Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Stereotypical Punjabi

In my line of work, stereotypes are often useful though we know that they're not always the norm. For work purposes, they represent the general nature of a particular group of the population. We use this information to select the clothes we wear on a case, to help us locate potential hot spots for suspect activity, etc.

The other day one of my coworkers, who's African American, told me that whenever he's tracking down a black man, he ALWAYS waits for him at his mother's house. He also told me that even though he knows that's a stereotype, that he has an impeccable success rate in finding people that way.

Armed with that ideal, I decided to do more research into stereotypes and to try to learn more about various types of people and the ideals associated with them. Naturally, I focused on Punjabi's first since I have first hand experience with which to gauge the accuracy of the claims.

Punjabi's Are: 

Super Flashy - I find this to be somewhat true. Most of the ones I know love to flaunt whatever they consider to be luxury brand names, brag about their accomplishments and generally stand out from the crowd. This isn't necessarily a bad trait even though the wording of "super flashy" has some negative connotations.

Super Loud - This one I also found to be true. While I'm certainly no doctor, I also noticed an abundance of hearing related issues which I believe contributed to this. There was never a shortage of loud speakers mounted on homes and blasting music or temples blasting worship. TV's were usually at abnormally loud volumes. In our house I noticed the strangest things - like how MIL had to yell multiple times before anyone would answer her yet a quiet, melodious ringtone seemed to be instantly heard lol. Regardless, hubby openly admits while he's on the phone, his volume increases considerably without any change in his mood/emotions. Contrary to all of that, FIL is actually one of the quietest people I know. This stereotype definitely depends on the actions they're engaged in but overall, I would have to say it's a fair representation of the majority.

Super conservative - (Just why do so many stereotypes have to add emphasizing words like 'super' for effectiveness?) Compared to the Southern American culture I grew up with, this is a bold-faced lie! I saw considerably more lewdness in Amritsar than I've seen anywhere in the 6 states I've lived in and the 33 states I've visited. However, I imagine that someone who lives in California and spends a lot of time on the beach in a bikini or shorts might beg to differ. Overall though, I don't think this stereotype has much credibility. Uncle ji was very embarrassed when some random women dropped their sari's and had boobs way too close to him in the Ganges while other women running around Amritsar had plenty of nipple showing through their clothing in public seemingly without any concern.

Love Chicken! - I think this one is fair. With most of the country being vegetarian or vegan, chicken is one of the main meats you find on just about every menu. Chicken seems to go good with alcohol, the next thing on this list, and thus it's easy to see why someone would assume all Punjabi's love chicken. I think chicken eaters are still a minority though - but that's only my opinion from my limited experience. Hubby had never eaten meat until he was 24 and his mom never tasted it until she was in her 40's or 50's. From what I saw overall, more men eat chicken than women and I've even heard women disgusted at having to cook chicken for a non-veg husband.

"Guzzle Alcohol" - I really wish I could dispel this one. Unfortunately it does seem the majority drink and way too many drink to excess. Stories of alcoholic men were rampant in Amritsar. Even people who swore they never drank seemed to dismiss the fact they drank on social occasions. Again, I noticed that gender also plays a role in the consumption of alcohol with women being much less inclined to it. Still, according to the news media, other states rank higher in alcohol consumption than Punjab.

Wear jewelry heavier than themselves - This I find to be disturbingly untrue! Yes, Indians love their gold and gold is quite heavy but Punjabi's wear far less than other Indian states. Mostly I've only noticed Indians (generally speaking) wearing large amounts of gold at at special events with small amounts like earrings or bangles being worn a bit more frequently. Women love gold - isn't that fairly universal - but most Punjabi women like large beads and stones to go with it whereas some other states seem to prefer not having them. Further destroying this stereotype is the realization that most Sikh women don't run around flashing gold ever, they don't wear gaudy ensembles for their weddings and you rarely see them running around their own homes in large gold jewelry. Since Sikhs are a large sector of the population of Punjab, this stereotype just doesn't fit.

