Oct 21, 2008

racism or desi-ism?

i've lived in the middle east, US and now in london. i'd heard that a lot of these countries are racist. but had never come across any racism.
until of course, i walked into stores manned by desis.
have u ever wondered why it is that these people - of the same race/color/caste - whatever the criteria may be... are so biased towards us?

initially, i felt it was something about me. that they felt they should treat me differently. and not, good different, mind u.
for instance, when i'd walk into a desi-manned store, pick up whatever it was that i went in to buy and move towards billing. i'd always give a broad smile and say hello! irrespective of what colored person was manning the billing counter. now, if this were a firang, the person would always - no exceptions - smile back. and we'd chatter about random stuff and go about our days.

but god forbid, there be a desi at the counter.
forget smiling, they would refuse to even LOOK at me. in the 2 years of my masters, they taught us that "customer was king" in this case, queen. and that it was basic appropriate-ness of the nature of their business that they should SMILE at me. but well, they seemed like they were doing me a favor by selling me stuff. even if the "stuff" was potato chips!

why am i bringing this up today? because after a week in london, i entered a store manned by a desi woman. all i wanted to do was top-up my prepaid card, so i could call home. i hand over the card and the money - so she knows i'm not just looking around there - and i smile at her and say 20 pounds, pls? she frowns at me, takes the card and the money and walks off reluctantly to the machine towards the back of the store. then, 2 minutes later, she looks at me suspisciously and says "this doesn't work".
me: ermm... sorry?
her: this doesn't work.
me: i heard you. what do you mean it doesn't work?
her: i can't top it up. it says it's invalid.
me: OK. what do i do about it now?
her: i can give you a voucher. do you want it?
me: well, as long as it tops up my card, yes. i do.
her: sigh. ok.
she goes back.. does something... and gets me a receipt-like paper.
i look at her waiting for an explanation, since i'm obviously new to this.
she doesn't get it.

me: what do i do with this?
her: oh. u call 150. and do the needful.
me: thank u. *trying to figure out what the hell "do the needful" would imply!*
and i "do the needful" and finally have a topped up card.

now, compare this to the scene just a couple of days back - friday, i think.
i walk into a cyber cafe. there's a brit running the place - i don't know if he owns it. i ask him "how much per hour?"
he smiles at me and says "ek pound"
i stare at him.
he smiles again and says "aap kahan se hai"
i almost faint.
then, i gather my wits, smile back at him and ask him "achchi hindi bol lete hain aap."
him: oh! i'm born here. par hindi aur gujarati bol leta hoon. punjabi aur bengali samajh leta hoon. bolna nahi aata.
me: how about english, eh?
him: oh yes, that too! so where are you from?
and we have a pleasant conversation - he shows me what PC i can use. and then proceeds to play songs from "tashan"
i am MIGHTY impressed. and leave the place feeling nice. *and of course, selling him a ringtone worth more than what he charged me - thereby making myself feel prouder*

if someone who's not an indian can go to that extent to make his customers feel comfortable for a mere ONE pound, why is it so difficult for indians to make other indian, paying customers feel comfortable? is it really mandatory to frown or snigger at other indians???
and you know what - it's only the indian store owners who have this issue. the pakistani ones are usually nice too. in fact, they even enquire about where u're from, if you need any help etc.
i fail to understand WHY this is so. for people from a so-called "hospitable" country, they sure seem to have a lot of issues being hospitable to fellow countrymen.


Galadriel said...

it's coz you're both from india and she is working behind a counter at a convenience store while you, actually appear to hold a respectable job. And after living in the west with dignity of labor ruling the day, "desis" still don't seem to grasp the concept enough to not be ashamed of what they do.

Keshi said...

Very good post!

Its DESI-ism indeedz! I always tell this to Sri Lankans and Indians, but they never believe me. Cos they dun wanna believe it!

I hv lived overseas for so long and I hv lived in SL too...so like u, Im in a BETTER position to tell who is really racist and who isnt. I hv had the similar experiences with Desi ppl here in Aus. NO ONE SMILES! why is that? Its so bloody rude!

