Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Amrika Me Aisa Kya Hai...?"

Genre: Humor

I usually do not write consecutive posts on same/similar topics but making an exception this time owing to popular demand. Ever since I moved to अमरीका के संयुक्त राज्य (USA for the uninitiated) from Mumbai two months back, I have been bugged with queries on the lines of “America me aisa kya hai jo India me nahi?”. So here we go- some interesting (and not-so-interesting) observations about life in USA viz-a-viz life in India-

Cleanliness and Discipline – Tonnes of paper (and Gbs of webspace) has been wasted on this topic so I will not add much to the clutter, but add just a few pennies- what struck me (and fellow Desis) the most immediately on landing on American soil was the difference in level of cleanliness all around- till date we have not been able to figure out after all where does all the dirt, dust and assorted pollutants go in this country? It's so clean that I don't feel the need to take a bath for days together! (Oops! I revealed a closely-guarded secret!)

Discipline (especially on the roads) is another aspect that is hard to digest for us Desi people. After all, while in India, when was the last time (or maybe the only time) you actually searched around for a Zebra Crossing to cross a two-lane street? Here, pedestrians crossing the road is considered an event bigger than The Big Bang and the moment you step onto a road, all cars will stop for the VIP (i.e. you) to cross! Similarly, if you are driving on a multi-lane road, at a red signal, you will find 25 cars halting one behind the other in one lane even when the adjacent lane is completely empty! Compare this with the scene in India where on a two lane road, we have a left lane and a right lane interspersed with a scooter lane, rickshaw lane and occasionally a cow/bullock cart lane! So much is the obsession with discipline that all the footpaths are color-coded with different colors representing different rules on stopping/parking- this is something I realised only when I gave my Driving License Test- I always used to think the colors are purely for decorative purpose!

Manners and Dressing – We were told umpteen times during the various Pre-departure orientations that Americans are very friendly people and this seems true, atleast in the first month of arrival- random people will greet/smile at you on the streets and everyone, including the Bus Driver says “Hi” and “Thank You” to boarding / disembarking passengers. Imagine the driver and conductor of BEST's 84 Ltd doing that in morning peak hours! Another interesting point worth mentioning here is that while we think that Americans are very formal and cleanliness-freaks, the fact is that will sit down virtually anywhere – on the pavement, in the aisle in the bus, in the corridors...and you thought this happened only on our railway stations in India!

When it comes to American dressing, I am sure the fashion-conscious (Indian) girls would have a lot to crib about – wearing non color-coordinated, un-ironed, mis-fitting (too large or too small) clothes is the trend here! Another area that is a potential research topic (provided VT gives us funding for it) is trying to figure out the genetic mutation that makes the American girls feel cold only in upper half of the body- after all what explains wearing full-sleeved tshirts an jackets teamed with mini-skirts?  

The Crowd – I do not know if this is a pan-USA phenomenon or limited to the College Town of Blacksburg, but I have found the crowd (read: students) to be very courteous and friendly। Everyone will hold the door open for you, make liberal use of “Hi”, “Sorry” and “Thank You” and most of them (especially the undergrad girls) will smile back if you just look at them! A related point worth noting here- a lot of Spanish/Latin American girls on campus look very similar to Indian girls and I have found out that the only way to clear out the confusion is to just look at her and smile- if she smiles back, she is Spanish/Latin American; if she gives a grumpy “Who are you?” look, she is Indian for sure.  

The Bollywood Connection - Even before you finish saying "Indian movie...", every single soul here will jump back with "Yeah! I have seen Slumdog Millionaire!". Tell them that is NOT an Indian movie, and then the real fun begins. So we have all possible samples from Li Hu, the Chinese PhD student who entertained us with an (awful) rendition of "Tum Paas Aaye" from Mohabbatein to Matt, my Black Manager at Food Court who raves about seeing Dhoom to the Nepali co-worker who, of all the movies, decides to give me a detailed appreciation of TIRANGA ("Nana Patekar. Solid!"). Three cheers to Bollywood- Taking India to the World!

I guess I will stop here before the “moral police” comes with a danda, branding me “Anti-Indian”!

१०० में से ८० बेईमान,
फिर भी मेरा भारत महान!


  1. true true true! but sometimes I like the chaos a little better :P

  2. And Karan, Yeh kya background hai ?!! eye numbing :P Try somethin else na..

  3. I love your posting man.....I am becoming ur die-hard fan these days. Keep up the good work Mr. future ISA prez

  4. @Jshree

    Yeah, even I miss the chaos!

    Your request for change of background has been accepted and changes incorporated. Feedback on the same will be appreciated.

  5. In case you do not know, there indeed are drivers and conductors in BEST who say hi hello to the regular commuters in their bus. The conductor of my regular bus to college doesn't turn to me to issue a ticket as he knows that I always have "bees (hindi word, not the english one!) wala" ticket :) -Akshay

  6. @mrvcmania

    In case you have forgotten, I have lived in Mumbai for 22 years; how would I NOT know this practice? The word to note here is "regular" passengers. Is your 'friendly' conductor equally friendly to other "non-regular" passengers? Does he greet them all? I doubt! (Passengers would think he is mad!)

    The point I wanted to highlight is that the bus driver here greets "every single passenger" getting in and getting out!