They throw money around - I think this one goes right along with being flashy. In our wedding a lot of people were literally throwing money into the air over top of dancing guests. Money was sprinkled over our heads as a blessing. If a guest came into the home, money was often given to me for religious and traditional reasons I don't yet understand. Money was a standard gift for almost every occasion regardless of how small it was. Alternately when it comes to budgeting and the proverbial throwing money around, I've noticed that actual cost of an item is not a prime deciding factor in purchasing. Emotions and the end effect were almost always the driving factor behind purchases. With that mentality, it would be easy to assume Punjabi's are a bit freer with their rupees than the budget-conscious person might be. In all regards, a Punjabi has no problem finding ways to make and save money to pay for the things that matter to them like a child's education or a luxury car. To me this seems pretty normal behavior.

Obesity - This one struck me. Could Punjabi's really be the fattest in India??? Hmmm. Well, I knew from experience that a lot of Amritsari food was full of ghee, oils, salt and sugar so it could be possible. So I had to really research this one. I found absolutely nothing to indicate this was true. BUT, I did see a lot of burgeoning bellies while living in Amritsar. Most people are referred to as "heavy" once they put on a few pounds and the term sticks even if they're morbidly obese. While I didn't see anyone so fat they couldn't walk, it did seem that once a person got married and had kids it was perfectly normal (and dismissed as being normal and not counted in the opinions of most Indians) to be overweight.

What have you heard about Punjabis and was the stereotype true?

I know some of your spouses don't fit these stereotypes at all. I would love to hear from you on your perception of the stereotypes and what you've experienced in your journey.


  1. My partner does not match to the stereotypical list, probably because of his schooling (British (catholic) boarding school) where they were raised like small solders, and the same goes to his family (sister, father and grandfather, aunts had the same type of education). But I was wondering if the stories about heavy drug abuse among Punjabi youth is true? For example: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2156090/The-state-Punjab-grip-drug-culture-destroying-youth.html . I myself don't know anybody who is doing drugs but then again, we don't live in Punjab.

  2. I have practically grown up with Punjabis in Delhi and know them inside out. Most of the traits that you mentioned are true with capital ‘T’. Another famous Punjabi trait is supreme arrogance and disdain for other cultures. They actually measure a person worth either through his financial status or physical strength. For them intellectual qualities are not worth consideration. A person is either strong or weak for them. They do not understand that perhaps there are people in this world who do not look at the world as a battle field. For eg., two cars collide on a busy Delhi street. Both the drivers come out of their cars and abuse and fight with each other, thus disturbing the traffic. They must fight till one of them is defeated. Some brave people even chase the other guy, catch up with him, and bludgeon him. There have been many such incidents of “Road Rage” in Delhi. Delhi is famous for such incidents. Typical Punjabi nature to brow beat people. The furious aggression in the nature of a Delhi resident is a direct result of the Punjabi culture. The fact of the matter is that you have to be non-Hindi, non-North Indian to fully understand these things.

    Punjabi’s love for alcohol is also legendary. People all over India drink but the kind of celebrity status alcohol is given by Punjabis is seen to be believed. They just cannot get enough of it. Many Punjabi songs are about alcohol. In every Punjabi wedding there is always an elderly gentleman who cannot handle his drink. I have seen people fighting and making a fool of themselves after drinking at marriages. Amazingly, these antics are tolerated, kind of like a necessary evil. There is very little culture, and alcohol seems to be a cover for all these inadequacies. A Punjabi will comment on everyone but no one can comment on him. Many Punjabis lament the fact that they have to show off because of pressure from their community.

    Punjab has culture. The culture of the sikh gurus. The poems of sufi saints like Bulle Shah, Baba Farid, Waris Shah. The literature of great authors like Bhisham Sahini and Amrita Pritam. But, most Punjabis are oblivious of it unlike other communities who are both proud of their culture and try to preserve it. The Sikhs with their religion are slightly disciplined but the non-Sikh Delhi Punajbi is a creature in itself.

  3. Documentary about drug abuse in Punjab http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/glut-the-untold-story-of-punjab/

  4. Well I am not a punjabi, but one thing what I have observed is you will almost always be served something to eat or drink when you visit there home.

  5. Unfortunately drugs do seem to be a big issue in Punjab. We had a former drug dealer in our neighborhood who had gotten out of jail. But drugs are essentially a world-wide issue.

