Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Cultural Difference

After grad life, now working in a company most of time with Americans, staying with an American family, using public transport daily has brought me more close to the American culture, the western way of thinking. There are still many things to imbibe, but some cultural differences between us and these western people are prominent.

Independence, thanks to technology, is what is seen in every American. And now I realize it has many shades. Every person, be a man or a woman, a kid or an old one, a fit or a disabled, can live his entire life on his own. Buses have ramps for disabled to get in, traffic light ped crossings have radio records for blind to help cross, every house has a garage and tools to fix their own vehicle, and internet is everywhere; these people hardly feel a need to interact. Every person has an i-gadget in his ear, a kindle in his hands and a smart phone with data plan activated. They hardly care to come out of their world.

Good thing is you are independent. You don't need anyone to help you do your daily chores. You are free. No one would care if you do stupid dancing on roads or if you kiss your girlfriend at the train station. You don't need to ask around if you are lost, you will have a GPS or an i-phone to see directions. But.. it disconnects people. This disconnects families. A father thinks his son has to leave his house when he is 16 as he thinks "his mother still feeds his a** and after he leaves my house I would spend that money to buy a Porsche" And a kid thinks "I don't have to stay with them, I earn, I have money, and a girlfriend, I can afford to rent a place. So why should I rely on them!" As a result, kids stay with their girlfriend(s), and old people are transferred to old age homes. But there is no regret as nothing changes in their lives, they have all the tools to live their life independently and happily (?).

In contrast, we have grown in a culture where we stay together. We are emotionally attached and kids feel a sense of responsibility towards their parents. The culture in which we are brought up, we tend to take care of our parents when they grow old. When I communicated these thoughts with a fellow American, he was surprised, and felt great about the culture in which people are brought up a few thousand miles far.

I am surprised when I see that every American can fix his car in his house, and does not have to go to a garage. Come to think of it, it’s due to high labor charges here. If they quote me $50 to fix brakes on my $80 bike, I would refer to google and fix it myself. On the other hand, I will easily give Rs5 to a Puncturewala in Pune and get my punctured tire fixed. These guys are surprised when I tell them we have a doodhwala that brings us milk every morning, we have a maid that daily comes and cleans the house and even when I tell that we get the newspaper in hardcopy. They are used to read e-versions.

Within a family everything is "ours" in India whereas here, its "mine" or "yours". The other day I was talking to a collogue during lunch and said "in my house back in India.....". He was surprised and asked me if I owned a house! People here always distinguish between "my house" and "my dad's house". Similarly, within a house, its "my car" and "my dad's car" where as in India its "our car". These people respect privacy to such an extent that my landlady asks her mom for permission to use her car, or to put a couple of her clothes in a washing machine with her mom's.

There are so many more things. But the bottom line is, is it solely the technology and infrastructure that has facilitated this upbringing? With technological advances in India, will we see an Americanized India in a few decades? I hope we consciously imbibe all the positive aspects of technological advances, keeping our emotional attachment, and our strong cultural values intact.


  1. Tejas, its a coincidence that this was the topic me and my friend were discussing yesterday sitting in Starbucks...we had almost similar views as the one you have written.

  2. :) good to hear.. yaa.. many times unconsciously when i compare with the way we are brought up.. i realize how different this society is

  3. Hey Even I have very similar experiences in a short period of time. Sometimes its very annoying for me... I don't why.. May be I an still not used to it. Hey but very well written and I think its the responsibility of our generation not to bring the 'negatives' to our culture.

  4. thanks :) and u r correct.. esp when we have lived in this culture for a few years we know to what extent we should "westernize" ourselves.

  5. I think the family connection varies. It's not always that parents want their kids to leave asap. I know many Americans who are still close to their parents.

    Agreed that technology disconnect people and I don't like it. Maybe that's why i still have a crappy phone so I need to ask for directions. And I read a magazine instead of listening to music on the train, it leaves room for conversation.

    As far as labor costs go, in India a blue collar worker is in the lower class. Here he is (Was?) in the middle class.

  6. We must learn to pick up good things (independance, self-labour for small works and much more) and bring them to our life. And that will be the key :)

  7. Nice post Shafiq, very well said in a limited number of words.
    Regarding technology, I feel it does not always disconnect can bring people closer as well..ex. facebook got me many of lost frnds back which would have been very difficult say 10 yrs back..but yes, as is observed by many that the child keeps facebooking n forgets to interact with pros+cons as u rightly said :)

  8. @danny: yes.. even i know some ppl who want to stay with their parents and some parents tht feel their kids should be with them

  9. @sagar: yes true, esp in this age when friends are miles apart things like fb come in handy.. but.. yaar parking madhe gadyanvar kinva kattyavar basun gappa marnyat ji maja ahe tyala koni beat nai karu shakat.. theres is a personal touch in that which can never be experienced by "liking" a comment or poking some1 on fb :) and these ppl i feel have missed that fun while growing up

  10. A point to ponder:

    I feel that western countries success in technology has something to do with their culture ! I feel it's the work ethic and the responsibility they have towards work. I think these attributes must have come because they are independent. As you have rightly mentioned most of the people here start living independently at age of 16 and this must have cultivated the feeling of responsibility in them in such early age. On contrary we in our country are dependent on our parents and as a result we feel less responsible and this reflects in our work ethic.

  11. Independence was the basic foundation on which entire America was built.And now its fundamental values are being stretched to the extreme. Even a good habit become bad when over-practiced.
    Independence when stretched becomes isolation... Every typical American is an island connected to the rest of the world through his i-gadget.
    As you say, a wise balance of technical advances and a humane heart is necessary for....not just the US or India but the entire global culture...
    very intriguing post!

  12. @anujna.. very well said anujna.. independence when stretched becomes isolation!

    As Thota said above, we should imbibe the work culture from these people, the mindset to approach a particular problem, the eagerness to own a particular responsibility.. but.. should not be slaves to gadgets and automation! which might lead to a mechanistic, unemotional lifestyle!

  13. You know... It developed a curiosity in me as to how and when was this sense of "PRIVACY" instilled in the minds of Americans. And same question applies to us. Where did this all began ??