Friday, June 8, 2012

Cultural confusion

After eighteen months I was feeling I was getting to grips with some of the cultural differences and modes of behavior in Bangers, but it seems I still have a way to go.

Shankar and I are in the car when I see coming towards us what looks like a new white vehicle, covered in flower garlands just like all new cars are when they leave the car shop, freshly pooja'd. In front of the new sparkling white vehicle are a few people banging drums, singing and looking pleased with themselves. I assume this is all part of a new car pooja. So, feeling I have actually successfully identified an Indian celebration I share my observation with Shankar. 'No ma'am' he said trying to hide a chuckle 'it is a dead person'. Got that one wrong - not the celebration and pooja over a new car, but a funeral procession! So, I explain to Shankar that in the west funerals are quiet, sad and slow. 'Here, noisy and happy' he retorts. 'Next life is better.' I didn't reply to that!

Stable Shankar is just that - calm, collected and just about unflappable. He manages to hide his amusement/shock/confusion over most of our eccentricities and keep his eyes on the road. But I have managed to disturb his sense of well being at least once. The other day I was asking him about marriage ceremonies and responsibilities in India. When Sweetie's sister gets married to Sweetie's husband's brother, Sweetie will have a foot in both the bride's and groom's camps and thus dual responsibilities. This apparently means she needs financial aid, aka a loan. So I checked this out with Shankar who confirms that marriage ceremonies here are very important as regards one's families personal standing and you have to invite the whole village and it appears everyone you and your family have ever known. When I tell Shankar there were only four people at our wedding including me and Simon, Shankar is visibly and totally shaken. He turns round, "Madam, what was wrong, you have no friends, no family, what is problem." Eyes back on the road Shankar!!

As regards language I generally do pretty well. I was having my hair/nails/eyebrows done at the little parlor round the corner. Its very reasonable at less than $10 for everything but not much English is spoken. The language barrier is normally an advantage as what I dislike most in hairdressers/nail places etc. is the banal conversation one is forced into. Here, I can just read a magazine, day dream, contemplate or doze in peace! Towards the end of my pedicure the lady says "Shake, Madam," so I shake my foot - thinking this maybe gets the blood flowing. "Shake" she said again, so I shake my foot more vigorously - the blood is definitely flowing now. As this is incredible India, me sitting mid - pedi, shaking my feet wildly in the air, didn't at first seem as bizarre as the picture it is now conjuring. After a few more "shakes" and my feet now feeling as if they are hardly connected to me at all, I realize it wasn't "shake" but "check", i.e. check that she is doing a good job.

As well as being culturally confused, we also cause a bit of cultural confusion. In  San Jose there are a lot of second generation American families, where the parents speak with the accent of their homelands and the kids, born and brought up in the US, have perfect American accents. So, to us, Adam having an American accent is quite usual, though, Will's Indian accent is a tad alarming at times! But OWC friends who meet me first, are quite surpised when Adam opens his mouth. Tho' it has been quite refreshing here to speak English english instead of American english. The kids play football, one gets ones knickers in a twist instead of panties in a wad, I need a lift (not a ride), chips are crisps and fries are chips........ and so on.

Maintaining some British culture is becoming quite tricky. Coming from an understated, not overtly demonstrative, seen but not heard, subtle is better (too loud or too much bling equates to vulgarity) nation and living in the US (big is best, commercialism rules) then India (sensory over-load, noisy, exuberant, lack of impulse control) our Britishness seems to have been quite squished. 

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