Monday, March 06, 2006

Changing Nationalities

I was flipping through the latest issue of Newsweek at home today when an article caught my eye. It read "If you look at two recent events, you might well conclude that the Chinese are a lot smarter at handling the US than Indians are at handling them." Wait, that doesn't make any sense. I read the line again; it actually said "If you look at two recent events, you might well conclude that the Chinese are a lot smarter at handling the US than we are at handling them." I had read the "we" as "Indians." It is strange that I made that translation automatically since I was in the US, reading an American magazine and I recently became an American citizen.

I had mixed feelings the day I took the oath - I could now visit South American countries without getting a visa, but I would have to get a visa to go to India. It was disturbing to sign a document saying that I would be willing to bear arms for the US. When I reached my office that day, I tried to explain my confused feelings to a sympathetic co-worker. She simply remarked - "well you look the same and you talk the same, nothing has changed." And really what has changed?

To me Independence Day still means August 15th and "we" is still Indians. If anything, living amongst Americans has made me more aware of how I am different from them. How I nod my head from side to side in affirmative sometimes instead of up and down, how it makes me uncomfortable to see someone step on a book or how much I enjoy eating with my hands. Living outside of India has sensitized me to the behavior that so distinctly "Indian". For example, in Bombay when I bought an ice cone from an old man at the beach he felt it his duty to tell me where to sit so that I was as far as possible from a group of young men lurking near by. Had I never left India, I wouldn't have appreciated the sentiment behind his insistence on where I sit. In Bangalore when a man selling flowers naturally started arranging them in my sister's hair, the act seemed especially endearing when I compared it to the man in Berkeley who snapped at her for accidentally brushing her hair against his face.

Undeniably, having spent more than half of my life in America and Britain, I do have western influences. My work ethics are that of a professional in the Silicon Valley and my ambitions are inspired by American organizations. As I learn more about the American culture and compare it to my own, I wonder if my years in America are making me more American, less Indian or more American and even more Indian.


I relate with your thoughts, though I am still an immigrant and have been in US only for 2 years and even plan to travel back to India. I am surprised to see that I feel more for India, Indian values, religion and all more while I am here than while I was in India.
wow! amazing post ...being a male I cannot relate to it completely ...but still a very interesting read.did pop up a few question in my mind it's definitely well written...
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