Once I had a rather annoying encounter with a desi chick in a saree shop, I told her off...in a nice way. I'll write abt it in my blog soon. U inspired me.

I guess ppl always thinks Racism in terms of white ppl harassing us browns. But its really the way most of the time! Cos most desis dun seem to know how racist they can be even w.o. their knowledge!


Anonymous said...

isn't that sad...

i see glimpses of that here too...in something as normal as smiling ..the return smile is so tentative that you think you've committed a huge mistake ...

so u having fun?


Pinku said...

thats so sad...cant begin to understand what makes they react like that.

Is this something you have noticed only in London or is it true for the Emirates and US as well?

rayshma said...

pinku: no, this is something i've noticed in the US & Middle East as well. I do come across some desis who would speak to you, be nice etc. but it's so rare that it makes you wonder more.

suma: yep! having fun working now :) i like smiling at desis just to psych them out. the look on their faces is like a rabbit caught in the headlights if you smile at them! makes my day sometimes! ;)

keshi: thanks. and yes, you would understand because you've seen it for yourself. it's silly to turn a blind eye to these things.
do blog about sari shop girl - would love to read. :)

to be honest, i used to be a bit racist - but that was really really long ago. and it was because i couldn't understand why indians in india *not all, but in some situations* would put foreigners on a pedestal while treating other indians badly. of course, those issues have long since been resolved :)

galadriel: i agree with the point there. but HOW do they know what i do??? if we're talking of the US, well, i'm unemployed and they're in a better position than me because at least they're working!
that day, i was clad in jeans and a jacket. for all that woman knew, i could have been just someone like her who worked at another neighboring shop or something!

Sumana said...

Came here from preethi's blog. This is so very true. I was in the US for a while and i sometime used to be stunned.

DewdropDream said...

Something that might help explain this, in a lighter vein: http://www.twisted-dna.com/2008/10/07/sukdeep-groceries

Could it also be that 9 times out of ten, a conversation with desi tends to get a bit uncomfortable with one too many intrusive questions being asked, uncalled for comments being thrown and what not? I think we Indians are a suspicious lot around each other when we meet abroad... puzzling, but true.

Galadriel said...

alright lemme put it this way.. you LOOK more respectable and intelligent than her, enough to hold or have the potential of holding a "better" job, whatever that means. :)

Preethi said...

I have seen some namunes here too.. a simple smile is that too much to ask? Its either where do you live and total intrusion into my private life or this cold shoulder.. I have seen both extremes with Indians.. sigh!!

DotThoughts said...

i soooo hear you raysh. i think its because in india its a sellers market.. everywhere else its a buyers market.

Pavi!!!! said...

hec ya! happens all the time.. n hv u noticed..desis practice desi-ism only with fellow desis..they are super nice n sumtimes even suck up to the phirangs! GRRRR!

Keshi said...

Yes I can u'stand that issue too...where SOME desis treat foreigners like God. I detest that.

btw come n take part in my sex quiz :)


carolinagal said...

Desi-ism indeed!! I too see it all the time!! Sigh! Somethings will never change..

K 3 said...

We are bit suspicious lot, i think. Once you visit them a couple of times, they do warm up (some dont). But its sad ...

Solitaire said...

This is a GREAT POST! It is very true. I have experienced that in the US too. Apparently, everything desi becomes stupid in a foreign country for some people.

I even have a friend who refuses to come out with me to watch a hindi movie, won't come to the temple, wont dress in kurtis, and just won't do anything Indian! And he came to the United States only 2 years ago!

Noodlehead said...

i've heard this being echoed by a lot of ppk who've lived abroad...there's no one worse to an Indian abroad than another Indian! I don't get it...shudn't they be happy to see a fellow countryman (or woman)? I've only see a few women in salwar suits here and I almost went and hugged them, so I really don't understand this weird attitude. Me thinks they're just trying to be very firang and seeing a fellow countryman just embarasses them or something...dunno.