I wonder why

One of the things that I observed while I was abroad was that total strangers smile and greet each other. And I remember how nice it made me feel. I know, it is a common gesture to say “Hi. How are you doing?”, but along with a smile, it makes a big difference in your day. When I had left Indian shores, I had made a conscious decision to be a lot more friendly than usual. I am one of those naturally restrained people, and I never make the first move at being friendly. It is not that I am snobbish, neither is it that I dont like people. I love meeting people; it just that I have never made a conscious effort to well..be nice.

This time I was determined to be more open. I was grininng at anybody and everybody. The first day it felt weird, but afterwards it seemed so natural to smile. Of course it helped that most people responded. And I felt great.It was as if I had rid myself of a cloak of restraint, and I was free to converse with anybody.I met people from different walks of life and I had a great time talking with all of them.

Back here, I coudnt help but notice that we dont smile as much. Neither are we friendly. I was discussing this with my roomies and it turned out to be a major argument. I was making excuses such as..We are an underdeveloped country with a lot of problems, and that we dont have much to smile about. But is that really an excuse? One of my roomies was talking about how Indians jump queues at department stores, break traffic rules all the time, rush into trains clambering over each other without any concern for life.
I wondered if it was because we have a scarcity of everything, that we have got into the habit of rushing and grabbing stuff. Somewhere down in this mad rush, maybe we have forgotten about being civil to each other.

My roomies said that it was not really an excuse. And maybe it is not. I get out of home, and I find the watchman sulking. Everyday I get into a bus with a grumpy conductor who makes it looks as I have committed a crime by just stepping into the bus. Most days I have to fight with the auto rickshaw driver because he thinks he can charge me extra because I stay I km away from Koramanagala. Walk along Brigades and I find people jostling each other – and nobody says sorry when they have stepped on your toe. If I dont have change at Nilgiris, they ask me to come back and turn to the next customer without an apologetic glance. What is wrong with us? I mean arent we supposed to have the best culture in the world. People say Indians are so friendly – so why cant I see it? I suppose this is kind of like an urban phenomenon and I guess it is better in small towns. I know it is a lot better in Kerala. Get into an auto in Cochin and they will ask you where you are coming from, what do you do and stuff like that. Makes you feel you are coming home.

One of my roomies said that the basic reason for this is lack of respect for each other as humans. My other roomie said that it was because Indians have an attitude where they dont think that being rude is disrepectful. I thought that it was because in our rush for a propserous life we have forgotten about the small things that make life better. I guess the first factors also have had an impact.

But it is time we started being more open. Being nice doesnt take much effort, and it makes a tremendous impact. I know that I felt so much less lonely and so much more comfortable in a foreign country because people were nice. Oh they didnt do much – just smiled a lot, made way for me in the queue when I was just buying one two-dollar purchase, took me around when I was lost, showed a lot of concern when my tickets were messed up. Isnt it time my countrymen did the same?

11 comments for “I wonder why

  1. Anonymous
    July 7, 2004 at 12:33 am

    So are you back from the US?

    So are you back from the US?

    • July 7, 2004 at 5:12 am

      Re: So are you back from the US?

      My last trip was to the US. Before that I have travelled to Australia. But I must admit that people in Australia were not that friendly.

  2. July 9, 2004 at 8:05 am

    Well, i visited Valencia recently, and the Spaniards behaved similarly to how Indians do – most of the people returned my smile with a stare. And yet just like Indians, they have a reputation for being friendly.

    In U.K and Germany, on the other hand, strangers do greet each other with a smile, and it’s nice. But the reputation of people from these countries is that of reserved people.

    Contradiction? Yes and no – this form of friendliness is more a form of politeness, and when in real need, you may well find a higher percentage of helpful people in India, Spain etc …….. a combo of the two would be ideal, and at least people like us who’ve experienced the nice aspect of both kinds of cultures should endeavour to behave thus 🙂

    And yes, the churlishness of the people you come across on a day to day basis is indeed related to their lives as well – it’s far easier to be cheerful when you aren’t struggling to make ends meet!

    • July 19, 2004 at 6:12 am

      Yes that is true. I know a lot of times, people who seem to be quite unfriendly might help you when there is an emergency.

      It is just that it would be nice to see both form of friendliness:) And while, there are a lot of people in our country who dont have much to smile about, there are lots of people who can afford to, but dont have the inclination to. An example would be an office. My organization is a huge one, but people in different groups dont smile or say hi to each other. Or take an example of any fun place you visit. A coffee shop, a bowling alley, or even a pub. While people seem to be having fun in individual groups, nobody looks at each other and smiles. At least not often. And since it is not part of the culture, if somebody is a little friendly, it is often taken to be a pass:)

      I know, it sounds a little corny:), but it does make a big difference to see smiling faces around you.

