Monday, December 17, 2007

If this story sounds familiar.... many of you, it will probably be because you’ve seen or experienced something exactly like this.

Here’s the story, and you just might be able to replace the situation and the people without changing a single incident.

The wife goes down to her alma mater for the graduation ceremony of some of her friends. Now, graduation ceremonies are a rather grand celebratory affair, especially when someone is getting the doctoral “hood”. Two of her friends were being hooded, and so she was given the job of being their official photographer and cheerleader.

Like almost everyone else, she was at the auditorium early, and quietly seated herself at the back, where there was seating. When it was close to the time her friend was going to be hooded, she quietly went up (going unobtrusively from the side), found a corner where she could stand without disturbing anyone to take a picture, and got her camera out. The American couple who were seated besides her (likely waiting for their son or daughter to graduate) saw her, and asked if she’d like to come to their spot in order to get a better picture. Everything was as it should be, joyous and celebratory.

And then these two Indian students walked, or should I say, swaggered into the front aisle without a care in the world. While every one was perfectly well behaved, these two behaved as if they ruled the world. They walked right up, obstructing as many views as humanly possible, all while talking happily. One guy whips out a camera, and stands akimbo right in the middle of the stage taking a picture. They decide to stand right there and turn back and wave or call out to their friend (who was walking up on stage). You know…..the “hey, look here, we’re here” kind of voice that was hardly congratulatory. While this was going on, and everyone else in the hall was getting pissed off, one of their cell phones rang (with a suitably colorful ringtone). Instead of switching the damn thing off, he turns back, grins and says “sorry, bad timing” and continues, incredibly, to click pictures without shutting off that phone, even as some of the audience looked at him in disbelief. This, right after a clear message from the organizers requesting the audience to shut off their cellphones. Now, to top things, after clicking the pictures he wanted, he proceeds to whip out his (still ringing) phone and yell “do minute me phone karna, main thoda busy hoon” (call me after two minutes, I’m a little busy right now). Two minutes later, almost on cue, the phone rings again! This time, an American gentleman sitting in front couldn’t take it any more, and asks this guy to take it outside, which he reluctantly does, talking away on his phone as he’s leaving the hall.

Meanwhile, my wife gets ready to quietly take her friend’s picture. Just as she’s about to take a short video, this same guy and his friend walk right back in, and stand right in front of her (as her friend is hooded), shutting off her view. She now has a delightful video of the back and head of this guy for posterity, with some of his running Hindi commentary to boot.

And this was hardly the only incident of the day, but a single sample from many such. Here’s yet another one. In the aisle behind where she and her friends were seated were yet another group of Indian students, talking away as if they owned this world (while all others in the audience were quietly seated, listening to the names being read out, and clapping politely). The all important topic of the discussion of this group of loudmouths was cameras. The conversation goes thus:

“Hey, check out my camera phone, it’s got 1 megapixel resolution”

“That’s nothing, mine’s got 3 megapixels. Shut up and smile.”

Few more loud words exchanged in a few Indian languages.

Click. Click. What fun.

The wife was understandably furious with all of this, and was talking to her friends at the end of the day (two of them were European, the other Canadian). Since she had initiated the discussion, the others said they didn’t want to say this in her presence, but in numerous public places (from places on campus to airports or restaurants) they had all experienced some extremely boorish or downright rude behavior from Indians. Most times they were too stunned to respond (I’ll avoid details here).

This is hardly surprising to most of us. Anyone who has gone to a movie hall screening an Indian movie, or an Indian concert, must have experienced this and much more. Cell phones ring constantly. Kids run berserk, yelling at the top of their voices as their parents let them be, oblivious to the disturbed crowd around them. Conversations continue in loud voices (talking is bad enough, but if you have to, whisper). People stand up and obstruct everyone’s view of the stage/screen, without a care in the world, and certainly don’t put in any effort to get out of the way. Others answer loudly ringing cell phones and engage in long, loud conversations within earshot of everyone else. Still others don’t bother to stand in line, but walk right up to the front of the counter without even acknowledging the existence of others in line, or jostle for space using painfully bony elbows. An endless list.

I’ve been reluctant to admit it (or usually have been defensive about it when some non-Indian friends bring it up), but I think, after viewing a rather large sample size, I’m compelled to say that we’re a country of rude, inconsiderate boors. And unfortunately, most of us haven’t even heard of the saying “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”, and don’t behave as well as most American audiences would.

And it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do or how much money you have.

It NEVER hurts to be polite and considerate.


Fëanor said...

This is truly awful. I haven't had much experience of desis' behaviour in the US, but in NJ where I was for a while, I found them extremely self-effacing and not too keen on attracting attention to themselves. Well, except in Edison, which is a desi stronghold, so people behave as they would back in amchi gujjuland. Perhaps desi students in univs are becoming increasingly brash and unconcerned about manners. At my graduation ceremony recently in London, it was very decorous. Everyone, Greeks, Chinese, desis, Brits, a pretty motley crowd, cheered rousingly and behaved in a polite fashion. What can I say - the Old World's courtesies infect its desi visitors? :-)

Sunil said...

Feanor....I hate to generalize, but did so in this post. I think there is some difference in the behavior of Indian students in different universities in the US. Perhaps some if it depends on how many there are in that university. There was a relatively smaller Indian student population where I did grad school.....and they were mostly a terrific bunch. But I've seen (or heard of) numerous instances of really deplorable behavior of Indian students in a number of other US schools. But your graduation ceremony sounds like how it should be......a time of celebration.

Wavefunction said...

I just don't get it. I have even seen Indians behaving politely in US movie theaters (although experiences such as yours are hardly uncommon) but I have especially noticed that when they crowd in an Indian theater, everybody starts behaving unbelievably rude and conceited, blocking views and especially reserving places for a dozen family members even if nobody has shown up and there are people standing and looking for a place. For some reason, I think that while many Indians give "foreigners" their respect, they take other Indians for granted. Worse, they behave as if there was no need to respect their fellow Indians as much as Americans. What's the matter with us?

Anonymous said...

Ashutosh: I guess what you saw is the Indian realization of "When in Rome do as the Romans do"... When amongst Indians, behave as Indian do... ;)

From my experience at Indian music concert halls, Borders and graduate student hostel rooms, I think a critical population is required before this "mob behavior" sets in amongst us. And age is not a criterion that dampens this mob spirit of enhanced individual boorishness.

A reason, in line with what Ashutosh perhaps doesn't want to write, could be we lack self respect for us not to see it in other Indians.


Sunil said... make a good point about "critical mass". I think that is very true. A small Indian population usually behaves immaculately. So it's not like we *cant* behave. Ashutosh....don't really know what's the matter with us :-((

Anonymous said...

This is present and visible back in home at movie theaters, public spaces(imagine restrooms). Although I think we as nation can not improve and critical mass will take exponential time because we do not have red communist folks sticking it to us, check out the china's efforts to eradicate similar behavior.