not the norm, yes it is still looked down upon, and no it’s definitely not our goal in life. too bad that’s not what reality TV and tabloids want you to believe, but it’s not something we love.

6) You people don’t care for your parents in old age!

Served again as a cold fact from people that really know zit about it. We DO care for our parents in old age, we even start supporting them financially the minute we start working through a common compulsory pension fund, a percentage of our gross salary goes straight to that fund before the salary gets to our bank account. As for the retirement homes? Most people who are in there actually made the choice THEMSELVES to go in there because they want to be among their peers when they can no longer function independently at home, no it's not the mean son and daughters that force them to go there using violence like some movies might suggest. It’s a different culture, you might not understand it, that doesn’t mean you have a right to say we are mean bad guys.

7) People are sleeping around in the West, all the time!

Sigh Sigh Sigh…again I suggest turning off Keeping up with the Kardashians….hell no, turn off the TV all together. That’s not true, I know far more people that have had only a few steady relationships than I know people who constantly fornicate with new partners every week. Yes we do date, yes we have less issues about being in a relationship without being married…again DIFFERENT culture, doesn’t mean it’s evil and you need to use it against us. Nobody is forcing you to do the same, and generalising from largely fictional sources is wrong, we aren’t saying all Indians sleep around based on Krishna and his constant chase of Gopis.

8) What you don’t have servants in the West?

Nope, might come as a shock, but in the “rich” west we can’t afford such a thing as a daily maid, this is something I only got in India. Those who hire a maid in Switzerland often do it once a week or a month to do some of the heavy duty work, like bathroom and in debt kitchen cleaning, because the per hour rates for a maid are high, often higher then the per hour rate of a full time employee in any company. The reason being that maids are rarely working 8 hours a day, so command a higher hourly fee to end up making ends meet, the cost of life is high for everybody.

9) All your Western festivals are commercials and there is little value left in them.

Bam another cold hard fact served with a tub load of ignorance! And hypocrite at that too! Diwali is not commercial???? Navratri? Ganpati? It seems that in the 10 years I have lived in India, the shopping malls and retail ventures are trying to top their previous year’s offers. And it all started before Christmas was even as hugely popular as it became these past 5-6 years in the country. We have different festivals, sadly they were not immune to big corporate greed…none has, but calling them value less? Having some crazy minority parties declare a war on them? That’s nasty, and don’t come telling expats that, I don’t know a single expat in India who is not having a meaningful tradition associated with any of the holidays they celebrate

10) What you didn’t own a car back home?

No I didn’t not everybody does, in fact in Switzerland the public transport system has been developed so well that a lot of people rarely even use theirs if they have one should they be in a position to commute by any other means. I know a car is a sign of status in India…not as much back home, not saying there aren’t people who don’t consider them so, but it’s far less obvious than I have been seeing it here.

11) Why are love marriages so prevalent? They clearly don’t work.

A re-hash of the Divorce loving statement. Love marriages replaced arranged ones, divorce became easier in the 80’s, meaning people had a way out of an abusive relationship. There said it. I hate being served that “Love marriage will fail” nonsense, because I know that an arranged match is no guarantee at success, and that just because a couple still seem to be publicly together doesn’t mean they are in a functional, balanced and happy relationship. marital problems just seem to be aired a bit more publicly back home than they are in India where things tend to be swept under the rug in the name of honour keeping in the community.

12) You people in the West are too individualistic.

Again served as a cold fact. I always found this one to be a puzzling one, first because no we aren’t individualistic, in Switzerland the community is tight, people have a high sense of civism and respect of people’s private sphere and strongly believe in the concept that ones freedom stops where another person’s starts, pretty much meaning we are all responsible for other’s right to have as much peace and cleanliness as we do. There are nasty antisocial elements of course, but in general people see value in trying to make the life of their neighbours as easy as possible…how is that for a nasty individualistic “West”?
We are individualistic when it comes to our career choices, life partner choices…but not when it comes to the need of the community.

13) You people have the good life.

Define good? Seriously define it? There are people in India who have a better life than people in Europe…if it’s the “You guys have big house, and amenities” that stems from the TV…nope we don’t. If it is some ridiculous currency conversion that makes you realise a 3000 CHF salary becomes a high bracket salary once converted into rupees…again no. Without taking the cost of life into consideration this is a baseless statement. Real estate cost more, there are lots of compulsory insurances one can’t wiggle out of in Switzerland that need to be paid monthly, electricity isn’t free, food prices aren’t low either, what is perceived as a high salary after conversion is in fact an average (and on the lower end of said average) salary. Before making empty statement one need to put things into perspective.

