America is a nation of dreams, and people in India (generally) slog hard to get to their dreamland, either as students or workers, and if nothing else, as tourists. I have heard one of my Indian friends, who is in America on a student visa, say that he felt liberated when he visited the Statue of Lady Liberty in New York. This feeling is not uncommon. The story of the New World and the promise of a new life, has lured many aspirants from India and other third world countries to the shores of America.
If it is the first time out of India for you, you will, at first sight, be struck by how perfect everything looks- well laid roads, distinct signage, traffic that moves like clockwork, native American English speakers who do not fumble with words. But the initial euphoria may soon wear off as you start to notice a cultural disconnect. Here are a few things that could help you get over the awkward moments in the initial days of your stay.
- Punctuality: Coming from a place like India, punctuality seems to be just a word. But it is the norm in USA. So, if you do not want to miss the hop-on hop-off bus that you booked to tour the DC, please remember to be on time.
- Respect the queue: Never push ahead in a line. In USA, you will watch people stand in lines and wait cheerfully for their turn. Do not try to shove ahead just because the gentleman in front of you is polite and probably allows you to do so.
- Always use a fresh plate for the next serving: Unlike parties in India, where we use the same plate no matter how many trips we make to the buffet counter, diners in America always use a fresh plate. So every time you get up for another serving, even if it is at an Indian restaurant in USA, please get a fresh plate as well.
- Go to the end of the queue: I know you need only the pizza with the mozzarella cheese and black olives on top, and want nothing to do with the rest of the food on the table. But you still have to start at the end of the queue and wait politely till you reach the item of your choice. Cut in here and you may be given a cold shoulder for the rest of the party.
- Bring a gift if you are invited: When you are invited to an American home for a dinner party/luncheon, ask if you can bring anything to help the host(ess). If nothing else, take a bottle of wine or a home décor item. However, refrain from carrying items of too personal a nature.
- Privacy: You will hardly find Americans rude, but do not construe their polite friendliness as an invitation to go probing about their personal life. Remember, what we consider 'friendly and well-meaning concern' in India, may be seen as intrusion by people from a different culture. Americans love their privacy, and after the initial exchange of pleasantries, it is best not to push for further companionship.
- When Americans travel, they travel: A visit to the Washington Monument is just that. A visit. You will find that traveling and learning about the place of travel is a serious occupation with Americans. So, if you are touring New York on a tourist bus, try to enjoy the tour for its own sake. Do not convert it into an occasion for a gregarious family get together and snacking.
- Learn to enjoy the weekends: Half your stay in America is ill spent if you do not enjoy life the American way, to some extent at least. Americans work during weekdays and love to travel, fish, boat, swim or simply relax on weekends. Follow the cue. Not only will you be visiting great restaurants and parks, but you will also gain a fresh first-hand perspective on the American way of living.
- Be prepared to be cornered at an organic store: Americans have started to go healthy the organic way. But most Americans still do not have a clue about what to do with all the cereals and pulses they get to buy at the organic store. Americans love the way Indians cook the 'masoor dal' or split red lentils. So once they figure out you are an Indian,(which of course is as easy as sifting brown rice from flour), they might approach you on tips to cook their favorite lentil soup.
- Yoga and eucalyptus oil: Same goes for Yoga and scented oils. Yoga enthusiasts in USA(trust me there are many) will be keen to discuss aromatic oils and spiritualism with you. After all, you are from yogiland. Play along, even if spiritualism and you are as unrelated as lion and grass.
- Use of slang: Tread very cautiously when you use words that seem like fun words to you but are treated by respectable Americans as slang. It is advisable to go by the book rather. I know an instance of an Indian lady teacher who got fired because she inadvertently used a slang in front of a classroom full of toddlers. The poor lady was under the impression that she was just using a smart and acceptable American word!
- 'Are Indians taking away our jobs?'- Americans are generally favorably disposed towards Indians, as Indians are known to be peace loving hard workers. Sadly, however, you may come across a few of them who have very strong views about Indians immigrating to USA for jobs. I had met a particularly bitter jet-ski guide on my trip to Key West, who kept making acerbic comments on Indians. These instances are, however, unfortunate outliers in an otherwise positive experience. Like in India, it is best to ignore such racists in America too and get on with your journey in this land of opportunities.
Published On: Saturday, August 9th, 2014