Indian Beliefs or Perceptions of American and European Culture

India Abroad: Indian misconceptions or perceptions of the overseas culture

The Indian misconceptions or perceptions of the the cultures abroad are closely related to our way of thinking. It is human nature, we always try to understand everything in terms of our own culture. Everything we see, everything we observe, we see it through the lenses of our own experiences. When we look at the American or the European culture, most of the time, we are just comparing it with our Indian culture, our own beliefs. Our beliefs play a major role in how we see rest of the world.

Many of you may consider this as a redundant piece of information – nothing new. Yes, you are right. It is nothing new, but it is something – we still have these misunderstandings or notions that we should remind ourselves of; it is something that may help us with self awareness and as a result, may reduce our stereotype about foreign cultures.
So take this with a grain of salt. Some of these misconceptions may sound absurd, or may sound very true – depending on your personal outlook, depending on what you believe.

Here are some of the beliefs and notions that Indians have about the Western – American or European or Australian – culture.

Not Very Religious: It is very hard to compare one religion to another. For example, in some religions you are expected to pray multiple times a day while in some others, a daily prayer might do. The fact is every religion dictates its own rituals, its own guidelines. The religion is a very predominant part of the western society. the younger generation may be a bit less religious and more spititual. If you pass by any Church in America on a Sunday morning, they are jam-packed; you won’t find a place to park.

Drug Use and Similar Vices: Where do we start, may be with some Bollywood movies depicting or comparing western culture with desi culture. :)! We may be exaggerating a bit when we say that smoking and drug use is much more common in the Western countries. If you walk down the street of any major US city, you won’t find many smokers in public, just as an example. People are more health conscious now-a-days. The drug use is probably comparable to India. You are not going to find ganja smoking hippies (as shown in some Indian movies) on a corner of every American or European city streets. That was 70s, and the movie was ‘Purab or Paschim’!

Very High Crime Rate: Some of this stereotype may come from the Hollywood movies and popularity of English crime dramas in India. The crime rate varies from city to city. Every city, just like in India, has some bad neighborhood. But there are no gun drawn battles or street-fights in public.

Not a Close-Knit Family System: Again, we cannot really compare the family dynamics. In India, multiple family generation – a married couple with their kids, parents and grand parents – can be often found living under the same roof, and that is not so common in the Western society. Based on the observations of school systems and day-to-day social interaction, the American family system is very healthy, very caring and very loving. The way kids are raised may be a little different. For example, the kids and teenagers are more encouraged to be independent and have their own opinion. It is part of the culture to help the kids to ‘stand on their own feet’ from an early stage. More and more Indian parents are following similar approach, if you look around.

Selfish and self-centered: We may be confusing, once again, the desire to be independent and self-sufficient. The personal temperaments and the social behaviors are different, but this is how it is; it is a different culture. The Western countries are increasingly embracing the multi-culture society – at work place and in personal life.

The moral values overseas: The social and ethical criteria of acceptance level of one culture is always different from that of others. We have a tendency to look at everyone through the traditions of our own society. It is just a different value system compared to India. In India, for example, we respect our elders and go out of the way to show it. In Western countries, on the other side, they treat everybody equal – the same way – including elders and younger generation. Many may consider this to be a more friendly interaction between different age groups, rather than being extra formal or extra respectful based on the age.

Foreign food is plain and without taste: Food is always a matter of personal taste. It is never going to taste like “my mom’s cooking”, but that is the problem – we are comparing two different cuisines. In Indian, we are used to our Indian spices and the herbs in our cooking. Now-a-days, increasing number of Indians are experimenting and enjoying western food. The younger generation of Indians abroad may be leaning a bit more toward western food – it is everywhere and is easily available. Also, you can get so many good ideas from other cuisines, something new to try.

They don’t speak PROPER English: It is same English language and same vocabulary as we use in India. However, the local dialect, the local style and the local slang varies from place to place. It is no different than comparing Hindi spoken in Mumbai to that in Amritsar. You get used to it pretty quickly once you pay attention and willing to adapt to the new pronunciation and the new accent.

Dress code too provocative: We have heard these comments before – the female dress code is a bit too provocative. Again, it is a matter of socially accepted norms. If we ask someone in an Arabic country for their opinion on Indian dress code, they will likely call it too provocative too. By end of the day, it is all relative.

If you think, it all comes down to what we believe is right; it boils down to our beliefs and how we look at other cultures. Just like Americans have perception about Indians, we have our own perceptions. And, it is okay to stick with what we believe, as long as it is understood that we are comparing two different cultures – two different belief systems.

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