Friday, December 13, 2013

Reverse Culture Shock in Reverse

One year of hard living in Delhi wiped out ten years' worth of social integration in America for me. I was quite Americanised when I used to live here before, but now I feel like I'm in a foreign country. I speak so much Hindustani at home these days that talking to an American in English an effort. I sometimes mistakenly even use a Hindustani word or two in my English! I have been back in the US for more than a year, and I still freeze when people whom I don't know try to make friendly conversation with me. Today it was the bank teller, who startled me when she casually asked me what my plans were for the evening. I froze, then panicked, and then delivered an awkward "...nothing?" Her interacting with me beyond our banking transaction made me feel uneasy. I guess I have become more reserved since Delhi. People don't look each other in the eye in Delhi, and they are deeply suspicious of friendly strangers. India seems to have affected me deep in my subconscious in extreme ways. It makes me feel like Jason Bourne because now I sometimes have strong, instinctive reactions that I can't explain. The face in the mirror is familiar but the personality is someone else's. I'm a slow motion ungreza.

Two Indians Walked Into a Grocery Store

The middle-aged, obese, white man on the mobility scooter had started talking to us in the grocery store after asking my husband for help with a container of milk that had been out of his reach.

"You guys have been married for less than three years," he had announced suddenly. "Be nice to each other, okay? Don't divorce, just don't do it." He looked at us more closely.

"Where are you guys from?" He didn't believe us when we told him we were from India. He got confused and struggled to speak for a second.

"Nooo," he said in slow disbelief. He looked at my husband. "Are you not Jewish?" He looked at me. "You look a little..." he didn't say what, but he turned back to my husband and said, "...but you must be Jewish!" My husband later thought that he almost looked disappointed. The man continued to speak.

"But you must be very Americanised by now? I mean, you must mostly be eating American food now, right?"

I shook my head. "No, we mostly eat Indian food."

"Well, okay, then," he said. "Just don't divorce. It makes a mess of things."