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While staying in Kerala, each member of the Group Study Exchange is hosted by a family. I’m staying with two attorneys, Leena and KG Baiju, and their two children.

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Their daughter, Pavarthy, or Paru, 12, tells me daily how thrilled she is to be hosting an American in her home.

We talk every day about what we accomplished daily, and she enjoys the few minutes we share together exchanging thoughts about our different cultures.

Yesterday, as I was getting ready for a Rotary meeting, drying my hair and putting on my makeup, she watched and asked questions about all the products I packed to groom myself.

“Here, we use only a comb. The women like their hair to look oily and wet, but I don’t like it so much,” she said.

Paru is the best English speaker in the home, and she aspires to be an English professor some day, so she enjoys exercising her Cambridge Syllabus English education with me.

While watching me apply the products, she continued to ask me questions about how and why we wear certain items on our face and hair.

Paru is not unfamiliar with makeup application because she wears it during her traditional dancing performances. Her face will be made up with a white cream base, thick eyeliner and blush, and her head, body and feet are bejeweled with stones and chimes to make music as she moves her body.

Otherwise, though, she doesn’t wear makeup.

“I like things very simple,” she said, while I applied my eyeliner with a tool she’d never seen before. “But I like what you do.”

Paru and the rest of the family have been so warm and hospitable. With each passing day, we become more comfortable asking each other questions about culture, and I’m always delighted at their interest to answer my questions and ask me questions as well.

Paru expressed interest in my white skin and freckles yesterday, and she made me laugh when she put her arm to mine and said excitedly, “You are so white!”

But everything the family commented on, has been uttered with deliberate respect, and they continue to go out of their way to ensure my comfort.

It's obvious from how they prepared for my arrival, they did a tremendous amount of research on American culture to ensure their American guest was comfortable. I continue to encourage them, however, to allow me to be somewhat uncomfortable, so I can take part in their traditions and lifestyle, which is the primary reason I wanted to come here. I wanted to leave my Americanisms behind and learn Indian culture.

Some of the things we’ve already had discussions about: Do I want to eat with my hands or use silverware?

Do I want to use a shower that isn't joined with the toilet. Do I want to shower with a bucket? Do I want to eat a large American breakfast or eat a large Indian dinner? Do I prefer coffee or chai? Do I prefer chai or black tea? (chai tea, is prepared with milk)? Do I want spicy or not spicy food?

There are countless others.

We’ve also had discussions about Americans and how they perceive the world. My Indian family is curious to know how they view the importance of family and career and how they view other countries.

Leena told me yesterday that she was told Americans “don’t like brown people.” My heart sank when she uttered those words because I realized she may have been worried about me staying in her home and exhibiting racially prejudiced behavior. In response, I explained that some Americans, like anyone else in the world, may not like other races, but the majority of American people just want to get along with their neighbors, whatever their race may be.

She smiled at me when I responded and seemed pleased her presuppositions about Americans were false, at least on that issue.

Baiju and I have also been bridging some cultural gaps through this exchange experience. He confessed on the drive to one of our programs yesterday morning that he wasn’t sure how we would all get along when I arrived at his home because American women are expected in India to be obnoxious, opinionated, and rude.

“I never thought you would be so nice,” he said. “We have become close in a few short days, and I see now that we are more similar than we are different.”

I am sad to leave this family behind because they have gone out of their way to make me comfortable in their home. We move on to another city in a couple of days, and I’m not sure how other families will measure up to them.

I just hope I get to return the favor to my lovely host family one day. And I hope the love of our team stays with this Indian community for a long time after we leave.

Until tomorrow, Victoria.

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