All in all, while Indians seem fed up having people think the country is all slum and misery, trust me we Westerners are fed up with Indians just assuming we are all made of money and always had it easy. And As much as Slumdog Millionaire painted a grim sad and poor India and yes I know too many convinced that the movie showed the real thing, Indians end up thinking Hollywood pretty much paint an accurate real deal picture of what the West is all about. When of course it end up being untrue in both cases.

17 comments

  1. apple2:55 PM

    By good life, we mean things like roads, electricity, water etc. which are taken for granted in the west. In India, you cannot dream of central heating or using a shower, unless ofcourse you are super rich and have your own water and electricity backup to supplement the supplies. People actually depend upon water tankers in colonies which are not supplied by regular lines, because they are unauthorized. Cities are full of unauthorized colonies without proper water or sanitation lines. Even in apartments people have to spend a fortune buying water because the water is salty, or contaminated. You need good education, prepare to shell out exorbitant amounts of money. The State provides a lot of things in the west, which it does not in India. Perhaps it is not possible for it to cater to everyone's needs. We end up paying more for these basic things which should anyway is the right of every citizen. This is a serious drain on our resources. This is were the difference in the lifestyle emerges.

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  2. Beatrix6:29 PM

    "We end up paying more for these basic things which should anyway is the right of every citizen."

    I don't think Indians realize how much Westerners pay in taxes to achieve & maintain roads, electricity, water, decent education, etc.
    I paid nearly 40 % of my yearly income to the state of California & the US federal gov't.
    Not to mention the local & state 'sales' taxes in California on purchases of fuel, food, clothing, nearly everything - add 10% on to whatever you wish to buy from vitamins to underpants to automobiles.
    (Hey Cyn, how do I add you on FB? The FB follow button on this website doesn't work?)

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  3. In Switzerland 35% of your net in hand salary goes toward taxes, out of the gross salary before it falls in your hand about 15% goes to various national funds and insurances. Out of the in hand salary you still need to pay your health insurance, civic insurance, accident insurance (yes all are compulsory), the central heating is by no mean free, and as I said HEAVILY regulated. My flat rent before the "charges" was 550 CHF for a tiny studio, but once the charges have been added it was 660 a month, charges are toward central heating, and hot water. So nope again by no mean free, far far far from it.
    I have the feeling people in India seem to think people in the west get all amenities for free.

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  4. Yeah in Switzerland that's 35% of your net income that is subjected to federal taxes. the VAT was nearly 8% when I left Switzerland if I remember well, it must have hiked up since then, then there is all the indirect taxes taken at the source too, and one thing that surprised me in India is that when you get hired you have a salary breakup and it states until what amount your rent is exempted from taxes...in India the rent is exempted! No such luck in Switzerland, as far as I know they don't care about how much you pay in rent, insurances and what not, they still claim 35% of it, how you manage your expenses is none of their problem.
    My blog page on FB is : https://www.facebook.com/CynsAdventureInIndia
    I will have to look into that widget not working anymore.

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  5. Alexandra Madhavan6:12 AM

    LOVE this!!!!! I so agree - I literally fit none of the above. I have no divorces in my family and ALL are love marriages :)


    Latest comment on my blog was "blame your own western media for creating these stereotypes" LMAO!!!!! (Vomit)

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  6. Oh wow, so basically it's all our fault if some people can't use their common sense and apply sick stereotypes based on something we all know is purely fiction...sigh!

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  7. Avani8:10 AM

    As an Indian living in the US, I have to agree with apple. Yes 'Westerners' pay a lot in taxes to achieve and maintain basic infrastructure. So do Indians. Its not like Indians pay 10% taxes. They too pay 40% in taxes for the most part. The problem is that with all the corruption even despite paying all those taxes they get pretty much nothing in return.
    When Indians say that the western countries have a good life, they are paying a compliment to the systems of those countries. Please take it as a compliment.
    I pay 35% taxes in the US and I know I get good roads that are cleaned regularly, my trash is taken out regularly, electricity without regular cuts, reasonable amounts of clean water and gas, public entertainment spaces like parks and squares, reasonably good public schools, public facilities like restrooms... I could go on and on.
    When I lived in India I paid 40% tax. I got none of the above.
    I've also seen that whole list of things Indians are tired of being asked and that was also in jest. I'd hope this list is also somewhat in jest. I've done my part in getting my friends in India to understand that 'The West' is not this amorphous space - it is many many different countries and what is true for the US may not be so for an European country. And that basing all our perceptions on Hollywood movies is silly because surely we Indians don't go around dancing and singing in sync on the roads at the slightest chance like Bollywood movies.
    But this point - that life in western countries is nicer and smoother - is valid. If it was not, then why are those countries called developed and India called developing? You can't compare a rich person in India with an average person in Switzerland and say that you see better lifestyles in India. Of course the rich have good lifestyles in any country.

