So I’ve moved to the States for my Master’s degree and it’s been… half a year now DAYUM. I come from a fairly conservative culture and it’s safe to say that even though my country is orthodox and traditional in a lot of ways, being subtle and having a sense of personal space is a very alien concept. People like being in other people’s business, or maybe that’s just a by-product of having too many people per capita.
In the U.S. however, every interaction needs a nice prologue, and a gentle positive finish. There’s a coating of sugar over everything, big and small. That’s not true for us desis though, we aren’t subtle at all. It’s perfectly alright to seem uninterested and distant as you exchange dispirited “Hi”s with neighbours or colleagues. If you’re overly nice and cheery, you kinda stand out. Not in the States though! If you can’t end your conversation in a way that the other person likes you, it’s not cool. It’s almost a burden to be social and to pretend that everything is dandy. I find it slightly alarming to have a visibly disheartened person walk up to you (I have a part time catering gig), put on a fake ass smile and ask you about your day. Jeez, I get that you gotta be civil, but the pressure to be cheery, civil and nice all the time is very new to me.
Personal space is another area Americans are very particular about. If you’re blocking someone’s way, they’re more likely to wait till you move than to squeeze past you. Again, that depends on a lot of factors, but people usually give other people space unless it’s New York. People on the road however, are a very different story. My roommates and I had gone out for dinner today and we were all dressed up. We’re 4 gorgeous Indian girls, and we turn quite a few heads, not gonna lie. So 3 of us are walking and our 4th comrade, let’s call her Yoomang, is trailing behind when she passes two black guys who ask her how the food at the restaurant we just exited from was.
Yoomang’s very kind hearted and a bit naive, so instead of a brief “Yeah it was good, you should try it”, she paused and engaged in conversation and well, those guys came over to where I was standing awkwardly, silently urging Yoomang to quit talking and join us. They asked me my name, and seemed really interested,. The guy who was doing the talking gave me his card and offered to show me around, shook my hand a third time and kissed it. I was visibly uncomfortable and they didn’t push it or anything, but it was wildly unexpected. It wasn’t subtle at all! I need to sail through life with that kinda confidence.
It’s interesting to note that things like this don’t happen in my country and I couldn’t imagine anyone stopping for a “friendly” hey-how-do-you-do, it’s just crass catcalling, stalking or violence. I guess we got lucky too, being stopped by strangers doesn’t end well most of the time. That’s why gun laws are so lax here, everyone’s paranoid and there’s so many nutcases hiding behind carefully crafted smiles and pleasing facades.
It’s 4.30 in the morning and my roommate just mumbled something about assignments in her sleep. I should head to bed.
This post was largely centered around the little bump-in with the overly friendly black guys, but I guess I’m slightly paranoid about interactions with strange men since I’ve had my share of disturbing encounters in the past. I guess this is just the kind of thing you share to get off your chest.