Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Them's Fighting Words!

Though the things in this post are specifically written about what a pardesi will face in India, the same things hold true worldwide. There are people like this in every culture and your reactions to them will have the same effect no matter who they are. 

Coming from a positive reinforcement culture where people compliment each other regularly and are taught things like "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," constantly having the tiniest flaws pointed out is very difficult to get used to.

When I met hubby he was all compliments. For the first three years or so of our relationship I don't remember him saying one critical thing about me. This was the kind of behavior I was used to. I had no idea when I came to India just how insulting people would be. I still get lots of compliments from him but we've had many a discussion over his thoughts for how I should dress and why. (Just see the post here for one example of how his thinking baffles me.)

Myself and other pardesi's have regularly had tiny things pointed out to us that should be completely irrelevant.These things are pointed out without any concern for our feelings or how offensive it is to us, even if we've alerted people to those facts. It's exhausting fending off comments like this. Since living here I've personally had people no one in this family know come to our home just to comment on my appearance. It's as if they felt they had no choice but to come and throw in their two cents. These strangers came to give good comments but, they still had very negative undertones. 

If you're going to live in India, here are some comments/insults you may want to brace yourself for as a pardesi (because I'm not an Indian woman and comment for whether or not they hear the same):

Your weight - It doesn't matter if you've lost or gained or even if you're thin. One KG in the wrong position and you're screwed. This is where those random neighbors we don't know came in. They came here to basically ask if my in-laws were starving me, if I was dying, etc. All because I had lost more weight than they deemed appropriate. No, they weren't genuinely concerned for my health, they didn't even know anyone in this family. Likewise, let one body part be out of proportion and you're again doomed. You best not have thunder thighs, breeder hips, overly large breasts, or short arms. All will get you insulted.

Spots on your skin - these could be blemishes, freckles, scars, etc. Whatever they are, you'll most likely get an odd look and an insult. They won't go unnoticed. I assure you. It's even worse when you're white because dark spots are perceived as bad by those seeking fairer skin. Last year I even had one aunty ask me if I wanted to use some of her anti-aging cream. That was an insult about my age, though typing it here you may not feel that.

Foods you eat or don't eat - I don't understand the mentality behind this at all. I have yet to meet a single Indian that ate all Indian food gratefully without ever complaining. But, you let one person find out you don't love to eat roti's (or rice) with every single meal and it's instantly turned into an insult. "Foreigners don't eat roti's, they only eat junk food." I've heard that more times than I can count and even from supposedly reputable, foreign educated doctors. Yet, those same people also often swear western food is bland. Hmm..flour and water isn't?

Your culture - It doesn't matter where you come from you're bound to have your culture or society insulted frequently. It's almost always generically labeled as "the west." As pardesi's this seem to be perceived as an easy target.

Insults against your family - Just a few days ago I had my favorite Indian aunty insult my mother's appearance, even though she's NEVER even seen a picture of her, much less met her. Other common insults revolve around how bad parents are in the west, especially if they have no first hand knowledge of parenting practices in the west. If your parents are divorced, too much older than you or don't wait on you hand and foot, that will be insulted as well.

There's really no area they won't insult you. Even for obvious things like the fact you don't cook just like their mother and you don't blindly follow everything they tell you to do as if they're your dictator and you're just the hapless follower. Get into an argument and things get even worse.

I highly recommend insulting them back when the situation fits. It will take some getting used to (or enough getting angry) but it seems effective. Being an equal opportunity insulter, I've learned how to insult them back and cut just as deeply as they try to cut me. (Proverbially of  course.) For example, when the aunty insulted my mother I got even by showing her a picture of my mother. My mother is a lot thinner than 2 of the 3 ppl insulting her and significantly younger looking than all 3 even though she's older than them. That shut them up real quick. It's sad, but many people only respond well to being dealt drama in return for their drama.

In situations where insulting them back doesn't work then walk away. There is no law, rule or social obligation in any nation that says you must sit there and endure being insulted by anyone. No race, nationality, person, etc. is inferior to the other and no one has the right to demean you with insults. Get up, walk out and refuse to tolerate it. You can't maintain your dignity otherwise and I assure you that if you sit there and listen, next time will be worse.

If by some chance you are forced to stay there and listen - either physically or through verbal abuse/threats - then tune it out till it is over. Find a safe way to get out. I can guarantee you that leaving won't be easy but you will be glad you did. These kinds of situations always escalate and they never get better. You can't expect the person to change if they've taken away all of your equality in the relationship. Once they take away your equality they lose all respect for you and that only makes it easier for them to keep going, get worse and escalate their bad behavior. Even if it takes you time to save up money, find a way out. Your life may depend on it one day.

