The latest from the skies – stuff that I really never thought I’d use until now, when I realized that I wasn’t going anywhere with it and I might as well publish it considering the fact that I was not going to really do anything with it.
The reason why I call this piece as the latest from the skies is because publishing this article on the web occurred to me in the skies while flying Spice Jet (for the first time) from Bangalore to Delhi on a 9.25 pm flight.
An Indian in America
Hi! This is a paper about my stay here in the USA. I was here as part of a personnel selected by my company to represent the Indian office in America. Needless to say, I was excited about the thought of going to a foreign land. Accompanying me on this trip was another person who had to fulfill a similar role.
Now, I had been to America earlier, that is, in the month of January, 2006. I was part of a contingent that was representing my company in a Global Sales Conference. I was here for about 10 days and thought that I had seen everything that I needed to see. Soon, I found out how wrong I was.
This paper will comprise of a list of things that one should do, as well as things that one should not do. I hope that this will provide an insight to all the people who have visited/are visiting/will be visiting this great land. I am particularly going to point out differences in culture, society, and the general demeanor that is expected from an individual staying here. I sincerely hope that my efforts are appreciated and this paper proves to be helpful to anyone who is currently dreaming about America and living there.
In addition, I would like to thank all the people who made this paper possible – people whom I knew, people whom I didn’t know, and people whom I got to know. Let me start now taking my previous sentence into consideration (oh! In case you’re wondering which one – “Some people whom I got to know.”)
Some people whom I got to know
In America, you are expected to know everyone and everyone is expected to know you. I am not talking about the streets, the pavements, etc. Rather, I am talking about the office space, grocery stores, coffee shops, etc. It’s become very clear to me that once you walk into a particular person’s domain, you automatically are supposed to be at ease with them. They will comment on what you want, what you should take, how you should take it, why you should take it – the complete works, and will speak to you in such a way that will make you doubt your own power of remembering people.
If you are in the office space
• Laugh at other people’s jokes, even if you have never been introduced to them
• Call everyone by their first name, even if they are a hundred years older than you.
• There is no concept of hierarchy here.
• Your manager is supposed to listen to you – not the other way around
• Say ‘hi’ to everyone, including the bull dog that your co-worker has placed conveniently on the bean bag that you ordered for yourself from the company store.
• Say things like ‘awesome,’ ‘that’s exciting,’ ‘cool,’ ‘dude,’ ‘sure,’ ‘no problem,’ ‘thank you,’ excuse me,’ ‘welcome,’ and other such niceties as often as you can. These words should be in every alternate sentence that you use (even if you don’t mean it).
• Laugh for no reason.
• Everyone’s got an opinion – respect it no matter how crappy the idea or the opinion may be.
• When you shake hands with people, always say, ‘Nice to meet you.’ (Also a general rule)
• Don’t make too much noise while eating.
• People are obsessed with working on their laptops – let them do it.
• Everyone’s seeing someone – don’t bother trying your luck + don’t forget – to people there, you talk funny.
If you are in other places, such as grocery stores, supermarkets, on the road, public transport, etc. Just keep in mind that while you are in one of these places, the owner of the domain is your friend, and the minute you walk out of his domain, he just doesn’t care (and why should he – practical, ain’t it?)
• If you have a question, let them know, for example, ‘Excuse me, can I ask you a question?” If you don’t do this, they will assume that you are trying to rob them.
• People are very clever – they will siphon off money at the first given chance.
• If you are on the road – don’t let your eyes meet the eyes of shabbily dressed fellows, gays, rappers, and some black people (you’ll know one when you see them).
• When you are in the ‘domain’ – be meek and surrender to your environment. Laugh, smile, say something but just don’t stare at someone when they are talking to you, as though they are some characters right out of ‘Gremlins.’
Other general ramblings:
• Say ‘hi’ to absolutely everyone if you make eye contact.
• Be dressed for the occasion. Don’t walk into a hood wearing your latest Armani suit. Jeans and a torn shirt will be just fine. Mess up your hair to mix in with the crowd.
• Don’t peek into other people’s laptops or try and admire what they are carrying – they will consider you a criminal.
• There are TONS of gays – be wary of them. Don’t talk to them if they accost you or call you (a male) – ‘Hi babe,’ ‘Hi sexy,’ or ‘What’s cooking hot bod?’
• There are also tons of gay demarcated areas. They have a rainbow flag in most of those areas – stay away (unless you yourself are gay).
• Don’t stare at weird people – they love attention and will come to you for some more if you give them an iota of it.
• Don’t carry too much money with yourself. There’s always a thug in some corner of some street. Hand over your money to them if they are carrying a weapon – if not, scream, shout, beat him up, and be prepared to get beaten up.
• If you are vegetarian, you are in for a rude shock. Everything is tasteless and the restaurants are exorbitant and damaging.
• Any helping of food here is super large. If you can eat a horse, order a mule (you get the drift, right?)
• Everything here is done on a grand scale and there are no exceptions to this rule.
• There are no such things as servants, or in more proper terms, anything called ‘help.’ You are your own help, and the adage was never truer – God helps those who help themselves (even when you’re getting mugged).
• Technology is like secondary nature here in America. If you don’t know how to do something, either ask someone, or if you don’t know English, just wait and watch someone else do that certain something. It helps a lot.
• Traffic jams are uncommon in California. Everything is mechanized. You have a chance of being killed if you don’t obey the traffic rules. Pedestrians – no one is going to stop for you. Use the skills that you learnt in kindergarten – look to the left, to the right, and to the left again (vice versa if you are in the opposite direction of cars approaching)….and one more important thing before you do a neck twist – make sure that the signal to walk is lighted.
