The stereotypes of Western women in India can be summarised in a single conversation I had with a young man at wedding, in a very small city a while ago. This guy was studying with the intention of someday leaving India and continuing his education in America. A place which is, he kindly pointed out to me, far better than London.
The assumptions and stereotypes of Western woman in India are largely based on what people see in Hollywood movies. We shouldn’t assume real life is the same as movies. I have been living in India for three years now and, unfortunately, I have never been involved in a spontaneous yet perfectly choreographed song and Bollywood dance (and I was really looking forward to that).
It all started with him offering to go out and get me a sandwich because he assumed I couldn’t eat anything from the vast buffet of Indian food. It was really sweet of him, I reassured him that there was plenty of food I could eat here and it wasn’t necessary. I actually enjoy Indian food, this surprised him.
An hour or so later, this young man came and spoke to me again. My husband had to help the groom prepare something, so he took this opportunity to pull up a couple of chairs and ask me questions. I didn’t mind, I could tell how much he wanted to talk to me, I like speaking to people from a cultures I have never experienced too. Then, he did most of the talking.
“If I went to London and I spoke to a foreign girl, would people come and beat me because I am Indian?”. I replied with, “it depends on what you said”, but the joke was lost on him and he starred at me in all seriousness. I assured him that London is very multicultural, hundreds of thousands of Indians live there, and no one would beat him for simply speaking to a girl.
“Do you have a lot of boyfriends waiting in London?”. No!
“In London do you wear mini skirts and all these things?” No, I am extremely self conscious about my thighs, so that’s not for me…
He did not realise from body language and facial expressions that he was asking really inappropriate questions.
“Will you divorce your husband?”. To that, I was speechless but way past being offended. He then tried to tell me that I wouldn’t be able to live in India permanently, because it’s impossible as life in London is very easy. For someone who had never left India, he had a very strong opinions on what life was life on the other side of the world.
“What was the hardest time in your life?”. I was left speechless again. A small crowd had started to gather around us, some taking photographs. “In India we have a very hard life but in London and America, it’s very easy, so that is why I want to know”. I can’t remember what I ended up saying, I was in a shocked stupor, looking around to see where my husband may have got to.
“How can you talk to your husband if you can’t speak Hindi?”. I explained that my husband can speak English very well so we don’t have a language barrier, he lived in America for a couple of years so he can relate to the cultural differences. With that the young man was off like a flash to look for my husband and ask him how to get to America, and why he didn’t want to stay there.
This guy was very young, excitable, and from a small city, even smaller than Nagpur. I would say that it’s not very common for people to say things like this to me. I receive some snide remarks occasionally, usually saying that Western women have no emotions (well, hello?), but most people I meet are interested to learn more about Western life, how I came to be here and happy that we chose to settle down in India.
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