28 comments:

  1. I don't think I had aunties insult my family, but yeah all the others I faced on regular basis :( I even had a fairness cream brand promoter desperate enough to try to sell me her product who went as far as saying "It will take care of that spot you have on your cheek, it doesn't look nice" ! I told her that where I come from spots are actually called "beauty marks" and that I loved mine and walked away.

    And yeah there is always one smart cookie that will go an say that all non indian food is junk food...I just about quit trying to explain things to these ignorant people, they can go and binge on pakoda and call it hearty food if they want, I know my pasta and home made tomato sauce isn't junk :)

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  2. This is where Indian double standards really infuriate me.   Say anything remotely negative about Indian culture, and they'll promptly accuse you of being racist. Meanwhile the derogatory remarks about western culture (which half the time are baseless and come from wild generalisations and misunderstandings) flow freely!

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  3. Exactly! And I'm sick of it. I normally just ignore these remarks but insulting my mother, whom she'd never even seen so much as a picture of, was too much. They had no right and there was no place for the comment. Had they seen her and said something then maybe I could have excused it is the same old crass remarks they always make but that wasn't the case. I didn't even add in how one insulted Rohit as he walked in the door and made him change his shirt because she didn't like the color. It's just unreal to see how they treat each other and everyone else.

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  4. Many Indians have an inferiority complex which often manifests itself in a superiority complex.  Indians are obsessed with social status and often degrade others in an attempt to assert higher status and dominance. 

    Even my dear desi father-in-law has a bit of an superiority/inferiority complex.  He usually is a nice guy but he once made the mistake of insulting my elderly grandmother to my face.  I firmly replied to his trivial objection to grandma by stating "she is a nice woman" and left the room.   I immediately overheard my MIL reprimanding him in Marathi, a lot of which I could understand.  I think he felt bad about it later and knew I was pissed and he has been mostly a gentleman ever since that incident.  The deeper issue here is that he is disappointed his country could not offer a good life for his son and after visiting the US several times he sadly told me, "India will never catch up to America." 

    Your advice is great Kristy, be firm and don't take insults from anyone in India or you will get trampled.  Personally I do not like to return insults with insults, I prefer pointing out the rudeness and walking away.  But everyone had to cope the best they can with impolite behavior.    

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  5. Thank you. I do my best not to stand for the insults. This time I just was dumbstruck trying to figure out if my ears were deceiving me or not. The aunty that said it was normally nice, at least to my understanding. Of course I've never sat in conversation with her while she was with her sisters. Maybe that was the trigger that made her catty.

    You're right, insulting back is not always the best way to go and in the US I wouldn't behave this way. But here, I just get sick of it and that's the quickest and easiest way to end the issue. I've found in my life and with those I interact with it does stop them from insulting me, at least to my face. Which is what matters. I don't want to hear the crap any more.

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  6. Insulting your mother is just plain rude. And doing it without even having seen her is absurd!!! 

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  7. I'd have to agree with you on this one. After years of graciously ignoring outrageously rude remarks about my deceased parents, my body, my character by Indians at both personal and professional levels- best way to deal with it is IMMEDIATELY and in kind. This completely goes against my grain and everything I was ever taught- but it really is the only thing that works.
    ps (this is Bibi - for some reason I can't use my gravatar login on this computer)

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  8. Kristy, Sharell - -insult someone's mother in NYC, where I used to live, and you'll get your face punched in! I'm half southerner, half New Yorker so I'm not sure exactly how I would react (this has not happened to me yet here in India), but I know it would not be a pretty scene!

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  9. Kristy, I do know that Indian daughters-in-law also put up with a lot of verbal abuse and insults directed at them, their families and specifically how their parents raised them. I think that from a sociological point it may have something to do with trying to demoralize and destroy the self-esteem of a DIL, so that she becomes more helpless and dependent on her husband's family, and perhaps eventually will come to see her family as worthless. At a basic level, this is all about maintaining power and control. Social status of course is part of it too (the "elders" are more important, better and all that) and in the typical Indian family, the DIL is the lowest on the totem pole.