  7. That is not practical! Buses are so full in peak hours that it is difficult to issue tickets to each passenger, forget saying hello! To add to their troubles are passengers who board from front doors. But from what I have experienced, more than 80% of conductors will readily strike up a conversation with the passengers in their idle time, and on a variety of topics that include current affairs, politics, and if it is someone like me crazy about buses, then about BEST too (various types of buses, which type is better etc). I have gained a lot of information through such chats :)

    I have also come across a conductor, totally unknown, who offered me a seat in a very polite manner (similar to the way those guys at 5 star hotels hold open the door of cars) before issuing ticket!

  8. Nice blog Karan. Interesting reading about your experiences. I can add a ditto on the same practices being followed in the UK. France and Singapore are a little different, they are a little India-ish. As long as your pedestrian signal is green, you may cross. You can do so when it is at "red" at the peril of being hit by a speeding vehicle at 100+ mph. I do not want to quote the gruesome site with such accident pictures which someone had posted as a comment on one of your earlier blogs. One more thing which I am sure is being followed in the U.S as well - NO honking unless it is absolutely, absolutely necessary.

  9. Oh yes. It must feel really really weird to see roads with no sound of honking anywhere. In India the practice is "Keep on honking unless it is absolutely, absolutely necessary to take the hand off the horn" :P

  10. I read this in the mail the day you sent it, while I was at office, hiding from my boss and the codes :P, and it made me smile all the way through. No doubt amrika must be all new and interesting. At the same time, having known you for so long I know just how much you must be missing this place, the rush and the unorganized way of life here. Esp the trains. :) I know I know. :)

    Im really glad to know you hav had pleasant experiences in the US. Hope you dont get on the wrong side of anything, because I guess that will be when you would wish being in Mumabi where, anything serious happens and 10 people will come running to help you, right? :)
    Anyway, enjoy life there, and now go get some mohabattein leaves for me now :P :D

    P.S: the mindblowing welcome is up!! go check it out.. :)

    P.P.S: This reminds me, rem how we were talking d day u left that ull probbly come back after a couple of years to find that stupid metro flyover in the same state as now... well an update on that, it IS the same state as 2 months back :P

  11. @Pawan

    Where do you find vehicles going at 100+ mph??? Not here in US atleast! Here the MPS is 25mph in Business and Residential Areas, 55mph on highways and 65mph on Interstates (upto 80mph on some desolate stretches in deserts of Arizona), but nowhere 100mph!

  12. @Pawan

    Yeah! Guess what, in the two months of my stay in US, I have heard the sound of a vehicle horn only ONCE! That was when a drunk idiot tried to cross the road in front of a Blacksburg Transit bus!

  13. @Ice Maiden

    Yeah, sometimes I yearn for that madness and chaos that rules Dadar station in peak hours!

    P.S. - The "Mohabbatein" leaves are called Maple leaves!

    P.P.S. - See, I had told you! I will probably go for its inauguration with my children.. or wait.. am I being too optimistic? :P

  14. Been following ur writings off and on for a while now.. Good job man! Now u've inspired me all the more to wanna do an MS!

  15. Jeez! You're so very accurate with those points out there. And I'm dreading all the more to do MS in US now. Bah @ getting adjusted with that kinda environment. Soon, we'll be known as "desi" people. :|

    Good blog :D

  16. if she gives a grumpy “Who are you?” look, she is Indian for sure.

    Beta tu pitne wala hai! But I must say a nice blog :)

  17. @Anamika

    Don't dread... it's damn fun to see the "Amrus" go about their 'defined-by-rules- lifestyle!

    BTW, we are already called "Desi" here - it is as common as 'Chinky' for Chinese! And good news for all you girls - Desi girls are considered the hottest items on campus here- the Amru guys go absolutely flat over Indian girls :D

  18. @Thought

    Bas kya! Sach bataya toh bura laga? :P
    Show me some samples if you think that's not the case!

  19. Dunno, the comparisons about good manners don't make much sense to me.

    India is smaller than Texas. And we have more than 3x people than the whole of the US.

    So in a place where people have to compete with each other even for basic neccessities, there is really no time for insignificant courtesies.

    I meet scores of people everyday. And if stop to greet every single one of them, I'll never be able to reach college in time.

    The American has no such problems. He has pretty much everything at his disposal since his nation is the big international bully and can bomb, maim, invade, annex almost at will.

    No tensions, no problems. No females to be married off. No need to get jostled in cattle-trains. No lewd stares of roadside romeos to run away from. So he can afford such "luxuries".

    Stick an American in a Mumbai local and let's see how "polite" he really is.

    But this is really intriguing:

    For such a rude country, not a single untoward incident happened during the 26/7 Mumbai floods. If we really are such ill-behaved animals, the whole of Bombay would have been caught in a full-blown riot that day. 944 mm of rain in less than 24 hours.

    Compare this with "friendly" America's New Orleans during the Katrina tragedy. less than 100 mm of rain over two days, and we had people murdering each other for food, and cops torturing citizens because they happened to be "stressed" and "overworked".

    Course, this is only one incident. But a poignant one at that. It altered my impression of the US forever.

  20. India is smaller than Texas. And we have more than 3x people than the whole of the US.

    Really? 32,87,000 sq km < 6,96,000 sq km ??? Get your basics right before embarking on long lectures!

    You started off on the wrong foot. I am not even gonna bother reading the remaining part coz I know what its gonna be like.

    Better luck next time.


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