During my visit to the U.S. this year, I noticed that my cousin always made sure that she left a generous tip wherever a tip was due, never ate messily or with her fingers publicly and did not do anything that is classified as "desi" behaviour. It is partly that she has been there for nearly 2 decades but I noticed that there was a conscious effort. When I mentioned this to her she said that when someone ridicules desis for these, she feels offended and hence the effort to make sure to avoid behaviour that left a negative impression about Indians as a whole.
Predictably this led to a heated argument between us on why it was bad to be different and why whatever American was better than anything Indian etc. But I do appreciate her desire not to be ridiculed, not to do anything that marked you out as different particularly when you have chosen to live there and make it your home.

We all make these kind of adjustments and consciously avoid certain kind of behaviour the moment we are in public or in the company of outsiders - like not belching or eating noisily. We have been told it is not polite and we do it out of respect for the sensibilities of others. We do it as much for fear of being judged or ridiculed behind our backs. Some of us, particularly the menfolk, shed this politeness at the doorstep along with their shoes when they enter their house and as long as there are no outsiders around they feel fine to let go and belch and fart freely. But there is a general understanding and respect for accepted public behaviour.

So why do some people feel offended when we talk about insufferable behaviour of Indians on flights from Singapore, Malaysia, Srilanka, and the Gulf countries - Pestering the attendants for free stuff, grabbing as much alcohol as possible, stuffing airline cutlery into their baggage and leaving the toilet in a mess? Criticism of their behaviour is considered class snobbery towards the poor labouring masses who want to get the maximum value for the fare they have paid for through their hard earned money.

I agree that the burden of the fare is more on them than the business traveller or holidayer. But why is it snooty to expect them to rise above that kind of behaviour? Is it bad to let them know that the other passengers have spent money on their tickets too and hence it is important to be considerate toward their fellow passengers by not shoving and shouting or by observing better toilet manners? I see that these very same people are capable of better behaviour when there are fines and punishments deterring these. Why is it bad to teach them to use freedom more responsibly and with consideration for fellow humans? I don't agree with this attitude that education and money has to be constantly apologetic and bend over backwards toward those who are uneducated or poorer. I can understand if they advocated patience - in stead they seem to justify that kind of behaviour and even seem to suggest that they have earned the right to it by virtue of having paid for the ticket. Should not the self appointed champions of the masses be happy if they learnt more civilised behaviour rather than being laughed at? And moneyed or non-moneyed, educated or not, class or mass - aren't we all seen as Indians the moment we are in a foreign airliner or foreign land? At least for that, should we not bring them up rather than going down to their level? There are times when we dont have to be like this only.
12 Responses
  1. dipali Says:

    The minute we hop onto a flight taking us out of 'home', everyone should be taught to think of himself/herself as an ambassador of India. (Even if we sadly shed our manners the minute we get home:)
    I think 'we are like this only' should operate a little less in the public domain at least!
    Ranjit Lal had written a beautiful article on how generally uncouth 'Delhizens' turn into extremely civilised human beings when travelling by Delhi's lovely Metro. We can do it, folks!

  2. Hip Grandma Says:

    I've wondered why the mild mannered Indian crowd starts pushing and tugging and jostling for space the minute they reach India from a 'phoren' country.They start spitting paan talking in loud voices and do all those very Indian things like throwing garbage right where they stand.However they seem to sense their limits abroad.As Dipali says.'we can do it folks' we only need to try.

  3. rads Says:

    Usha, am not too sure I agree with the statement that after being her for 2 decades, your cousin actually makes a conscious effort to be tidy etc etc.

    After a while, that's just the way yo become. I think. I've been here 15 years and I know I do these as a reflex...

  4. Anonymous Says:

    I don't agree with this attitude that education and money has to be constantly apologetic and bend over backwards toward those who are uneducated or poorer.

    Right on the money :)

  5. Change Says:

    Here's an incident I'd like to narrate.

    Two of my college friends (Desis) and I went to Miami last spring. We looked for a sea-side restaurant with outdoor seating. But we'd have to go inside to see the hostess to be seated. We did that because it's a polite thing to do, rather than just jumping at the nearby empty outdoor table. We did that 'cause otherwise we'd be judged as boorish Indians. If it were with my American friends, I know they'd jump at the nearest empty table without being judged.

    Another incident:

    I observed that Desis who politely stand in lines when they are around Americans start hustling one another in Indian movie theaters where there are no/very few Americans around.

    Does it mean that Indians are considerate only towards other nationals but not to their own?

  6. Mahadevan Says:

    When we go to our neighbour's house or when a guest comes home, we behave differently and try to conform to the accepted norms. When we are in another country too, we should make such adjustments, consciously or otherwise. " We are like this only" attitude cannot be accepted under any circumstances.

  7. Unknown Says:

    What actually bothers me is that Indians abroad behave decently (don't spit on the roads, always stand in queues etc) when they are here. But the moment they reach India, it's as though they were keeping their bad behavior on a leash and they just let go! I've noticed this specially in London airport. The person flying from US to London follows rules, stands in a queue according to the zone he has been allocated etc. But in London, where the flight is 90% filled with Indians, the same person rushed forward - with no consideration to people with small children who are expected to board first. I don't think this has to do with "getting the maximum value for the fare". It's just plain rude!

  8. Savani Says:

    I fail to understand how plain thievary like pocketing airline silverware and blankets is getting bang for your buck! Excellent post, as always.

  9. Choxbox Says:

    Agree Usha.

    Have also come across non-desis behaving totally unacceptably on flights once they get drunk (or at least pretend they are drunk).

  10. This is a beautifully written and well reasoned article. Thank you so much for posting this!

    I don't think the world needs one universal religion, or one universal politics, but perhaps it would be useful to have a universal code of good manners.

  11. Filarial Says:

    Your blog is full of graeat posts..:).. I ttly agre with you on the fact that ppoliteness never hurt anybody and expecting somebody to be polite is not being snooty.. something that happened to me on the way to the US for the first time made me think though- when I was at the heathrow airport in transit I found out that the British airways catering was on strike and there would be no food on the flights to the US- so their were officials handing out limited food tickets and there was a huge crowd pushing and shoving to get those without regard to even women and children ( international travellers seemingly from almost every country in the world) adn then there was just one place in the whole heathrow airport where u could get a meal with the voucher- there was againa a huge crowd pushing and shoving ( again irrespective of nationality) to get in- there was a barricade and one young lady trying to control the mob- and there were ppl without regards jumping over the barrier getting in when she wasnt looking!
    A conclusion I drew was put a hundred ppl with a limited amenity in limited space with limited governing rules and thats what u get..

  12. I completely agree- have always detested the crassness which Indians seem to bring on in full force in a new land