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Indian stereotypes or simply generalization? – Part 1

“We shouldn’t judge people through the prism of our own stereotypes” –  Queen Rania of Jordan

It’s been 2 years and 5 months since I have moved to Germany and finally after these 890 days to be precise, I believe that I could summarize and give my opinions on some things that I have (and many along with me would have too) experienced on day-to-day basis.

Stereo-type? Generalization? India? Indians? Sounds familiar…? I am pretty sure you know where this post will be heading. Sometimes, some questions are asked purely out of curiosity (if it is true or not) , sometimes it is told or asked based on a close one’s or personal experience and sometimes it is downright BBC documentaries that raises some questions in minds of people who are originally not from India. Without any delay, I would like to clarify few of these stereotypes that one might face regularly.

Before I begin, these statements, facts are based on experiences gathered from friends, acquaintances, some interviews and a lot of research 🙂

  1. “Indians don’t know English and have an accent” – Well, as far as my experience and interaction with people from several countries is concerned, this is a common misconception.

Reality:        English is one of the official languages of the India and is widely used across the country. An Indian with a high-school education would generally be a bilingual (speaking own native language and English with fluency varying from place to place.) Please do not consider the accent of Raj Koothrappali from Big Bang Theory to support the stereotype. Or even Russel Peter for that matter. “It may also interest you to know that many of the origins of English words come from Sanskrit. For example, “maatra” becomes “mother”, “bhratra” becomes “brother”, “giamiti” becomes “geometry”, and “trikonniti” becomes “trigonometry”.” (Many Indians might remember this dialogue really well)

  1. “Are snake charmers common? Do you commute on elephants? Do you pray to cows if you see them on road?” – Is is just me or does it surprise how we are perceived? Rather, how are we still perceived by people across the globe?

Reality:        We react to snakes exactly how one would react in any other part of the world. Scream and run the hell out of that place. No, we do not travel to schools or offices on our personal elephants. And, like everyone else, we just either wait for the cow to move or get annoyed if it’s taking too long. “People in the Vedic period were primarily pastoral. They relied on the cows for milk and dung. Cow dung is one of the main fuels in rural India and also served as a fertilizer. Cow dung and cow urine is also thought to be a disinfectant among ancient Indians and used to clean up home. Thus, cow provided the food, fuel, disinfectant and fertilizer for the Vedic people.”

 

  1. “Indian food is only curry or curry based” – This is something each of us would have heard at least once if you have shared a meal or even a table with anyone who isn’t aware of Indian cuisine as much.

Reality:        India has a wide variety when it comes to food. It depends on soil type, climate, culture, ethnic group and occupations along with locally available spices, herbs, vegetables and fruits. We have 38 major kinds of cuisines with local adaptations and variety too. Not all the food that we cook is with turmeric and not everything is curry.

  1. “India is so hot!” – This seems to be a common excuse/reason if you ever ask someone if they have ever visited India. And what is so surprising to hear is, when they say „Oh, there is snow too??“

Reality:        India being the 7th largest country in the world, has a wide range of weather conditions. It has 6 major climatic sub types ranging from arid desert in the west, alpine tundra and glaciers in the north, and humid tropical regions supporting rainforests in the southwest and the island territories. India’s lowest temperature record is -45° C and highest is 55° C, clearing showing the range of weather conditions that are found.

  1. “Real India is dirt and chaos” – This seems to be the notion. Nonetheless –

Reality:        From what is portrayed in the photographs of India across the globe, this seems to be what really India is. But it isn’t. These pictures taken from some parts of the slum areas of certain cities are not known to all the people living in that city. I have traveled across India quite a bit and honestly, from the things that I have seen and places visited, this is merely 1 percent of my trips (and that does not mean I travel only to some major cities and not live the day-to-day life).

  1. “Indians dance and sing on everything and every occasion” – Bollywood seems to have been set as how we live our normal lives.

Reality:        Bollywood is not a dance form. We do not sing and dance all the time. Bhangra is not the only dance form. Bollywood is not Indian cinema. Again, the diversity of the country clearly includes the various dance, music and film forms. There are over 21 regional forms of cinema and one of them that is Hindi cinema is called Bollywood. So let’s stop classifying Indian cinema as Bollywood.

  1. “You are already dark, why do you need a sun screen?” – I personally didn’t have a reply to this particular sentence when I was told first time but now, I think I do.

Reality:        “Everyone should wear sunscreen, no matter what your skin color is.” – Dr.Marina Peredo, a clinical professor and owner of a medical spa, New York. Skin color is mainly due to the pigment called Melanin which does protect skin to only a certain level (around SPF 15) . UV rays still have the potential to damage skin and lead to skin cancer. So, in short, it is not to protect our skin from getting darker or anything, but mainly to protect it from harmful rays.

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  1. “Indians are mostly uneducated” – This line always made me wonder what is the reality behind it and how far is this true. Since I come from the IT city, Bangalore, (Silicon Valley of India), and from what I have seen there, people from all across the country travel to Bangalore for education. And then I tried to know something more.

Reality:       Crunching numbers isn’t going to make sense for this but overall, we have an average of 74% literacy rate in India (as per 2011). Even poor families strive to give their children the best education possible because they know it’s the key to a better future. Doctors and engineers top the list of professions in India. MBAs and PhDs are common qualifications. Ranging from making the number „0“ to „E-Mails“ which is used on daily basis world-wide was invented by Indians.

  1. “Oh, you are from India? Are you an IT developer?” – We cannot hear enough of this every week, can we?

Reality:        Yes, we are from India. No, we are all not IT developers or working in a tech support. Not every educated Indian is an IT professional.