• At certain times, be prepared to be called a ‘brother’ by an Afro-American. They think of you as one of their own, just with lighter skin.
• There are two ways of greeting people – 1) What’s up? And 2) How’s it goin?. There is a third as well, but don’t use it – How’s it hangin’?
• Do not go hiking where there is no trail. In fact, do not go hiking at all. Mama’s boy will not be able to manage climbing down 1000 feet and then climbing up another 1000 feet (which will seem like 10,000).
• If you are riding a bicycle, make sure that you stick to the lane that is meant for bicycles, and god help you if you have to or try to cycle uphill.
• There is this place called Amoeba – you will be tempted to spend all your time and money there. Don’t do it. You will have to live on a shoestring budget if you end up buying stuff from there. This is not because things there are too expensive, but quite the opposite way around. Things there are so cheap and reasonable (yes – cheaper than India) that you will want to pick up everything in sight. Try not to.
• Baseball is the best game in the world, especially if you are going to the SBC Park (now called the AT&T Park) to watch a game. Not because of the sport, but because of the pretty girls.
• Explore, explore, explore, but with caution. There are good places and there are not so good places. In fact, there are some bad places as well.
• Baseball is the soul of this country. People will ask you about Cricket. Explain it to them in the same context as baseball, for example, explain to them that there is a ‘batter’ and a ‘pitcher’ in this game as well, and continue drawing similarities between the two sports. All this, if you are at all familiar with the game of baseball yourself.
• Everyone here has an iPod perpetually glued to their ears. Don’t let this intimidate you. Do not buy an iPod if you are not overly fond of music. Go for an external hard drive. It’s cheaper and it stores much more data. But, if you just want music, there are few things better than this fantastic, revolutionary Apple product.
• Sunglasses are referred to as ‘shades.’ Everyone wears them, even when there’s no sun. It’s said to be a fashion statement. Don’t bother to wear it, unless you have a really good-looking, expensive pair.
• Visit Best Buy and Fry’s Electronics for electronics. Some of the best deals are found online, but if you are not comfortable using the Internet to purchase products, use these stores.
• Walmart is super cheap. Shop for your family of 135 people here.
• Go to as many live shows and concerts as you can here. Back in India, the only live show that you will get to see is when one of the pop starts (the Indian Idols/aspirants) decides to share their so-called talent with the rest of the country.
• All the girls in America are pretty.
• Don’t be adventurous and go skydiving or decide to be macho and do doughnuts in a car. In fact, don’t drive. If you get caught, it’s a huge deal. They will ask you for identification, your proof of residency, international license, insurance details, where you got the car from, your credit card, and even then you might end up in the locker.
• Be as active as possible. Try and make as many friends as possible, otherwise weekends will be impossible to get through. You will feel miserable and lonely and feel as though noone cares.
• Don’t expect that you will be shown around everywhere, or that people will proactively come and ask you what you want to do for a particular holiday. It will happen some of the time. Don’t let it become a habit. People will appreciate it if you ask them to go out with you to a particular place of interest. Don’t be surprised if you receive ‘no’ for an answer.
• As the time of your departure comes closer, life will appear to come to a standstill. You will want to spend the rest of your life here and experience the wonderful land of dreams – America.
• Maintain a list of expenses and be sure to save all your receipts. This will help you spend less and less money as you keep updating your account.
• This is considered bad etiquette universally, but you should not talk in your colloquial language when you are in company. It is a terrible thing to do and could give the other people present the wrong impression and make them feel that you are either ridiculing them or simply ridiculing the purpose that everyone has gathered here for.
• Somehow, when people leave office to get dinner from the office cafeteria, it doesn’t look all that bad. However, when we it, with our characteristic habit of eating everything in sight, it makes it look disgusting and gluttonous. Avoid it.
• Girls and guys do not differentiate between sexes here. Yes, girls will always be given preferential/chivalrous treatment and guys will always get the shorter end of the stick as well as ogle at girls. However, when it comes to physical contact, don’t be surprised if members of the opposite sex are free with their physical movements and touch you when you least expect it. Guys, don’t get excited…the most for you is a friendly hug or a brush against the shoulder (and I am not talking about a ‘boob brush.’)
• Pizzas are the safest thing to eat here. Yes, you will gain weight because of the REAL cheese that is used, but you can always lose that extra fat when you return to your home country, or decide to go on a Gandhi fast.
• Carry your passport/other identification documents with you when you are out of your apartment. You never know when you might need it. It is not like India where you can walk into a bar and demand a drink. A) You need to get to the bar, B) You need to prove that you are 21 years old, C) You need to know what you want to drink, D) Make sure that you are paying for yourself, E) Say ‘thank you’ for everything under the sun, F) The bartender is a ‘person,’ treat him like one, G) Tip the bartender if he/she gets food for you, H) Don’t stare at the bartender if it’s a girl. They usually are and are very good looking at that too.
• Don’t have chips (baked or otherwise) for breakfast.
• Some funny things an Indian will say to try and sound American in the office –
o “Don’t worry, I will only have to do.”
o “I’m upto my eyeballs with stuff”
o “She was doing it remember, on Monday?”
o “Cut paste, cut paste, cut paste, do it na!”
o “No, many times, sometimes it comes like dear so and so, dear so and so.”
• You will hate going back. It is terrible, but it’s true and is something that you have to do, whether or not you like it. It is not going to take any amount of persuasion for you to stay back. Don’t keep any hopes alive at all.
• Live each moment in America as though it was the last thing that you’ll ever do in your life.