Another thing that came to mind during last Sunday's service was how people judge each other. Once again this isn't just a white, brown or black issue.
Many times I've felt like I needed to be on my best behavior around foreigners so as not to damage their view of my nation, other people of my color, my state, etc. I think many of us feel out of place when we visit other nations (or even other parts of our own nation). We feel a need to fit in. It's basic human nature but, because we weren't brought up in that environment we usually feel out of place or left out. We don't know what to do and what not to do.
Unfortunately most people are judged by a tv or internet standard. By this I mean Indians think all white women act like the dramatists they see on western tv shows. Westerners think all Indians dress up in colorful clothing, sing and dance and run through green pastures/fields. More often than not, this just isn't true. Even reality shows are heavily dramatized and not nearly as real as their genre would suggest. Just look at Big Boss and Big Brother. They purposely look for the most dramatic, extreme people and try to pair them up with other personalities that they won't get along with. This is how they make money.
While I was in India, I became keenly aware of how others looked at me in different styles of dress. I broke this down even further into patterns. Not surprisingly, I got the most favorable reaction in striped western wear. Second to that was when I wore pajami leggings and a matching kameez (suit top) or kurta.
Thus I learned a little about Punjabi fashion trends. I also learned about fabrics the same way. When I wore simple cotton suits I got more compliments than when I wore silk or other flashy fabrics. It's simply not done to try and dress in party wear or more formal clothing on a daily basis. Yes, most Punjabi women dress up in nice suits to go to the mall on Sunday but it's still not the fancier fabrics. Usually the designs were more elaborate.
Please keep in mind I am absolutely not a Punjabi fashion expert, I'm barely above a novice! But, I know how to pick out a suit for an event. Of course, as my local suit man says - my taste in clothes is very different from anyone else who shops at his store. I had my own tastes and that wasn't something I was willing to let go of just to fit into a society where I would always stand out. Plus I had to feel comfortable in the clothes and I'm sorry, but many of the prints I saw were things I could only envision my grandmother wearing and I'm just too young for that kind of feeling!
Anyway, I think I'm swaying off point. I don't think it was unusual at all to feel like I was constantly being judged in India. It was noticeable that some people (mostly young men) were waiting for me to take on the typical American persona they had seen on tv and start flirting or making eyes at them. Aunties verbalized things they thought I would do. And I've written several times about people we didn't even know visiting our home to comment on my looks or activities (thankfully all positive).
This same thing happens to me in the US. Possibly just as much as or more than while I was in India. See, in India I had the benefit of not speaking the language and not knowing what may have been said that was negative. Here in the US I distinctly remember checking myself out after dressing every day to make sure I looked okay. Was I wearing the right clothes, did they match right, did they fit right, how did I look in them, etc.
When I walked past people I often wondered what they thought when they looked at me. When I met people and we chatted I would wonder if they thought I was normal, crazy, stupid, etc. This is our self-consciousness and really has nothing to do with anyone else. But still I felt it. It affected me. It affected how I walked, talked (as well as how much I talked), who I spoke to, etc.
When I was addressing my Nigerian friends, I knew not to talk about my Liberian friends. When I talked to my German friends I didn't discuss Nazi's. This IS cultural sensitivity. Out of respect for their cultures and their histories, I avoided topics that may upset them. This is not much different than the Hindu concept of ahimsa and it has nothing to do with me being white and not wanting to offend them or avoid guilt from American historical events.
Another issue I face personally is clothing and this has considerable implications both in my culture and foreign or other religious cultures. I'm a large chested woman. This makes it difficult to find clothing in US branded stores that isn't low cut. (I can't wear turtle necks or other high neck shirts for health reasons.) So even if I find some that don't seemingly show cleavage, I still have to be careful when I'm around others not to lean over the wrong way, etc. or they may see down my shirt.
In India, this was even more critical. Don't let anyone fool you. I had the exact same issue with kameez necklines whether store bought or tailor made. And I can only assume (because I have no experience) that in the Muslim cultures in India this would be offensive. It's offensive in some Christian circles in the US as well. I had to make sure my butt was covered while riding the motorcycle. In some areas of town I had to cover my face completely. I had to be keenly aware of everything about myself at all times.
Still, it wasn't much different than life for people every day in the US. We are all still judged by current fashion trends and how well we keep up. We're judge by the cars we drive, the jobs we have, the money we spend, the activities we engage in, etc.
Have any of you ever felt a more keen sense of awareness about your clothes, actions, etc. while talking with a foreigner? Or while in the presence of foreigners?
Do you think this is a self-esteem issue or one of historical precedent? Is it sometimes both and other times neither one?
Tell me your thoughts.