Monday, July 30, 2012

Visiting Relatives



Three relatives of mine are visiting the US & Canada now. They are 2 women and a man, all in their sixties. While one lady has a Bachelor’s degree and the man is a retired doctor, the other lady has finished high school. All three were born and brought up in villages, but have lived their adult lives  in a major south Indian city and are of middle class background.  
 I have explained their backgrounds above..this is   because I cannot understand, how with this middleclass, urban Indian background and education,   they could still  behave in  really exasperating ways!

All three of my relatives  have children, who have settled in America(USA & Canada). This is their first visit to the USA & Canada. This type of visit is typical of all immigrants to USA & Canada .....The pattern runs like this: kids come here to study, then get a job in USA and then settle here for good. Parents visit to see them and also see the country....parents also visit to help their adult children  by looking after their grand-kids.

Now about my relatives' annoying behaviours!
The behaviour of the 2 women, which bugged me the most was their refusal to sit on the toilets, either at home or in the public toilets. They have this  firm unshakable belief  that the toiletseats are dirty and they do not want any part of their body touching it. They stand to pee ...ergo..there is pee on the toilet seat and on the floor! I end up queuing up outside the  toilet  my relatives use in all public bathrooms, so that I can go in and wipe the toilet seat! I do not want people in North America hating all Indian women, because of these two, messing up the toilets! I have repeatedly and gently told them, to sit and pee but they still mess  up the toilets!

Another  behaviour of theirs which is bugging me is that they avoid eye contact and do not greet when any friendly stranger greets them on the street.  If I happen to be around when this happens, I jump in, smile at the greeter and explain that they do not understand English.
 I cant understand why my folks cannot even return a smile…even if they do not understand the language, they are surely able to get the friendliness of the greeter through his or her body language, and smiles.

Refusal to try any food other than Indian food is another thing which rankles with me! We end up spending a lot of time, hunting for an Indian restaurant in a new city we are sightseeing in…time which could be used for more sightseeing. But my folks insist on Indian and refuse to try anything else. Once when I could not find any Indian restaurant, I took them to a Tim Horton’s and got them a sub. The women pulled out all the meat and vegetables between the two pieces of bread and ate only the bread! One lady especially was put off by dried tomatoes, claiming that  it was meat!

Curiosity about the personal aspects of people, relentless gossip about the relatives and their issues, morbid curiosity about others was another whole set of behaviours I witnessed in my two visiting  lady relatives. I too had gossiped and probably been rude to some extent when  I was in India, years ago…I cannot deny that…but I do not think I was this rude!

The final and most bugging behaviour of theirs was the constant comments (usually negative) and advice coming from these two  women. If I make a list of their advice and comments,  it would be endless! Here are a few comments and advice of theirs.

“This food is too salty in this sambar. “ or

“The salt is too  less in this rasam”.

“Why do you have so many things in your house? Throw out the things.”

“Why don’t you buy another house? This does not have enough storage space”.

“Get rid of your dog. Why do you want a dog?”

"Why did you buy this furniture (patio furniture for our deck) You could have bought some gold jewellery instead”.

"Why do you use artificial jewellery? Why dont you buy gold?"

"Why dont you also join a company? you can earn more"(the lady who made this comment has no clue about the job I do, but feels free to give this advise!)

One lady, especially, has very little positive to say about anyone and makes her comments in a matter-of-fact, bland tone.  From what I can infer, she does not mean to hurt…she simply makes these comments and seems to have no insight about the impact her comments can have on people.
Thinking back on all their comments and conversation, I wonder if they even think, before they talk? They are so quick to comment...they do not even finish seeing or eating or whatever...but are in a rush to comment, criticize or advise!

I keep wondering …Is  it that, in my extended family, brutal honesty is bred into us while  politeness, tact, gentleness, regard for others feelings, social skills, decency, etc  are left out?

Or is it that, I have been out of India and forgotten how rudely  Indians behave…and have got used to the Polite Canadian ways  ….

Frankly, I cant understand why  the behaviour of my visiting relatives, is shocking me…. I had been used to this behaviour when I was in India for the first three decades of my life! My relatives  have not changed...they are the same…but I seem to have changed after coming to Canada and maybe I have become sensitive to these things!
 If I record and replay, even a five minute conversation of my relatives(not just the ones from India..even the ones from Canada and USA)...one can find about 50 brutal, disparaging, condescending, sarcastic, uppity comments and hardly one or two positive comments!
(here is one bit I remember:
Me: We went on a trip to Havana.
Relative whose spouse is a doctor:Oh. Secretaries go to Cuba for a vacation.)
This particular lady puts her foot in her mouth, every single time she talks!

One last sad-funny thing about my relatives was their absolutely materialistic attitudes when they saw the houses of the various cousins they visited. They were impressed by the size of the bigger houses and unimpressed by the smaller houses. They advised the cousins with smaller houses to get bigger ones! They did not spare a thought  about how the person with the  smaller house will feel when they comment like that. They did not try to understand that some people would like to spend their money on things other than houses…that people have big houses for a reason and small houses for a reason.  Their materialistic outlook  was so strong that they failed to appreciate the aesthetic aspects of the beautiful things around them…especially in the smaller houses. They did not seem to even see the original art work in the small houses, the beauty and old world charm of the old houses (they loved the new houses and did not like the older ones), they did not appreciate the friendly lovely neighbours….All they could see was the big size of the houses and newness of the big houses and the things in them….they simply could not even see, let alone appreciate anything else.

I should probably not expect them to have an aesthetic sense similar to mine, considering that we do not share backgrounds and experiences (though we do share the same DNA) but I am still saddened  that  they are not able to appreciate so much of the beauty around them. I think they would be unimpressed and put off if I had shown them creative ways of recycling things or showed them items altered to repurpose them for other uses...I find this altering and reuse of items  very exciting, aesthetically appealing and creative but my two female relatives would rather  throw out the old things and buy new things meant for the job  instead of recycling & repurposing. I am now able to fathom, how creativity is crushed by Indian parents!

I feel  really sorry for one of the ladies whose child has the smallest house of all the cousins…ergo, the least successful of the dozen cousins who migrated to America over the last 25 years!

 She had been happy with her child’s house when she first landed in America . She loved the house and enjoyed it. Once  she started visiting relatives and sightseeing all over USA & Canada and saw the huge houses of her nephews and nieces she seemed to become aware that her child had a 'small' house. I hope that at some time,  she understands that her child is content with what he has and loves his home and  is happy and that happiness is the most important thing…not a huge house or wealth!

I hope my folks stay long enough to appreciate the non-material beauty of America….such as the polite behaviour of people, the safety women have at home, work place and in public places, the respect, comforts and priority given to disabled and  aged people in all places, the attention to detail and aesthetics in buildings, houses, gardens, and even the humble bus-stands, the absence of corruption and hassles (which  the common man in India faces daily). I think they need to live here for at least 6 months to get a deeper understanding of these two countries in the American continent. Right now, they are blown away by the  overtly visible ....they have not yet had time to see and experience all aspects of life here.

 I have been a bit harsh, criticising my folks here. Given more time, they may probably  get a deeper understanding of life in America and slowly evolve. I know for a fact that I did change a lot after coming to Canada. 

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