Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Using Indian Jargon as an Outsider

Jargon, for those who don't know, is wording used by a specific group of people, typically in a specific company. It's often misunderstood or baffling to those who are not familiar with the terms and is often best avoided.

I fell into the trap of thinking that doesn't apply to me with my new found place in the Indian landscape of life. I often catch myself using words like "NRI" in my real life. While I didn't find it disturbing to have to explain this to non-Indians and those with no ties to India, I did run across something else that shook me a bit.

Hubby and I were at one of our favorite eateries and there was an Indian guy working. I used the term NRI in reference to my husband and the guy thought that was just hilarious, how I had started using terms like that and he said it in a very condescending tone. It was as if he meant that he didn't think I knew anything about it, that I was some kind looney for thinking I had a right to use it, etc. I think you get the picture.

This left me baffled. I've heard, seen, read and known many Indians to use the term. I've never had any of our Indian friends think it was odd for me to use it. Even in India, I never had anyone respond to my use of Indian terms like this. I wasn't sure what to make of it but for months, I avoided the term like the plague!

What had I done wrong? Nothing. My guess would be this guy was a Jai Hind Indian who didn't feel like a foreigner had any place discussing 'his India.' I've had some comments from people like this in the past. I just didn't think that these things still happened in real life where there was no anonymity or protection of the world wide web. Turns out I was wrong.

Have you had any experiences like this?
How do you react when someone thinks you don't have any right to talk about their home country?


  1. That's rich, considering that NRI itself is an ENGLISH language acronym, and since you've actually lived in India, why wouldn't you use the term? Although I do think it technically applies to Indians who've given up their Indian citizenship, obtained citizenship in another country, and are now PIOs. Because you know, once an Indian, always an Indian! You didn't do anything wrong, and if he's so prickly about feringhi discussing India, maybe he should go back there to live and work.

  2. NRI is an innocuous term that couldn't possibly have loaded connotations except in the mind of warped individuals. You shouldn't be forced to avoid it just because you met a Non Resident Idiot with attitude.

  3. That's what I thought! It's an innocent term. I think that's why I found it so shocking he got offended.

  4. I'm curious, did you and your husband decipher his tone in the same way?

    As I teach more in India, I come to realize the tone of the words come from the word itself more in Indian languages, where as in English we derive tone from how it is said.

    That being said, I'd not let this guy get you down. I think there are some Indians who feel that "Desi" jargons are not meant to be said by 'outsiders'. I had similar experiences as a social worker in the US... for some reason the psychologists did not like the social workers using their jargons or terms, as they saw social workers as less educated, and hence, not 'smart' enough to use their words! As if we own any words!!

  5. Hmm...I don't think I discussed this with hubby at the time. He could have interpreted it much differently. I'm not sure.

    I wonder if maybe this Indian could have thought white women were beneath him. He wouldn't be the first person like that I had encountered who felt that way. But, I can't really say for sure how he felt.

    We definitely don't own words.

  6. "Yeah I wasn't exactly sure I had said anything wrong either"

    You defintely didn't. Being from India, I can tell you that the calling someone NRI whether you are foreigner or Indian is not something anyone should take offense of. I also think that you are stressing it too much as you yourself said in your above comment that you can't be really sure of that guy's comment or tone. Who knows, the guy might be some hater or was simply in bad mood. Just forget thinking about it :-)

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  10. That one damn ad is causing all the problems. That ad keeps on changing. I have tried to remove it but nothing happens. Pretty stubborn I must say.