Curiosity towards Westerners expressed in India – 17 Jul 10

Indian culture

When we thought and talked about yesterday’s diary topic, Ramona, Yashendu and I had to laugh because we automatically compared those situations in the west with similar situations in India. Always, when we have western visitors at the Ashram who are for the first time in India, they experience this curiosity and interest very much. I believe for them this is part of the cultural shock that they describe.

In India it is not really part of good manners to hide your interest or to pretend not to be curious while you are actually nearly dying to know just where the other person is from. So you are a westerner or a group of westerners – easily recognized of course by your skin colour – and you talk a walk around town. You notice that heads turn to look at you. People out of cars smile and wave. Kids start running after you, laugh and try to speak with you: “Hello, hello! What is your name?” Shopkeepers who spot you shout to get your attention for their merchandise and Riksha drivers who would prefer driving for seemingly wealthy foreigners keep on asking if they should take you for a ride. Suddenly there is a crowd, a kind of parade, and you join to watch. But what is that? Slowly a group of people forms around you who have the back towards the colourful festive wagons and the music because they want to look at you. They stand there and look, maybe smile, nothing else.

Well, I agree that it can sometimes be a little bit exhausting being an obvious foreigner in India because nobody will hide his interest. I feel however that it is more honest. After all this friendly interest in other people is one of the reasons why western tourists like to come to India. They feel welcomed there even though sometimes even a little bit too much but in general they enjoy it. And who would not love to answer a lovely question ‘Where are you from’ when the asker has a smile on the face and curiosity in the eyes?

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  1. Melody Haislip

    I think I would find such curiosity rather charming, at least at first. I don’t know how long I’d be comfortable with constant attention, because I’m not used to it. Here in America, so many people walk with their heads down, and if your eyes happen to meet they will look away. I look at people and smile and speak, if given the slightest encouragement. I enjoyed your post.

  2. Cheryl Proctor

    I agree Swami Ji. Thaks for your outlook! There is something a little sour in me from the treatment of foreigners in India. It does a lot of harm to look upon someone as a meal ticket. Darnit people let’s not do this too each other and too ourselves!

  3. John Bush

    What seems like rude or hurtful behavior to you when you go to Europe or the States?

  4. Ed Yancy

    I love traveling. It opens up my eyes like I was a child again. I don’t know the rules. I cannot spot right or wrong, good or bad, powerful or poor. And everything is so beautiful this way. I simply love it!

  5. Natalia

    I have experienced this in India. During Diwali, an entire group of pilgrims stopped and stared for about twenty minutes. I felt like a monkey in a cage.

  6. Emily

    Before coming to India, I had heard lots of different things about what it would be like. One man told me that he had to constantly look out for his blonde girlfriend because men would always try to touch her, even taxi drivers. A lot of people made it seem kind of dangerous or something.But when I arrived here and walked around town, it was different. I definitely got a lot of attention from people, and at first I was a little uncomfortable (unsure of how to interpret it). But then I realized, these people are just curious…they don’t mean any harm! They are actually rather gentle people and it’s not dangerous just because the attention is on you. I appreciated learning this for myself so I can go home and break this stereotype that is spread there!

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