  6. I've seen similar with alcohol in Amritsar and I've also heard the songs. I'm very anti-alcohol and this disturbs me greatly. I've also seen the brow beating and abusing and I don't like those either. It's funny you mention the fighting over auto accidents. I personally witnessed this as someone hit us while we were going to the Taj Mahal. It freaked me out when the drivers got out and were fighting. I've also seen the gang mentality of families when someone is in an accident and the whole family goes out and tries to fight. It's insane to me!

  7. Yeah, my husband is one that only has a first name and no middle name. I know that complicated things but, as you mentioned on another post we're ritualistic here and I just find it strange that someone would see a form they've probably looked at thousands of times and somehow not realize that it's not okay to think someone has no first name at all. I can't imagine they would think the government would allow someone to come here with no name. I could be wrong, but it's definitely not likely a normal occurrence given the consular officers reaction to it either.

  8. That's true! They seem to be pushing food at you all the time. There's always more served than you can eat lol.

  9. Stereotypical Punjabi- Loud, arrogant, arsey, obese & overbearing
    Stereotypical Punjabi food - Ghee laden & heavy on potatoes & starchy gravies (Punjabi gravies are often thickened with wheat flour, cornstarch/flour, besan, potato starch etc.),
    I do wonder if the starchy diet (and possibly the alcohol consumption) lead to the 'Punjabi potbelly' that so many Punjabi men AND women sport?

  10. I have talked to several punjabis. Culture is not their strong point but their extreme arrogance is very evident. A strange kind of crudity pravails in their behaviour. They remind me of Americans sometimes, the Geroge Bush type. Don't you feel that Americans and Punjabis share some of the characteristics that you mentioned above. Atleast the world view of the Americans is similar. The way Americans bomb different countries on filmsly grounds remind of the way Punjabis pick up fight randomly because somebody pricked their fragile ego. It is the same ignorance mixed with arrogance that no one is more powerful than us. I liked Obama, the first American President who appeared intelligent to me but he disappointed. He is carrying forward the same international policies. As they say the more things change the more they remain the ssame.
    "Road Rage" is very common in Delhi. Recently, there was an incident where a traffic police constable was killed because he stopped three guys on a motercycle as per the traffice rule. People in Delhi often keep baseball bats and rods in their vehicles to protect themselves. Sometimes guns are also used. Fights for parking spaces often turn violent. Cars came very late in India and then becomes symbols of the owner's prestige. The idea is very simple, if someone challanges you and you back down, you are not man enough. . It is like a dog eat dog world out here, where politeness and culture is replaced by cunningness and quick tongue.

  11. Blasphemy! Punjabi's never get fat. Only westerners do! :P

    I'm certain the starches lead to the potbellies. They love to eat chicken with their alcohol and other snacks. All those carbs have nowhere else to go.

  12. I can't agree on the culture aspect you keep making. Culture is about more than just the good, happy, bright and sunny parts that most people think it is. Culture includes the bad as well. Their culture just seems to be different than other parts of India which is normal.

    I do think America sticks it's nose into other countries business too much and yes, the Punjabi's I know are way too sensitive. But I have had other commenters on this blog that weren't Punjabi (but were Indian) who are equally as sensitive. I can say something (good or bad) about any group of Indians and they will come here raising hell and cussing and screaming at me like I've attacked them personally.

    Obama is a huge disappointment. He doesn't reflect the view or voice of the majority of America. Sadly, like many governments around the world, our government is corrupt. It hasn't reflected the voice of the public in decades. Americans didn't want those wars, we fought against most of them. The only time the American people rallied behind a war was when we were misled to believe 9/11 was a terrorist attack by Osama. But I won't get into that here because I had rather my blog not turn sour over exposing our government's fear mongering tactics. However, on a given day Americans are not blood-thirsty fighters looking to punch anyone who bothers us. It's an image we don't want.

    I think what you're seeing in Delhi is becoming more prevalent the world over. Human aggression is being incited by common misbeliefs, government fear mongering, misinformation, etc. Humans are being manipulated into thinking this way. It's very sad. Although I will never understand it. I am a completely non-violent person.