    I've come to realize that India is essentially a culture of bullies but remember, the best way to deal with bullies is to be equally strong, or stronger. Bullies are strong with the weak, but weak when confronted with strength. The advice given here is good: don't hold your tongue, don't back down, and don't wait it out. I would also advise not to walk out of the room, because that is giving them the final word. In this case, best to fight fire with fire. I know that this goes against what many western women were brought up to do (and Kristy, as a fellow Southerner I know that we are taught to smile and 'be gracious' and as you said, say nothing if you can't say something good), which is not to be confrontational, aggressive and bitchy. Even in NYC, where there's a lot of aggression, people in general don't act this way because they know to respect boundaries. Doing otherwise could have a really bad outcome.

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  10. Kristy, the weight issue seems to be a universal phenomenon. You're either too skinny or too fat, women just can't seem to win this one. I am from India but have been living in the US ( Midwest) for about 8 years now. While I am pretty average height/weight by Indian standards, I am remarkably petite by mid western standards. If only I had a dime for every time someone commented on my weight around here and its usually negative ( you must starve yourself, you're sooooo skinny, do you even eat? blah blah). I've never really understood what  it is that compels people to comment on other people's weight, height etc.
    The insulting your mother issue is just wrong and all I would say to that is that crass people exist in every country, culture etc. Sometimes you just have to be rude in return and move on. Easier said than done though.

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  11.  I can completely sympathize with you. But if it might make it better for you, it doesn't just happen with pardesis, it can happen with anyone else. I have had so many aunties passing comments on my weight, complexion etc. Sometimes these things can get to a sensitive person and really make them feel conscious and you're left wondering as to what is coming next at you.

    One time an uncle that I know asked me how much was I earning and was like that's too less for a big city. Another time an aunty was like you're so skinny, don't you eat anything?!  Another time someone asked me about my college degree and commented you could have done something better with yourself.

    So it doesn't quite matter about what it is, someone or the other would come in and burst your bubble and say something nasty. I think you are right in saying that if it gets to us, we could just walk off or distance ourselves.

    So, well you have a few things in the post that might have been commented on for pardesis, but there are similar things that are said to the desis as well. AUNTIES and UNCLES spare no soul. Why give a F!

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  12. Lol, thanks for letting me know it was you. I was beginning to wonder who this "P." was lol. Most of what they say I'm not there for or I don't understand. And generally I don't care what other people think about me.I'm the one that has to live my life no them. But they went too far this time.

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  13. Thanks Camarn. I'm dead sure this would never happen in NYC lol. In the south we'd have some witty comeback to make the other person feel worse but I can't use those here. Pity!

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  14. Oh yes, I've seen Indian DIL's have it much worse. You have a very interesting perspective about the demoralization. It makes perfect sense. The way to gain control is with just such comments. I distance myself from these things most of the time but this time they come into my room and sat. I kept thinking if I left all three would be digging through my stuff. It's like a no win situation. But I'm not helpless. I have just as many ways to insult them. It was priceless watching their mouths and voices drop after seeing my mothers picture. Thank God for Glamor Shots lol.

    I just wish they understood comments like "well bless your little old heart sugar." Oh the insults I could make with just that one little phrase! Maybe I should teach them hahahaha.

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  15. Weight is always an easy target. I'm a bit of an activist on that one. Women don't need to look like skin and bones to be pretty - and in reality that kind of skinny is just not appealing to look at. Nor are they ugly simply because they're overweight. It's ridiculous people make these comments.

    I actually find that here when people make those comments they're not a healthy weight themselves. I once had an Indian tell me that everyone in the west was fat but no one in India was. I had to dig further. That person told me that aunties, married people and older people in India didn't count. So they were comparing all of the US with just the young children and teeenagers in India! Lol. In reality there's not that huge of a difference. Most young people in the US are thin. They get fat after marriage just like people the world over do. I couldn't help but laugh at that persons comparison though.

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  16. I've seen that as well. I really feel like desi women probably have it much worse. Even though they may be more used to it, they can't get away from these comments and they know the language better than we do. Pardesi's have the langauge gap on their side for this one. It's really difficult for us to adjust to though because we're taught never to say things like this. Well, most of us. There's always the narcissistic jerks that take advantage of comments like this to hurt others.

    I think I got lucky with the criminal justice degree. Most of the people in this family don't understand it. They just know that cops get a lot of money from bribes and so they think it's not such a bad career choice. I do know they kind of snubbed the fact it's only a bacehlors but in the US that's as high as you need unless you want to be a profiler or something that requires medical knowledge. I could get hired by any of the government agencies with this degree.

    Normally I don't even pay any attention to these comments. I know they're made but I could care less. But this time, I took serious offense on behalf of my mother. That's universal too. How many Indians do you know that would let someone bad mouth their mother and they not get completely pissed off? I haven't met one yet.