  1. “Is everyone in India vegetarian?” – It’s like we eat only vegetables and chicken is as holy as a cow for us.

Reality:        No. Not every Indian is a vegetarian. We love eating meat. Chicken, mutton and fish are amongst the famous ones. India is known for its export of beef. While many still follow the concept of holy cow, there are many people who eat what they please. It all depends on what one wishes. Simple.

This post is not written with the intention that we come from a perfect country and these are false statements but only for the purpose that one shouldn’t generalize based on just some experiences. An incident or person doesn’t define the entire diversity that we come from, India.

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Is this how it works?

P.S. There are some more stereotypes and generalizations made which I will be covering in the next blog.

P.P.S Until then, share your experiences and what you have come across and let me know if I could add some for clarification 🙂 Please leave your opinions in the comments below and share with your non-Indian friends, just to clear up some of the notions 🙂

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10 thoughts on “Indian stereotypes or simply generalization? – Part 1

  1. Hey,
    Hope you are doing well. I read your blogs on regular basis but don’t comment on it as I find your blogs to be up to date with recent knowledge. After reading this blog I find it that some of the things what non-Indians thinks about us are not just stereotype but they are true. From my own experience of being an expat (same like you) I would like to give some opinion about why I think that they are right and how we need to change our thinking (on some topics only). I hope you will take it in a positive way.

    Below are some of my point of view why we should not think those point as stereotypes and we should accept them as reality.

    1) From my own experience I would say, Indians do have accent and not just Indian every English speaker have some sort of accent, either they are American, British or German. Furthermore, even in India if you look, Gujarati (I am Gujarati as you know and I can say Gujarati-English accent is the most funny one 😉 ), South Indians, north Indians and so on have their own accent and from my own experience living with English speakers for 5 years I can say that we do have funny accent to certain level like Russel Peters which can be really hard to understand by native English speaker same way as they find it hard to understand French person speaking English. It’s also hard to break to you that not everything we see is true. E.g. word “trigonometry” is derived from New Latin and Greek word, same way few other words are not derived from Sanskrit.

    2) I totally agree that we do not travel anymore on Elephants (except sometime you see “Mahot” with their elephant on street occasionally), but still in smaller towns (or villages) snake charmers (not limited to snakes but also with dogs, monkey and young children) go around to put up the show on street to earn money and it still happens in my town (not frequently as it used to happen when I grew up but still once in a month you can see somewhere) and same way of snake charmer people (mainly women and Brahmin priest) in smaller town (or village) do pray to cow every day and they drink their urine or splash their urine on their head.

    3) Your 5th point says that “Real India is dirt and chaos” and my reply would be YES India is dirty and chaotic. 12 out of top 20 most dirty and polluted cities are in India (including top 4 cities are in India). Instead of sweeping under the carpet and thinking that we have magnificent Himalayas or untamed beauty of North-East, we need to accept that majority of India is dirty and polluted and we need to work to make India clean and make people follow the rules.

    4) Reason people think that we like to dance and sing on everything is because we do. You can name me one occasion (whether it’s marriage, baby shower, birthday, school farewell, graduation) were we have neither dance nor sang songs. India have lot of dance form and the reason non-Indians don’t know them is because of Bollywood (as you mention) same way non-Indians think chicken tandoori and naan is the only thing we eat everyday (because every city outside will have north Indian restaurant instead of gujju or south Indian restaurant)

    5) If somebody have told you that “Indians are mostly uneducated” you should have told that person to “crawl back to the same hole from where he/she came out of”. Leaving those stupid people aside we need to learn how to get adjust to the culture we are in. I have seen majority Asian (including other Asian countries) would like to stay in their own community and don’t participate (mingle) with other culture and I am pretty sure you have experience that too.

    6) Reason non-Indians say that “Oh, you are from India? Are you IT (or more in common computer engineer because majority people will not know the difference between IT, IS, ASE and so)?” is because majority of Indians who move to other countries are engineers. I would like you to think in your mind, how many Indians whom you met outside India have taken their study or job which is not related to computers or engineering (e.g. drama, art, photography, etc…)

    Feel free to correct me if I am wrong. I am happy to reply your questions if you have any.

    I hope you will take it in positive way and keep on writing your blogs and amuse your followers.

    Best Regards
    Ronak Gandhi

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  2. I have been through these stereotypes notion a lot, and no matter how hard I try, Slum Dog Millionaire still over rules me. When I first came to Germany, I remember, getting social was a big challenge, but atleast now when I know a little German, its a little easier to gel with them however I get surprised almost every time in a social gathering.

    Sometimes i really wish to tell Anil Kapoor, “Dude you are awesome, I have watched almost every movie of yours Mr. India., but you should have given a thought before you opted for a hollywood director directed movie. It might have fetched your movie an Oscar, but you left a lot of NRIs questionable. “.

    If possible and if you find my point relevant, you can add this to your part 2.

    At last, your blog is no doubt is good and informative, but I will also request if you could make a blog addressing Indians to counter such stereotype views of people (atleast that would help me a lot :P).

    Thanks for your blog once again,
    Cheers
    Dev

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Dev,

      I agree to your point of slum dog millionaire and the difficulty it comes with for us. Well, I was going to include that in my next blog post 🙂

      Well, I would try to give some of my opinions on how it can be faced without being rude 🙂

      Have a nice day and thank you for your opinions 🙂

      Like

  3. Whoa! Awesome post. 🙂 And yes we all have been through this.
    But I cannot wonder who asked you that thing about “skin color and sunscreen”, I dont think it was a German who said this because I dont think they would be that direct about personal matters (may be I am being a stereotype myself, but thats my experience so far)

    Liked by 1 person

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