Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cultural differences, part 2

This post was also written on October 1st.

Possible conversation scenario in the US:
Person 1: That outfit is really flattering on you.
Person 2: Oh, really? Thanks!
Person 1: Have you been exercising?
Person 2: Yes.
Person 1: I can tell, you look great.

Actual conversation I had this morning in the Buchanan staff room:
Manju (a teacher): You are looking less fat than you used to.
Me: Oh, thank you. I've been exercising with the girls in the hostel.
Manju Teacher: That is good for you, you need it. You are looking more slim. Continue to improve. I know you are going to look very byoo-Tful in a saree.

Yes friends, true story. At one time I might have been horrified at the way this conversation went, but as it happened this morning, and as I am recounting it to you now, I find it no less than hilarious, and was not at all offended. One, I think there's something to be said for being able to laugh at one's self, in any respect. And two, if you could have seen the giant smile, devoid of mean-spiritedness or judgment, on Manju Teacher's face, you wouldn't have been offended either. She was honestly saying I look improved, and you could tell she really meant it when she said she couldn't wait for me to wear a saree (I can't either, by the way! I still need to buy one!)

The difference between how Manju Teacher made her remarks, and how one might make the same remarks in the US is...tact. In a culture (the US, I mean) that values beating-around-the-bush, in the name of tact, such comments would undoubtedly be considered at least slightly offensive to the recipient. But as I have experienced on more than one occasion, Indians, simply put, like to tell it like it is. Not, however, with any sort of ill-will or malice.

Another such occasion: Jim, Maggie, and I spent our first week in India at 'orientation' at our site coordinator's house. One activity with which we filled our days was Malayalam lessons. During one lesson, in particular, I was told that I was 'very slow' (I learned, later, that this was due to the fact that I was asking lots of questions; in the US, this is usually taken as a sign of higher-level thinking/analysis, while in India, it basically means that you're just not getting it--yet another cultural difference). To be honest, I took that with less humor than the you-are-looking-less-fat incident, mostly because, at that point, I was still unaccustomed to the Indian manner of directly stating one's opinions. But now, I find it very funny, and am also proud to say that my Malayalam is coming along quite well.

So, don't be surprised if this tendency toward candor rubs off on me and I come back to the US and tell you what I've REALLY been thinking about you all this time ;)

Update: My site supervisor, Jaimol Kochamma, took me to buy my first saree yesterday! :D


  1. Haha! How funny! Don't worry about being "very slow," I would be there right with you, with a PLETHORA of questions, too! lol.
    Ohhhh!!! A saree!!! What does it look like? pictures, pictures, pictures, when you can!
    Also, have you started your Zumba classes yet? What kind of music have you been using?

    Hahahaha....look at how "very slow" I just was in this post! lol, love you and miss you, rimh!

  2. This post made me laugh!! (And made the people I live with laugh too, as I had to tell them about the "You're looking less fat" comment.

    I'll be sure to stay away from you for awhile when you come back, I don't want to know what you really think about me! :)