      • July 19, 2004 at 9:45 am

        No, i don’t think it sounds corny, as i said, i too feel it’s great to have both kinds of friendliness, and a smile usually does make one feel nice.

        Just last week, one such smile inspired me to make a little rhyme 🙂

  3. July 14, 2004 at 10:12 pm

    Its reallly nice to see people smiling at you and greeting on you, when you walk out. It has blown me also out when I first landed there. It opens up your morning. You feel lighter. You feel a brighter day. But over a period of time, I started feeling no difference at all. I asked myself, WHY?. And I realised its just my attitude to the same sitauation what makes the difference. Over a period of time, such smiles and greetigns, seemed to me as somethign that is a routine. So at time, when I am not really relaxed, the greetings or smile didnt make any difference in me.So the key is to be with myself, totally relaxed.

    So what matters is in what stage we are in. Here in india, people are not friendly and smiling when you meet them at first. But just exchange of one or two words, just offering a friendly space, sometiems just a smile will make us also flow out into a good friend with a total stranger. While in auto, you talk to him in the language you know. They will tell you a lot of stories. In bus you smile at the conductor, they will smile you back, or at least they wont put a grudgy face. The point is to keep your smile for yourself. 🙂

    I will retire, But one of my experience more. It was a saturday evening in 2000 November. I had just moved to Bangalore. I had the image of a “snobish”, “hash push” Bangalroe where I cannot belong to. I was in a lazy tired mood. I was waiting outside the citibank ATM at CMH Road in IndiraNagar for my friend who went inside the ATM. There was this small girl, may be 5-6 yrs who was selling jasmine garlands. Then a lady, may be in her 30s was coming out from the ATM and this small girl approached her with the flowers. The lady bought some flowers and while giving money she was smiling at this kid. The smile, I cannot add any adjectives. It was the smile from a self to itself. What I was seeing was, the young girls face blossoming in another smile. I felt, my evening, my mind and my self was also blossoming seeing this. Even now, after these long years, still I cherish that evening and I wish I could smile once like that.

    So Smile :-), for ourselves 🙂

    • July 19, 2004 at 6:34 am

      I understand that their smiles are like a form of politeness. And I also agree that you need to smile for yourself. When you are happy and when you with peace with yourself:)

      But I also think smiles and laughter make a big difference in this world. Whether it is for yourself or for others. Often, yes, you are being polite when you smile at somebody. But when the smile ceases to be an effort, and comes naturally, it makes the other person respond to the warmth. Of course, it can get into a routine, and routine palls. But isnt it nice to see faces full of warmth, rather than grouchy sulky faces?

      And yes, there are a lot of instances of friendly behaviour in India:) But it is sad to see that such friendly behaviour is not the norm, at least in urban areas. I comes across a lot of conductors and rickshawallas who are downright rude and offensive, and I have been using the public transport system in Blore for four years now. And it really does spoil my day when I have a fight with conductor early morning.

      Having said, I understand what you mean:) I just feel that we can make a little effort to be nice and warm towards others. After a while, it is no longer an effort. And you just feel happier. And as you said, maybe it would be like smiling for ourselves:)
      And if makes another person feel warmer, all the more better:)

      • July 19, 2004 at 10:43 pm

        We need not put an effort to smile :-). Do we have to? What stops us from smiling. Our worries, botherations, plans…Isnt it? We are not open ourselves to the world inside and outside. We are in a hurry, not having enough time even for a deep breath

        I also feel a lot of problems with ricshawdrivers. Not just we. Eevry one in Bangalore. HAHAHAH.. If a person comes from Chenai to bangalore, he will say that the rickshaw people in bangalore are angels :-)….So I stop complaining about them 🙂

        See one way to get rid of your fights with rickshaw drivers is not to go with an expectation of a fight 🙂 Try this.

        by the way may I add you as my friend?

        • July 25, 2004 at 11:33 am

          See one way to get rid of your fights with rickshaw drivers is not to go with an expectation of a fight 🙂 Try this.

          well I will definitely give it a try:) and yes, of course you can add me as a friend.

  4. August 16, 2004 at 9:49 pm

    I totally love your writing..I’m adding you to my friends list 🙂
    and yes..I know what you mean..we Indians are just not as friendly as we should be..but then its a small town big town thing..
    bombay and bangalore are just like new york I guess..
    but then hey..when you faint in a bombay train…people DO fuss over you..
    infact ..reminds me of the time I was in great pain (it was that time of the month)
    and some women in the train actually pressed my legs and made me lie down.
    I wouldn’t see that happening on a nyc subway…
    oh wait,
    maybe they’d have called 911

    • August 17, 2004 at 12:36 am

      Thank you:) Adding you too.

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