  13. I liked Obama. He seemed to be full of energy. The way sprints to the podium with his rolled up sleeves, he gave the impression of a man on a mission and whatever he spoke made sense, unlike the other American presidents. He was also the first American president popular outside America. I think the people outside America saw a bit of themselves in him.

    I only want to say that we live in a dangerous world. Indians live in a tough neighborhood and understand fully well that certain 'noble' and 'devout' gentlemen are hell bent on destroying us. We have stopped them but for how long. The situation in our neighborhood is very volatile. The situation in our neighbor's neighborhood is also very dangerous. We understand the danger fully well because we have suffered long, but the question is whether an average American has any clue about it. These gentlemen don't like Indians but they don't like Americans either. It is something each American must ponder on and become aware. It is time America stops playing football with these people.

  14. A good many Americans do know what is going on in other countries in general and don't want to be involved. The citizens here don't want our government to send troops into war or conflicts. It's not our place to go in and try to restructure the world and the public knows it. Unfortunately too many bureaucrats are in a proverbial pissing match trying to prove they're going to be the next big world power and that they are all knowing and supreme. Each is working hard at being the leader in a new world order and it's being done at the expense of the majority of the world.

  15. Alexandra MadhavanJuly 2, 2014 at 8:41 PM

    So interesting, great post. My husband is South Indian but we live in a city whose Indian population is 99.9% Punjabi. So many Westerners assume that he is Punjabi also, when he is not. Often when I am talking to them about Indian food, they are like "oh it's so unhealthy with all that creamy gravy and butter chicken". I have to remind them that we are South Indian, and that we are also strict vegetarians, and all of our curries are tomato/onion based and not cream based, and we eat things like idlys and dosas which are very healthy. Personally, I find Punjabis to be more about the bling and material things, whilst South Indians are more boastful about things like education. Also I find Punjabis to me more vocal and South Indians to be more discreet, but both groups are boastful in their own ways.

  16. Hubby cooks a lot and he doesn't make the cream based curries but the ones he does make are often loaded with oil and salt. I remember living in Amritsar I just couldn't stand most of the food because it seemed like everything was coated or soaked in oil and I really don't like oily foods. Although, I will say Punjabis redeem themselves with the tandoor lol. I love tandoori items.

  17. Actually what you mention is true for most of India. We find it easy to quickly create stereotypes, but they are just that, stereotypes.

    You just have stay in various parts of India to figure this out. I have stayed in Bengal and found the Bengalis to drink through the day, be extremely abusive, violent, and when they can afford it, spend lavishly on weddings and celebrations (though media stereotypes them as the opposite of my observation).

    I have work in Maharashtra where most of the local people stank of alcohol in the middle of the day,

    I have travelled to the South where the garishness of hotel rooms, restaurants etc and the severe chauvinism got to me. See their movies.

    I have eaten horribly oily and unhealthy food in the south : loaded with oil, overloaded with coconut in every form, over spiced... not everything they eat is steamed. Same with bengali food, overloaded with mustard oils and spices. And have you tried Kolhapuri cuisine?

    The fact is, all traditional Indian home food is healthy but what is served in restaurants, sucks. Its like saying Americans cook and eat McDonalds type burgers at home.

    Traditional punjabi food, the kind that is eaten in a normal household, is extremely healthy: phulkas (whole wheat flat breads), with daal (lentils), sabzi (veggies), and plenty of salad (the desi types: onion, carrot, cucumber, radish etc). Not everyone eats chicken everyday. I am a Punjabi and 40 years old, and we have never ever, NEVER, cooked butter chicken at home. Its a restaurant dish, not a home dish. Just like 'chicken tikka butter masala': it was invented by a popular restaurant to take care of leftover kebabs.

    But yes, alcohol and drugs are a big issue.


  18. Dishes like butter chicken are even difficult to make at home in America where our kitchens are more equipped for the dish! I liked the way the food worked in Punjab where you had a reason to go out. Restaurants truly had food you didn't/couldn't make at home (reasonably).

  19. True. These restaurants dishes are NOT made at home because they are NOT traditional food.