When I was a fresh off the boat desi, I was quite amused by the friendliness of americans in spite of being perfect strangers. They would smile at you, comment on the weather, hurriedly enquire on how you were doing as they jogged past you on the sidewalk. In stark contrast, I noticed that desis just saw right through you – as if you did’nt exist. Unlike now, at that point of time I was quite oblivious to the ins and outs of desi behaviour in the US. But soon enough, I learnt to be stone-faced when I faced other desis and appear friendly to non-desis. Asian (not south asian) people are an exception here, and due to my limited knowledge of their characteristics, I am quite unable to explain their reason for being stone-faced.
Indian stone-facedness has a reason. I learnt it the hard way. During the first one or two months in the US, I seemed to fall victim more than once to the uncharacteristicly stranger-desi-friendly desis. The first time, my friend A (who had been around 3 years and still didn’t know) and I were at Kohl’s looking around. A desi lady and her 5 year old daughter commented on how pretty my red embroidered kurti was and got to talking about which part of India etc.. etc.. In my over-enthusiasm to make new friends, I was very happy to exchange numbers with her. In a week, she called me and enquired if I would be interested in making more money on the internet. I pressed for more details and was surprised to see that no further information was forthcoming. I told her I would talk to my husband and get back, and when I told him, he told me this was one of those Amway kind of schemes. I was never interested in that kind of thing and so the next time she called, I politely declined saying I had found a job and didn’t have time. But, this lesson was not enough. In a few weeks, I saw a desi lady at Sams club with her twin little boys. The kids were so cute, that I was watching them and (by mistake) returned the mother’s smile. That was an invitation for her to trap me. She came over spoke very sweetly, said she was working in the IT industry in downtown Chicago, and commented on how her sister had the same name as me, etc.. The fact that she was in the IT industry somehow convinced me that she wasn’t one of those marketing types, so I gladly gave her my phone number when she asked. Soon enough she called me and asked if I was interested in trying out some beauty products and that her friend was going to display it at her home etc. Should have know it’s one of those Avon marketing schemes. So I told her right away that I wasnt interested in any of these marketing schemes. Since then, I’ve been really careful not to appear like I have any interest in desis around me, and I’ve learnt to put on my best stone-face when I see them. Our latest experience was however hard to avoid. The couple out of nowhere called out loudly “Madrasaaa?” at JCPenney and eagerly told us what they do and spoke to my daughter as if they were her ‘god parents’. My husband and I knew something was fishy but because we didn’t want to snub them, gave them our phone number, but we have been careful since then not to pick up their call. After all the conversation did end with “I will get in touch with you, my friend is doing some market research, so you might be able to help”.
Unfortunately, we could end up being really rude to the genuinely friendly people. We almost did that to one couple (P & S) who wanted to talk to us because they had just moved to our apartment community and hadn’t found any indians around. Fortunately, they were quite persistent and we soon found that they had no evil intentions. They are now very good friends of ours.
So much for kinship..