Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A discourse on first impressions: Or how my grubby one-bedroom apartment redeeemed India

A friendly fruit market in Wroclaw
I wrote to Girish that I had been to Wroclaw (pronounced Rotslav for some reason) in Poland over the weekend and had found the Poles the friendliest and most unassuming people I had ever met. He replied that after his Vietnamese friend got beaten up by some racist thugs in Warsaw, he developed an aversion to the place and people and had never felt like visiting it.

That made me think of the danger of parachute travel, where we swoop down on a place, hang around for a day or two, and leave with very decided opinions about it. Often, we only get a first impression of the place, and good or bad, it forever colours our view of the culture and people in question.

Because I had my only racist experience in Greece, the country will be stamped as racist in my mind. And because the Poles in Wroclaw were friendly, I'll always recommend it to others. However, isn't it possible that the friendliness of the people in Wroclaw had more to do with it being a non-touristy, small town than anything necessarily Polish, and our experience in Rhodes was an isolated, freak incident?

Unfortunately, we never really think about all these possibilities, do we? We visit the country once, and our experiences determines what we will think of it for a long time until perhaps other experiences colour them over.

But that makes me think, that by corollary, isn't it also true that as I visit different countries, I am leaving behind a trail of first impressions of Indians in the minds of the people I interact with, especially in countries that Indians do not frequent?

Maybe that is why the Phillipino landlord of the guesthouse in Amsterdam that we stayed at had insisted on telling me about a horrible Indian woman who had stayed with him once. Apparently, she was American-Indian and had refused to enter the establishment on the grounds that it did not have a reception. Having checked into a "proper" hotel next door, she had then insisted on coming over for breakfast every morning at the guest house and brag about her doctor-daughter who apparently owned a six-door car and lived in a mansion in the US. I wasn't exactly sure why he told us the whole story, but I couldn't help but feel that I was somehow responsible for her behaviour.

I tried explaining that perhaps her rudeness had nothing to do with she being Indian. Maybe, she was just a rude, silly woman, and rude, silly women live everywhere. When that didn't help, I added that Sid & I didn't have a car at all - let along a six door one - and lived in a rather grubby one-bedroom place in London. The last seemed to have redeemed Indians in his eyes, but only just.

The things I do for my country.

On competitive Indian mothers:


Anonymous said...

Good article, but it shows how some people are not sophisticated, like the Malaysians and the Filipino hotel employee.
I ran into an Iranian origin young guy yesterday, and he was full of praise for India for its freedom, democracy, dyamism and yes, its English language skills. He said it was amazing that in a bookstore in India, you can find a book praising the Islamic religion, right next to one critising it. We both agreed that this is one of the qualities of India, that sets it apart from countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. So there are people with favourable impressions of India and Indians, together with those whose experiences are very, let's say, mixed.

globalbabble said...

Oh totally, I am sure it is a total mixed bag of impressions out there about India and Indians. I was merely pointing out that often our behaviour gets extrapolated to the whole race which may or may not be fair. Chetna