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  17.  My husband's aunt used to call her 12 year old niece literally a whore.  Her useless dad and no one else did nothing to stop this disgusting verbal abuse until my husband told her off. 

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  18.  Weight is an easy target everywhere this is true . At least there are great come backs for that one . It's also a big problem in the western world and it seems India is catching up at rapid speeds on that one  . I have been insulted about weight in India and everywhere else even in my own work place .Once in India a massage therapist tried to charge me more because my body was bigger lol . I said I might be fat but I am not stupid and that was the end of that :)

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  19. l came back to India from US to visit family a few weeks ago and you can't imagine the comments I've got from neighbors on my weight.  I really don't care if I'm fat or if people perceive me as one (hey, I'm a foodie and I'm not apologizing for it), but all the random uncle/aunties are hell bent on trying to have me lose weight so I can find the perfect "Indian girl" here and look "presentable"

    I found it funny when someone asked me how much I earned and I replied "not enough" and he was like, how can you when you eat so much?  Haha..Good times!  And, this other uncle who I met for the very first time looked at me and first thing he said was "Wow, you're huge. what do you eat over there?"  Really? (and, I'm not even that fat..but sorry if I don't wear skin tight jeans and have a 36 waist)

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  20. "..not enough!"  good answer! I'll have to remember that one! In the four years I've been living in/visiting India, I have noticed that food is most definitely a big deal here, and that's also probably why people fixate on weight. But here's my take on it: not that long ago (1940s) the specter of mass starvation was still a reality in India. And today, millions of Indians are malnourished and undernourished. Come to Delhi and see all the gaunt, skinny men here. If we were in the US, I would think that they have cancer--it's that bad. Think also about a typical Indian wedding: it's all about how much food you can serve to how many people. Inviting people to your house for various rituals and celebrations involving food is also normal. I went to a press conference here with a free buffet and you should have seen how the Indian journalists attacked that food! they were not really interested in the presentation, just the free food. 
    And Kristy, in Delhi there are lots of overweight people, including young people and kids, and a lot of them are Punjabis. But here it seems to be a status symbol. So, basically I think Indians are very conflicted about food: getting enough to eat, and getting good food, is still an issue for a hell of a lot of people.Having a lot to eat-and being able to afford meat-means you're rich. But at the same time, the social propaganda tool known as Bollywood puts out these conformist movies that always have the same types of leading men/women: thin, fit, toned and relatively tall and light skinned for Indians. Few people can reach these "ideals." Hence, lots of anxiety and conflicted feelings about food and weight. If you're well-fed, you're rich, but if you're overweight, you're not fulfilling those Bollywood ideals.
    Hollywood movies also do this to some extent, but at least there is more variety in terms of leading men/women roles.
    I hate Bollywood: I blame it for brainwashing the Indian masses :-(

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  21. This is known as bullying, plain and simple. And they get away with it because of their age. I say, respect people of all ages, from babies to 100-year-olds. One of my grandmothers was this way (and I'm American). I know now that it was because she was a very unhappy, frustrated person who also had been bullied by family members as a child. She was always told that her sister was the pretty one, not her. So, I firmly believe that Indians need to stand up to bullying aunties and uncles and tell them to mind their own business when they cross the line!

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  22. ''I could care less'' lolseems like still room for caring less 

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  23. Wow, what a crazy massage therapist. Way to stand up for yourself! Weight is definitely an issue the world over. Insults in general are. What astounds me here is how perfect strangers will comment on it. We've had some even come to the house to comment on mine to my MIL. That's very unusual.

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  24. Lol, I feel bad on your behalf! Facing the weight comments and them trying to get you married off. That's a double threat. I'm with you. I'm not super tiny and my bones don't show through my skin and I don't want them to. I If they don't like my weight that is their problem. I'm guessing, because I don't know for sure, but I would think the NRI status would be big enough that the weight could be overlooked when it comes to marriage.

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  25. Bollywood and Hollywood both brainwash Indians lol. And the rest of the world for that matter. I don't think anyone could ever meet someone elses idea of perfect anyway. It's just sad so many people try and force them.

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  26. I agree with you that Indians need to stand up for themselves a lot more. A few do and I applaud them. They're leading the way for others and I hope it catches on. You can be respectful and not back down to a bully. Sometimes it's more respectful to stand up to them.

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  27. There's always room for caring less. And I'm getting to the point of not caring at all.

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