I was having a conversation in the comment section of a Gori Girl post with another (I’m assuming male Indian) reader who was asking how non-South Asian “significant others” are able to adapt to various common South Asian cultural quirks. The conversation started like this:
I am very curious to know about relationship dynamics in your [Gori Girl] Indian American Household, with regards to the cultural differences in customs in India and America. More specifically, in India, people invite each other over and unexpectedly drop in and hang out and do things together. In the US its more planned, and “khatirdari” is less common in this DIY land. How does it work in your family? How do you handle all the social obligations of an Indian wife?
I hope you don’t mind me jumping in, this happens all the time at my house. Not as much as it used to because a lot of our friends are more established now in the community and don’t feel the need to drop by as often, but when we first moved I used to have people at my house 6 out of 7 days a week. It could get really exhausting. Most visits aren’t really planned, and I know there have been times when someone has rung our doorbell and I really didn’t want to answer, but they could tell we were home because the lights were on or something. I remember once or twice I stalled as long as possible before offering tea to a guest (almost to the point of being rude) because I knew if they had tea they would stay longer rather than just dropping in, saying hi and leaving, but eventually I had to offer (that’s what the guest was looking for) or I’d look like a jerk.
I don’t mind the visits in general, and 85-90% of the time it’s totally fine and even welcome, but every now and then I wish we lived in the middle of the woods where it would be hard to find our doorbell ;)
Likewise, I take full advantage of this, and feel no shame in dropping in on others who would do it to us. Even people in different states if I am driving by! I’ll call and give a 5 min heads up and say, “hey, are you home? I’ll come and have some tea!” Usually it’s really fun, and if I knew someone was driving through and didn’t stop by I’d probably be a little sad.
I’d like to add that, I’ve become so used to this habit of “dropping in” or “going out of your way for a friend” which is common amongst our South Asian friends, that I can’t help but feel a little bad when this isn’t reciprocated in my own (extended) family. You can’t really just “drop in” unannounced, and you can’t really ask for a favor that is “going out of the way” (at least with most people). I can’t help but now feel this attitude is a bit “cold” even if unintentional.
Anyway, the reader responded with:
Please do jump in. Again, Indians usually find it insulting if their boundaries have NOT been violated obscenely in the name of togetherness and community. (:D)… It’s good to know that you enjoy Indian visitation habits and have started adapting to them as well… Are you able to relate to the quintessential South Asian “Chaltha Hai” attitude (Let’s wing it/everything goes!)?
So I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about this.
For those of you who might have known me when I was younger (middle school/high school) you might remember that I was a bit anal retentive. Yes, I’ll be the first to admit it. I was definitely one of those students that had to have my hand in absolutely everything (this committee, that committee, this team, that club, all the honors classes… even math, which I totally suck at, and whose classes have scarred me for life!), with a schedule packed solid 99% of the time. As part of this I was the queen of organization, and completely anal about my stuff… everything had a place, had a system… even lending out books or movies I owned… I’d keep a list with dates, like a librarian or something.
When I moved on to college I tried to keep this up. I regimented a lot of things: I had a day when I did the laundry, a day when I cleaned my room, I scheduled my on-campus jobs at times when I knew I needed an excuse to be motivated and productive, like the first morning shift in the library so I’d be forced to get up early. But it was also in college that I had to start relinquishing some of the control in my life. It wasn’t a bad thing… it was more of a “chilling out” process and it happened for two reasons.
One: I studied abroad.
Two: I became very active with the international students, and realized, not everything and everyone in the world can be regimented. (sounds like a history lesson from the British empire…)
I got a brief taste of “relinquishing control” in France, but it wasn’t until I was in Kenya and India that “white girl with control issues” really slapped me in the face. For anyone who has ever heard of “African time” or “Indian time” you know exactly what I am talking about… stuff happens at a different pace. You can’t always accomplish everything you set your mind to in the time frame you set for yourself. I realized quickly that by “letting go” of my control I could enjoy myself more and be less frustrated and cynical. I watched other students for whom this realization came too late, or never came at all, and I saw them struggle. It was a painful process coming face to face with uncontrollable obstacles all the time and having to bang your head against the wall about it. This became even more pronounced when I later worked in South Africa with American students but South African staff. There were two different ways of thinking about and doing things, and being stuck in between and interpreting the other’s side for each was a bit maddening, but definitely a learning experience. (I’m of the opinion that you could pack up and send anyone overseas to a fundamentally different place and they would come back a changed person…)
Secondly, P later told me a story from one of the first few times we sat studying together. He asked to borrow a pen, so I gave him an extra pen. When we were done I nonchalantly asked for my pen back. He later told me he was really surprised by this. It wasn’t a special pen, it was probably one of those “dime-a-dozen” plain bic pens. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if he kept it and used it, but I asked for it back. It seemed kind of rude, as if I didn’t have twenty other pens exactly the same back in my room. I don’t remember the interaction specifically, but I’m sure I thought, “hey, he asked to borrow it not to have it, it’s mine, I have x number of pens in my desk, so I’d like it back. If everyone took my pen when they borrowed it, I’d have none!” That interaction initially made P think I was either kind of selfish or a control freak. (He also really likes pens. He has about a million of them.)
Yet as the years went on, I became less of a “control freak” and more laid back. I realized that “stuff” wasn’t all that important, but that people and relationships were. Helping someone out or lending someone something wasn’t that big of a deal—so what if I lost a few pens or a novel or two. And the world would not end if the laundry wasn’t done on laundry day, and dust bunnies collected under my bed.
I’m still a bit of a control freak about certain things. I love to organize, I like schedules, I am a “list person” (you should see all the sticky notes stuck to my computer monitor at work!) but I’m also more adaptable now then I was before. Someone ringing the doorbell randomly doesn’t throw me off for the rest of the night… so good thing we made three cups of rice instead of 2! Or finding out at lunch time that we will have a dinner party tonight for 8 people… no problem… I’ll just pop by the grocery store after work.
It’s nice to have things in moderation, a fine balance between organized and free spirited. Does that count for “chaltha hai” attitude? I think so, at least a little bit ;)
I’d pop in the video for the Bollywood song “Just Chill” but I don’t like the dance scene, or Salman Khan… but this just proves that there seems to be a Bollywood song for every occasion!
Instead I’ll let you listen to Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” because that’s how I roll :)