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  8. Beatrix5:47 PM

    Avani wrote- "Yes 'Westerners' pay a lot in taxes to achieve and maintain basic infrastructure. So do Indians. Its not like Indians pay 10% taxes. They too pay 40% in taxes for the most part."



    I don't know how you figure Indians pay 40% taxes for the 'most' part - only 2.77% of Indians pay ANY taxes (according to the Indian gov't's official data.)

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  9. First of all Indians that should pay taxes, about 20% do in India, you can't escape paying taxes in Switzerland, they know where you live at all time.
    Corruption isn't prevalent in Switzerland, but only because we won't tolerate it and put our foot down. Parks are clean not just because the governement clean them, but also because people have a high sense of civism that make them want to do their bit to keep things in working order as much as possible.
    In 10 years in India one thing that irritates me to absolutely no end is middle class Indians going on and on about telling me how we in the west have it easy, how we have financial security, can afford lavish expenses (????), go on and on about how the west is so clean and nice, but then when you point out that they could easily do their bit to keep public premises clean, they look offended by the idea of having to stop throwing things on the ground. Had an NRI friend who returned from abroad and had a lady brag about how clean it was abroad, and that same lady ended up throwing her boarding pass, all the rusish she had in her purse as soon as she was out of the airport, when my friend pointed it out the lady said : "Oh but this is different, this is India, we can do that here".
    I remember reading last year that the income tax department managed to get hold of 143 crores that were stashed in Swiss bank account by wealthy people that wanted to evade taxes. 143 crore!!!!! And I have a feeling this is the tip of the iceberg. All this money if well used could make India a very nice place too. So really I don't really like when I have people whining about how we have the good life int he west, making it sound like we did absolutely nothing to get that and it landed hot on our plate when I see so much disregard for rules, and people that are quicker to make excuses instead of making things happen to improve their own country.

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  10. This is fantastic!! I still hear those questions whenever I encounter the Indian community here! I think most Indians don't realize that they are just like the west, humans are the same regardless of race. I think it shows ignorance when people ask questions like these.

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  11. exactly, these questions stem from ignorance, and no culture is spared, Indians get asked about Slumdog Millionaire we get asked about Hollywood movies, both are irritating.

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  12. LOL. Until I grew up and started working, I also thought that "white guys" were "walking , talking dollar signs!!!" - which literally meant - if you are white, then you are definitely richer than us brown people. Wait, I also thought Chocolates were dirt-cheap abroad :) considering that every one I knew who had gone abroad would bring back loads of chocolates :) Stereotype much?

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  13. Stereotype indeed :-)
    Good quality chocolate is usually cheaper in Switzerland than it is in India, but that's because it's a nation that takes chocolate very seriously and supermarket brands are better than Cadburry in India, Lindt will cost a bomb just the same back home.

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  14. :) I think it is because in India we have our own traditional sweets and chocolate is not necessarily the go-to sweet when you are craving something... I grew up with mysore pak, gulab jamon, maida burfis etc. made in huge quantities to have during snack times. Chocolate was not necessarily needed. Of course, times have changed and no one has the interest to cook deep fried snacks and sweets at home now - and we all fall back to chocolates for an easy go-to snack. This is why I feel the chocolate-market has more competition with indian sweets in India than the west.


    On another note, I failed to mention that I also thought all white people lived in fancy bungalows with a swimming pool at the back, drove fancy cars, ate sandwiches, drank beer and had barbeque parties along the poolside all weekend... Perhaps I watched too many episodes of "Bold and Beautiful" an american sitcom that used to be broadcast in India during my teens.Needless to say, I was shocked to see homeless people in California. :)

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  15. The Bold and the beautiful is pretty much the American equivalent of the Saas bahu serials you see here in India where ladies are wearing designer sarees and jewellry as if they were going to a fancy wedding :)
    That soap reminded me of my great Grand Mother, she started watching it in the 80's when it started, and till her dying day in 2000 at the age of 98 she would not miss an episode of the Bold and the Beautiful if she could prevent it, she would make sure to be at home in the evening when it aired.

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  16. LOL at the fancy wedding attire in saas bahu serials in India. Btw, I would have loved to meet your grandmother and swapped Bold and Beautiful stories with her. I need to check if it is still being aired...

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  17. Heh he it was my Great Grand Mother :) My grand ma didn't care about the show much, I have no idea if it is still running, I remember that show had about a gazillion season last time I heard of it, I've never followed it more than just watching a few episodes here and there.

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