Culture varies from one country to another. Sometimes it is important to know the principles of other countries so that we can appreciate our traditional differences. America is a country with people of different nationalities, thus there is cultural diversity. Therefore, it is important to have a sneak peek into other peoples' way of life to enable us to appreciate one another. The following interview is from an Indian woman who moved into the country at the age of 15 years. Through her responses, we shall learn about the differences between American and Indian culture.
What is your name and when did you come to the United States?
My name is AnitaSahana. I am 32 years old. I was born in India in a city called Kolkata. I moved to America together with my parents and my brotherin the year 2001. My father had secured a job in one of the restaurants in California. I have lived in the U.S most of my time because I was only 15 years and my brother was 10 years old when we movedto this beautiful country.
Where did you live when you first arrived?
When we arrived in the United States, we lived in Los Angeles where my father worked as a chef in the El Royale Hotel. Life in the neighborhood was quite conservative. There was no visiting of neighbors without communication. It was not the way we were used to in India wherebypeoplecould visit each other without a notification. People lived as a community in our homeland. In 2006, my father secured another job in New York Cityin an Indian hotel called Tamarind- Tribeca as a senior chef.
What were some of the challenges for you in making the transition to your new life?
Honestly, the transition was not easy. Everything seemed to be different from the kind of life I was used to while living in India. First, we had the problem with adjusting to the kind of foods, the dressing code, and how people relate with the one another. InIndia,we were used to a communal kind of life, which is different from individualized kind of life here in the U.S. Americanpeople mind their own business with little to no socialization with one another.
My brother and I had difficulty in embracing the new dressing code. In India, women dress in decent clothes to ensure that they have covered the knees, cleavage, upper arms, midriff and shoulders. In America, I found that people dress in an informal way. A woman can put on jeans and short tops without attracting criticism from other people. While in college, I would receive backlash from my classmates who had a different view of my dressing code. They would rarely inviteme to parties because they thought my dressing style was awkward. For a few friends that would invite me, they had to specify the type of clothes I should wear.
The foods in the United States were different from the ones that we were used to. In our homeland, we would eat food with much curry as compared to America where the food had minimal spice. For example, my brother and I were used to eating alootikki, which is an Indian potato Pancakes withspices. My mother could not find the ingredients for preparing the potatoes and we would eat Hash brown as a substitute. With time we got used to American foods. Once in a while, I would pass by the restaurant to eat American cuisines.
How did you learn English?
Learning English was not difficult. Before moving to the United States, we would learn English in school as a foreign language. Also, people in Kolkata could speak English as Lingua Franca. Though I wasn't fluent when we moved to America, my dad hired a private teacher who would teach my brother how to speak fluent English. This affected our school attendance. We stayed for one year before resuming our studies in the new country becauseall the schools in the U.S teach their curriculum in English as compared to the schools in India where the curriculum is taught in Hindi. By the time were moving from California to New York, we could speak English fluently.
How does American culture differ from your native culture?
There is a big difference between American culture and Indian culture. The two countries contrast in the rituals, religions, foods, language, and the types of clothes. Indians practice religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. On the other hand, I have learned that the main religions that Americans practice are Christianity and Catholicism. The good thing with America is the freedom of worship. There are a few temples in the United States where Indian people go for worship.
There are also differences in the family structure.In India, there is a custom of members of the extended family live together. Usually, the eldest man among the family is the head of the household and makes the important decisions and sets rules for other family members to follow. This is not the case with American people. According to my observation, most families are nuclear, whereby there is a father, a mother, and their biological children. Both a man and woman can make family decisions. Another difference concerning the family is that in India, every person is has a close attachment with his/her family. Individuals hold a high regard and care for the family than themselves. What I have learned throughout my stay in the U.S is that people have fewer attachments with their families hence children can leave their parents'houses when they reach 18 years old.
Indian people are against wearing of short, tight clothing that exposes the skin. Indian clothes are mostly made of cotton and bright colors. The reason for making clothes with cotton materials is due to the hot weather. The bright clothes, especially for women are, accompanied by accessories made from gold and silver. On the other hand, most Americans wear informal clothing. People are free to wear what they want. Women can wear short and tight dresses, trousers and tops that expose cleavage, shoulders, and arms.
