Tuesday, October 2, 2012
I've noticed there are certain phrases that I use that aren't as familiar here in India as they are in the United States, and on many occasions garner me confused or amused looks from those I come in contact with.

This phenomenon was expected. In fact, one of my most-enjoyed twitter hashtags (the twitter trending list is based on geography, so I see India trends) was a list of Indian sayings that didn't translate properly to English. It stands to reason there are a few American sayings that, without the context of culture, probably seem downright weird.

But the word I've had the most trouble with is WHY?

"Why?" do you ask? (Sorry, the smart humor took a break today.) The answer to this question is "I'm not sure."

I'd mentioned before the issues we've had with getting a reliable internet connection. Well, when one of our lines went down and stayed down for more than a week, we took the plunge and called the DSL company. He went through the usual explanation that our wires were being crossed in the wall, and it was causing one of our lines not to work.

Before, this reason made sense to me. But since we've had an electrician replace ALL of the wires in our flat with new, AND both DSL lines were working properly - together - for over two months, I didn't understand how this wiring issue comes and goes.

Now don't get me wrong - I'm not in any sense an electrician  - I'm not questioning the fact that this may indeed be the real reason for our issues, but when I asked why this is a problem now but it wasn't two months ago, I was hoping the technician could explain the problem to me.

He couldn't. In fact, I'm not sure he understood my question. (And for the record, he spoke excellent English)

I tried to rephrase the why into a how, but that didn't help either.

The DSL company isn't the only group who I've had this problem with.

When my parents visited India, my mother and father took my children down to the swimming pool. They were dressed in the same swimwear they've always worn since our move here - swim trunks and a shirt bought in the US.

But today, the security guard decided their outfits were not proper swimming costumes. My mother asked the same question of the guard: WHY? Why were these okay for the first year and a half we've lived here, but not now? What has changed that makes these improper?

She received another blank stare and a request that my boys change their suits.

To be honest, I'm really confused by this. Is this cultural?

At the arcade we take the boys to regularly, they suddenly wanted me to sign a book every time I refilled the game card, every time I turned in tickets, and every time I exchanged tickets for prizes. Just out of curiosity, I wondered why they needed this information when it was also collected by the cash register. I asked, and I received another blank stare?

I've noticed that generally Indians do not like telling someone no, and on several occasions this has led to frustration on my part, not because I need to hear a yes, but I need to know one way or another so I can plan for it. To the taxi - "Will you be able to pick me up at X o'clock?" If the answer is no, that's perfectly fine. What time is better?

Is the "why?" question another form of this? Are the people I'm speaking with afraid that an explanation of the reasons behind a decision will make me angry?

My answer to this is "no". The great majority of the time, I'm simply trying to gather information so I can decide what needs to be done.

My only theory on this is how primary and secondary schools are run in the US. In the younger grades, there are a lot of things that simply must be learned by rote: the alphabet, multiplication tables, etc. But even from an early age, children are taught to problem solve: "Uh oh, Mr. Bear is stuck. What should he do?"

Maybe Indian schools are not formatted this way. I of course do not know this for sure, as we are homeschooling our children. Jason has mentioned this is one thing he has really started focusing on in his job interviews with new employees, and he'll readily admit that the ability to problem solve is second in importance only to the potential hire's English language skills.

So what is it we are doing wrong? Why do people here avoid answering this question? Is it because they don't know the answer? Or because my tone suggests I'm angry? I'd love to hear your thoughts, because I feel as if I am insulting them by asking this question, and it is the last thing I want to do.


Anonymous said...

Tone sounds angry, they dont want to get in an altercation with a firnagi.

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