What the Americans can learn from us

I admit, I have lived in the US for just a little over three years now and probably have a very superficial knowledge of the American culture. I also admit that when I mention "us" I am counting on my experiences solely based on the places in India I've lived and at the time I've lived. There, you have the disclaimer. Now lets get to the topic: what is there in India that I think needs to be here.

Nerd is cool: Look at any recent TV serial, movie, autobiographical piece here and you'll be sure to find that being nerdy or knowing more is somehow linked to being totally uncool in school/high school here in the US. The nerd in the class is always the one getting bullied, getting his school tiffin stolen. Nobody cares about his opinion beyond the teacher in the classroom: he has very limited friends (mostly the other nerds/semi-nerds), seldom plays anything on the field and is rarely included in the team for anything. Contrast this with the image of the class topper in India. He is literally looked up to: other kids' parents want to find out where he takes tuition, what he is doing when he is not taking tuition classes, what special notes he refers to, etc. A school bully dares not mess with him: one little word of complaint can land the bully's ass in a lot of trouble. If you do not encourage your nerds, the output of the system will always be skewed. Look who is filling the ranks of your engineers and doctors: people from places where being the nerd, being ranked #1 was cool. I don't wish to advocate the kind of rat race with the extreme stressful condition that some kids undergo in India in the name of education, but rather would want a little shift in outlook and a little more encouragement for the nerd in class.

Your parents aren't your enemies: Somehow, if you are living with your parents after you're 21 years old, its the most uncool thing you could do. Girls would laugh at you in a bar, and some of your friends would actually pity you. While independence and privacy are important issues, this strict and over-zealous enforcement of no capital punishment for children ensures that they figure out one day that shouting at their dad and mother and calling them names would get him no problems and if anything would make him "cool" among his friends. No wonder people look upon visiting their parents or calling them up on their birthdays as a chore. Tell this to any Indian child and you will definitely get an incredulous look. It makes me feel good to talk to my parents, my uncles, aunts, cousins.. the whole extended family. Joint families aren't good, I know, but for some reason the concept of leaving your parents for no reason except that you have to do it just because it's cool is unacceptable to me.

Evolution vs Creationism: Honestly, I sometimes laugh my butt off when I hear this debate surrounding whether God created and put all the life forms on earth in one swoop one fine morning or was it evolution all the way. You would think that a country with close to 80% literacy and so much presence of the media all around it 24x7 would have this cleared up. But people are actually decrying Darwin here! They sometimes take this as a personal affront on Christianity and God himself. And the fact that this even qualifies as a debate is really the fun part. I can't quote an exact source here, but I remember having read somewhere that under the Bush administration this concept of Creationism was actually made a part of the school curriculum. How are we doing on the home front? My personal views of God aside, we fully acknowledge evolution, don't we? Our concept of God precludes the creation of the universe itself. You should really read this part of the Bhagavad Gita (http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/Gita/verse-11-10.html) in Chapter 11 (one of my grandfather's favourite chapters): how worlds are being created every second, how they are destroyed, and how all paths lead to One.

This is in no way an exhaustive list, and yes, it probably is very biased. Care to add something?


  1. I think the close-knit family system is what makes India unique among nations of the world. It arises from very deep in our cultural soul that it's very hard if not impossible for other cultures (maybe except the Oriental nations still retaining some of their roots) to inculcate that strange mix of respect, reverence and yet close everyday relationship between parents and children in India.

    You've brought out the discrepancy very well here.

    Strangely, I get the feeling that, among European cultures, the Germans are a lot more family-oriented than the Americans and a lot closer in that respect to Indians.

  2. Hari, yes, the roots, the upbringing matter a lot. It is what your parents do, and what you learn by observing, that shapes what you imbibe. I am not so sure about the German culture: but yeah sure there might be a ton of reasons, of which I can hazard a guess about common Aryan roots. But whatever it is, there is a lot we can learn on both sides I guess.

  3. I'm not sure I can add to your list of points, but I would like to contest one of your points.

    I think you're confusing a class topper and a nerd and are taking them to be the same thing. In India, class toppers are looked up to, they are revered by their friends' parents and are pampered no end by their teachers and parents alike. But in my experience, I have never seen a class topper who has been a nerd. The toppers bring good marks in every paper, live by the book, and are generally looked at as beings from other planets by the lesser mortals. Be it from envy or awe, I have never seen these toppers being part of close friend groups. They live in a world of their own, and none of their peers -except the oily ones- are interested in what they are doing.

    The nerds, however, are a different people. They are always a key component of friend groups, they frolick about, they "waste" time just as any other person, and yet manage to get good marks in some subject or another -not all, mind you- in which they specialise. They are the one's that have superlative skill-sets in a particular field of things that are invariably related to studies, yet they're always hanging about with a group while the class topper is busy roting away. Admittedly, they, too, are held in awe. A different kind of awe.

  4. well said! how about a post about the reverse issue? about murrican things/concepts that should not be imported into India? my few pet peeves: fast food joints such as pizza hut/mcd's overriding dosa/roll joints; reality tv shows; bollywood actresses looking like venice beach types - too thin with flyaway hair - I don't know where to stop!

  5. Arunava, I know what difference you are pointing out, and yes there were always some lonely selfish souls among us. However, one still wouldn't mess with them for no reason. The class as a whole will probably resent his selfishness and arrogance, but will not actively set out to physically assault him just because he got better marks than the rest. Here, that's the norm.

    Rajkonya, yes of course there is a post lined up that talks about what we can learn from them. Not sure about what we shouldn't learn: maybe you can always find the obverse. For example everything listed here should not be learnt in the negative by us.

  6. beautifully explained..!! i like the parents/family part very much. i myself have a very large family & i enjoy a lot being with them!

    wish to see more of this kind!

  7. Pragyan, thanks: will keep posting similar stuff from time to time.


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