Sunday, June 08, 2008
Canada versus India
No, this is not about some cricket match that might have occurred between the two teams. I don't even know whether the Canadian team still exists (maybe their willow lost weight and got transformed into an ice hockey stick). I don't know much about the cricket world anyway!
Having lived in both environments, I feel capable to compare their cultures, psyches and way of life in general. Let's look at some of them.
Road less taken: In Canada, green, red and orange actually mean different things!! In India, they are just colours that blink at drivers. For many it is a matter of matching colours. A lady driver in India might look at the red light and think, "That so matches my blouse. Or does it? Let me go closer and check... hmmm. Not really. Let me go to the next light and check." And thus she moves on. In Canada, they actually stop. I don't mean pause or consider pausing, but actually stop! For some drivers in India, it is a Godly indication. A driver might actually be mulling over whether he should go straight to join his friends for watching the cricket match or turn right and go home to his family. Red means, go with your friends! In Canada, they just go with their friends (why? will let you know soon) once the light turns to green! There both countries agree. Green means go! Red can basically mean anything in India. Orange, in India, is mostly ignored and treated like this spoilt cousin of red and green, appearing when no one really asked for it. I am surprised that VHP and the Sena haven't taken on this matter and insisted that whenever the light is orange, everyone should get out of their vehicles and shout "Jai Shree Ram"! In Canada, they start slowing down. I truly found that weird. As in, the Indian mentality is to think that the orange was actually for a transition to green and hence rush forward. Canadians apparently know that such transitions don't exist. Indians pretend not to know.
Road mostly taken: At any given point of time, either a human (with or without an attached pet, and I don't mean the boyfriend) or a motorised vehicle moves at a junction. The roads are laid out nearly along the sides of some repeated rectangle, which only makes me wonder how Canada could take a shape other than a rectangle. Or probably it is a rectangle fit within the boundaries and all the uncovered portions of the country basically have no roads. In India we keep changing shapes and are very adaptable. Our roads can extend to sidewalks and sometimes over vehicles too. In India, at any given point of time every human in the vicinity and every form of motorised transport will intersect and/or overlap any and every square inch of tarred or untarred road. We seem to believe in effective usage of space. Canadians seem to like to spend their day watching patches of road and imagining their life as a child when they would do the same. Indians can only imagine what a patch of road looks like! If at any point of time we get to see a patch of road for more than a few minutes, we check the news for a curfew! Or we go stand there... BTW, we don't understand what a junction means and we have always thought zebra stripes are simply places where there wasn't enough tar.
Geriatrics: Canada and India agree on one thing: an old woman about to cross the road might take anywhere close to 5 minutes to cover 10 feet. What we do with that information, however, differs. Indians conclude that it is best to drive on as the lady will hardly make it to where the car will cross her path (if she had continued walking). Canadians, on the other hand, assume that she would be repeatedly hit if they budge an inch and hence, stay put till the old lady and her shadow cross the road. Hence, if you are really really old, and do not remember which country you are in, god save you.
Notion of Free: In India, anything that is free will be hoarded till you regret having offered it for free. The time taken for this change of emotion is roughly about 5 secs on a lazy day. Canada probably knows that if it is for free, they definitely don't want it ever or already have tonnes of it. Indians don't usually think that much in 5 secs. Then there is a notion of mutated-free. In India, if no one is watching over their wares (I mean the stuff which is up for sale) then they are inherently free and hence, we will hoard them till you regret not having watched over them. In Canada, they would read the small sign above it which might say something like "$0.99 per piece" and then call the shopkeeper to let him know that they are taking 2 of them. As I said, that is a lot to do in under 5 secs. If a show is on and no clearly visible sign (and Indians have a habit of squinting when they enter a show) exist specifying the cost of the show, then an Indian assumes it is free. A Canadian might assume it is free till they are asked to pay $2.45 per person. Indians, when asked to pay, will make you feel cheap and guilty for having tricked us.
What's in a Hi?: Indians will never say hi to you if they don't know you. If you are a sexy babe (then please write to me on the address given in this blog), an Indian will keep looking at you but still won't say a hi (for various reasons including what if you tie a rakhi around his wrist!!). In Canada, you can say "Hi" to just about anybody on the road. You could say hi to the person who just entered the elevator, to the person who stepped over your shoe as well as the drunk lout in the corner who is mumbling something which you thought was a hi (if you are Canadian, you are always forgiven to have assumed that about drunk louts). Indians will clutch their handbags tightly if you said a hi to them. If you smiled at them while saying that, they will move their children away from you and then when they think they are out of earshot, they will advise their children to study hard and get the first rank in 10th and 12th else they would end up like the mad man they just crossed.
"Son, do you want to grow up and be like him? Saying hi to everyone!? Study Physics properly!"
Canadians will actually have conversations with you about the most random things. I had fun (I am not sure whether I am Canadian or Indian or Zulu. I might be Swedish as I like their women better) with the house-keeping folks who would come over to clean my room. We spoke about their families, their life in Ottawa, where they shopped, whether they had had their lunch and a lot more. I remember chatting with this old lady at the WalMart (South Keys) and she was telling me about her day (I didn't share details of mine as it involved compilation errors and cussing at routers and server configurations). I agree that none of them seemed to be native Canadian and hence, showed traits which are ex-Canadian. Which brings me to the next two points.
