The housekeeper noticed that our Thanksgiving guest took back the salad that she had brought. She asked, “Is that the American custom?” I told her that it doesn’t mean anything bad for Americans. I told her that I offered to make the guest a to-go plate but she insisted on taking what she wanted. I said that was fine because if I made her a plate she might throw away the stuff she didn’t want to eat, so this way she got everything that would be useful for her and nothing gets wasted. I said I know this looks weird to desi people, but to me it doesn’t matter. We don’t have the same rules for formalities, not that we don’t have formalities, it’s just that our rules are different. She said “yep, well in India the guest should leave her dish and be offered a plate to take home and you should make the plate.” “Yep, I know.” I said. “If you did what your guest did for Indians you would seem like a cheapo,” she said. The housekeeper was weirded out by my American guest and my behavior.
So later I told my husband. I said, the housekeeper was weirded out that our guest took her salad back. And also that she made her own to-go plate. “Yes, American thinking.” He said it in kind of a pejorative way. “Think about yourself and only take what you want.” I said, “That’s good, what’s wrong with that? I know my friend diets all the time and she probably would have thrown away everything else. So what she took was what was useful for her.” “Yes, they only do what is useful for them.” he says.
I just remained silent. That was an indirect barb. Why does he have to pick on my culture? I have some negative impressions of some desi stuff, but I see it in the big picture as being part of a cultural context and fitting in there. I don’t whine about it to my husband. I never mention it actually. (although I do blog about it sometimes, I guess) But I never criticize him for it. I mean, it is HIS culture. Why should I pick on him? So why does he have to pick on me? I am kind of irritated by that. I know Americans look kind of ungenerous, or you could say stingy, compared to people from cultures which highly value displays of generosity to guests. It is just a different concept of what “making someone feel at home” means when they are a guest in your home. Some stuff desis do looks pretty weird or inappropriate to me, too through American eyes. I mean, it is all culturally relative. One way is not better than the other. There are just different ways of doing things which are appropriate in their specific contexts.
I think he is very “Westernized,” but some stuff about him is very desi. I am very very American in my thinking and manners. I think I have picked up some of the Pakistani hospitality stuff, but to tell you the truth, it isn’t the real me. It is mostly forced and fake. I just do it to seem like less of a space alien to any desis who come over. I mean, I AM a foreigner. I think my manners have gotten more generous over the years. But I am still an American at the core (I am not saying that Americans aren’t generous, but the way we treat guests would be considered to be lacking outside of our cultural boundaries). Why should I give someone a plate full of food that she won’t eat? I’ll just let her take what she wants. And I seriously did not think twice that she took her salad back until the housekeeper mentioned it to me. And I just hate that my husband uses stuff like that to sort of indirectly put me down cuz I know he wishes I could behave more “desi” in that respect. Sigh.