Indian culture and American culture differ in their view of marriage. In India, there is a preference for arranged marriage. The parents decide for their children whom to marry. Some of them are betrothed to each at a younger age, unlikeAmericans who prefer the love marriage. American people havethe freedom to choose who to marry.
Do you still feel connected to your original culture? If so, what do you do to maintain that connection or identity?
Definitely yes. It is very difficult to disconnect an individual from his/her culture. My parents enabled me together with my brother to connect to our culture. We go to the temple to worship as usual. My mother cooks for us the same food she cooked in India, although sometimes she would make American cuisine like chicken pie. I personally travel to India once in two years to visit members of my extended family which reminds me of the family connections. We perform religious rituals and observe ceremonies like Holi, Dusshera, and Diwali. Even after moving out of my parents' house, I visit them more often whereby we celebrate our religious ceremonies together.I still maintain my dressing depending on the occasion. When attending religious festivals, I the bright clothes and jewelry making sure that I do not expose any skin.
How would you describe America to people in your country?
As I mentioned earlier, I usually travel back to India to visit members of my family. When I arrive, I cannot sleep due to numerous questions that people ask me concerning America.They have the curiosity to know more about America as some of them have not visited the superpower country. The first thing I told them about the United States is diversity. America is a place where every person receives acceptance regardless of their religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, and nationality.
In addition, I would describe America as a country with democracy. American people have freedom of choosing leaders. You can vote for the president, representative, and senators of your choice.You can wear a strapless top without getting any judgment from people. The citizens are free to express themselves.
Do you have any particular good or bad memories of home?
I have memories of both good and bad. The good involves religious festivals. We would come together as a family to celebrate important days like Christmas, a wedding ceremony of any member of the extended family. During the festivals, we would exchange gifts.It is a taboo to give black or white gifts because black means anger and evil, while white is reserved for funeral and mourning. Blue, red and green are the colors that people prefer for a gift or wrappings. I miss instances where when you are unwell every member of the family would get worried and they would take care of you collectively. I miss those original spices used to make food. I am not saying that we don't have spices in America, but theones available are substitutes to the original spices we were used to while still living in India.
The bad memory that I have about my country is the gender imbalance. Women are viewed as inferior whereby they cannot make any decision. There are fewer literate women compared to the women in the United States. Women are portrayed as sex symbols. There are a high rate of rape cases and most women do not get justice. The perpetrators of rape often go scot-free. The worst memory I have is when my cousin was sexually assaulted and could not get justice because the judicial systems ignore women. It is not like in America where there is fairness for all. I mostly shed tears when I remember the torture that my cousin went through in the hands of a rapist.
What special events did you celebrate in your native country?
India is like any other country which performs a number of celebrations both religious and secular. There is a Republic Day which natives celebrate on 26th January of each year. Another celebrationisIndependence Day which is held on 15th August. Another festival is Gandhi Jayanti similarly known as Mahatma Gandhi's birthday performed on 2nd October. As I mentioned earlier, there are also religious ceremonies like Diwali and Holi. Indians celebrate Diwali on October or November. The Holi celebration is on March to celebrate spring.
What are your hopes for the future?
I hope to continue living in America. My children will be born here. I hope one day that India will start to recognize women as equally important as men. I will advocate for women rights to ensure that each girl receives a formal education that will enable them to have self- independence. I also hope to get married without my parents' choice for a marriage partner. I really appreciate our culture back home but the Indian people need to change their perception about women. Thank you for hosting me.
In conclusion, American culture has many differences with the Indian culture. The most notable difference is the dressing code. Women in America have the liberty to wear any clothes they want. The American women are also advantaged in terms of getting a formal education. Women in America are in employment whereby they equally provide for the family. That is not the case for Indians as the man is the sole provider for the family. The custom that Americans can change is the clothing style. They can emulate from Indians who prefer women covering their bodies. Lastly, we should learn to appreciate every individual culture as each culture is unique.
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