Everything's in a hi: In India, once people are friendly enough to say a hi, they will talk about everything. I remember once traveling to Palaghat with an American friend of mine. We were attending a wedding and we decided to travel by train (I always make that decision but to an American, that is an adventurous decision. He also found eating with his hand from a green leaf, an adventure! Americans!!). There was an old gent from interior Andhra Pradesh who was accompanying us. He found our duo interesting enough to talk. In India, it is ok if a really haggard old person talks to you. We respect our elders enough to not clutch our purses and wallets. So he started talking to us (mostly me though he was looking at my friend from top to toe) and within 5 questions (oh! old people only ask questions) he was on the topic of my salary!! He wanted to know how much I earned. I had to be polite while maintaining my personal space so I replied with a "It is highly confidential and we are not supposed to disclose it to anyone". He was unfazed. He turned to my friend and asked him the same question!! :-o My friend was about to say "a few crore rupees" when I shook my head and helped him evade the topic. Point is, a few crore rupees to an Andhraite means "prospective groom" whether or not the other person is married and has kids or not (oh! Indians assume that marriage and kids are unrelated for Americans). I loved my friend's kids and family to let that happen to him. I love him too!! :-) In Canada, that would never happen. When they say "Howdy!?" they expect you to utter a monosyllable and move on (even if you don't utter the word, it is ok, but please move on). To a hardcore Indian, that is a serious question and he might respond with,
"You know, our drain pipe broke today. I have been running all over the place trying to find a plumber but darn rascals are charging me too much. So I had to go to the hardware store to pick up some stuff when I realised that WalMart might be cheaper. Right? And then my wife is returning from her house today so I have to go pick her up. The last thing I wanted was a migraine and... no, no, not my wife but a real migraine. It is so difficult nowadays to juggle..."
Our Canadian might have decided to never ever speak that word again in public! We really mean what we say and assume that others do too. Indians are fairly naive in that sense. A Canadian just said that to mask his burp. He really didn't want to know how you were doing, for Christ's sake!! An Indian always assumes that people around him are concerned about him as much as they are concerned about their own milkman and postman and son (no, no, the postman and son are two different people! Gosh! How Canadian!).
Show me a Canadian: There aren't any! They are either from Ireland or Sweden (aah!) or Germany and settled here for a few generations. Catch an Indian in Patiala and ask him if he is truly Indian. He will first beat the pulp out of you and then answer your question (we always do). He will start counting his ancestors on his fingers, then his toes, then on your fingers (at least the ones he spared) and then on your pretty toes. Then he will give up because there aren't any digits left between the two of you (reuse of digits doesn't occur to the Patiala mind). I remember ambling into a store in Montreal and asking the couple behind the counter for directions to the Antique village (it is called something fancy in French and I said it fast and nasal enough to make it sound French). They started out giving me directions and then brushed all the rights and lefts aside with a "but our antiques might just be yesterday for you. You people must have a history that goes back really long and nothing out there might be antique enough". Honestly, I wasn't asking to be taken to some archeological site. I was plain bored and wanted to go there! Every single person I met and spoke to, has a traceable history to about 3-5 generations. No one is really Canadian in the sense of being sculpted out of the soil of Canada. We can at least talk about some century BC and the like. BC in Canada only means British Columbia and they will immediately start talking about Vancouver and the like (and they get all excited because the winter olympics of 2010 is going to be held there. Indians do not recognise winter olympics)! So it makes sense that the house-keeping folks (who aren't Canadian beyond a generation) still have ex-Canadian traits.
Canadians drink: So do we, we consider water, buttermilk (sweet and salted), tea, coffee, milk, fruit juices, milk shakes, thandais, etc. as drink. Canadians think that beer, whiskey, wine, rum, vodka to be the only drinks and everything else that looks liquid as suspicious!
The only thing Canadians think is to do in a city is visit the pub. I would ask guys what is there to do in Montreal and they would reel out names of pubs and strip clubs!! I ask the same about Ottawa and they stick to that response. I ended up finding tonnes of places in Ottawa which these had vaguely heard of! If a Canadian came to India and asked anyone what to do, we would be more interesting and reel out names of a few hundred temples! If they needed variety, we would name a few old monuments (which were once upon a time, a temple). Other than this, we might recommend malls and botanical gardens and museums and boat rides and a helluva lot more. We won't say "There is Murugan wine shop, and... that's it."
Maple's in their blood: Canadians can't think beyond maple. They have maple leaves, maple tree, maple trunk, maple root, maple butter, maple syrup, maple doughnuts, maple sighs, maple farts,maple everything!! I can't believe the things maple can go into! Their flag has a maple too. We don't put coconut trees and neem trees everywhere. We don't make ever use one single incredient in everything. Think of biriyani flags and biriyani butter, biriyani bunyan!! Rhymes, but urgggh! They never seem to get tired of the maple at all. That surprises me. We would get tired of bigger (banana leaves) and smaller (tea leaves) stuff. Maybe because we have so many things to play with. If all Indians ever had was maple, we would emigrate! We do that anyway.
Curious bunch: Canadians are curious but are told never to stare, so they would ask you weird questions. Like the red mark on my forehead. They would look at it as if it was some alien smoking a joint and then ask, "Do you want some cotton or bandage? Your forehead's bleeding!" I would then have to tell them that I carry marks of every street fight wherever I go, so no thanks. I then offer to show them the other marks, which they politely refuse. At another place, the mark is the result of my head-banging against an OC Transco bus. Stories are endless. In India we don't ask anything like this. We will stare at the mark (we actually wouldn't, because we are used to all kinds of marks from -5 to 105/100) if it is really weird (and you have to try hard to stun an Indian; bikinis are a sure success) and then call everyone to see it. We would then reach out to touch it and then recoil in shock and then laugh at it. We would then follow you all over the place. We will call you a spoilt-sport if you wipe it off and then follow you for being a spoilt-sport.
A lot more could be said, but are best savoured by spending a few months here and a few months there. If you have a job which allows you that, gimme your contact information!