Indians are different than Americans. I bet you didn’t know that – what with us living in this land of the Melting Pot where “people are just people”. I don’t know about you, but whenever I try to melt anything – be it cheese or chocolate, I always end up with lumps that JUST WON’T MELT. In a similar vein, sometimes, just sometimes, people JUST WON’T MELT.
As you probably know, X is Indian. Indian as in “came across the ocean” rather than the “sorry about stealing your land” kind (or that would be the British apologizing). I should also probably explain that well before meeting X, I had already been actively involved in the Indian/Pakistani community in college. I have been to Pakistan (Rancid Tangent: Contrary to popular belief Pakistan is so much more like India than an Arab country. I guess it could be due to the fact that Pakistanis AREN’T ARABS). Finally, I grew up being fascinated with my step-grandmother, whom my grandpa met and married in India well before I was born. Therefore, the sub-continent of Asia has always been a part of my tiny existence. It’s not entirely unusual that I would marry an Indian (hey, it was good enough for Gramps). I like to remind X that by the time I met him, I was already trained - I knew how to cook, knew how to act in Indian social situations, and often, knew what to expect. Despite this prior training, really for the most part our home is primarily American accented with Indian “touches”. No, we will never be the “brisket, cheeseburger and steak” eating kind of family, but really – beef is bad for your heart anyway. We do watch sports, so hope is not entirely lost for our future children.
This being said, every now and then, I am still tickled by those little differences between the cultures. One that particularly amuses me is the brazen questioning regarding MONEY. Indians are very frank in this matter – they openly ask each other about salaries, cars, houses, furniture, etc. Last weekend, while visiting some Indian friends, this came up. I, the American, delicately inquired where our friends got their furniture. X, the Indian, jumped right to the chase and asked how much they spent. However, it is not considered bad taste to ask someone how much they spend on things. AND contrary to what an American would think, for the most part, it really isn’t about bragging but rather, it’s about comparing so that everyone can figure out where a good deal is. Our friends eagerly told us where they got their good deal and encouraged us to do the same. I think it’s safe to say that Indians do enjoy a good deal, but honestly, people – WHO DOESN’T?
One of the more interesting (and entertaining) aspects of this Indian Comparison is how irritated employers get with it. During the Internet Boom, I worked at a small start-up and we had hired a hefty amount of Indians. My American manager was distressed that the Indians quickly figured out who was getting paid more than the other. The manager became disturbed when the said Indian legitimately requested similar pay raises. This brought back memories of working for Ernst and Young where we were given stern warnings to NOT discuss our salaries. After seeing what happened with Indians at the Internet start-up, it became crystal clear why EY would require this of us. This is when I started to reconsider my previous policy of silence regarding financial matters. Even lately, I have found myself wishing my friends and family WOULD ask how much our house cost. Last fall, I was dismayed when my close friend C discovered my house cost loads LESS than what she thought it had. I’d like all my friends and family to know that our house was NOT expensive. For some reason, I am mortified to think that people would think we would spend such a silly amount of money on a house as expensive as C thought we had. Is it my own personal issue with guilty and humility? Yes. But it would certainly be allayed somewhat if Americans were more open about money matters.
So, the next time someone does something that is particularly shocking or surprising to you, think about it for a minute. Give it a whirl. Consider whether it could actually be an advantage to you if you were able to shift your proverbial paradigm for a minute.