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.