Why is Indian culture so insular?


At my University there are lots of student postings with Roomate Wanted on them. With many, I see the gender specified which I can understand somewhat (although I’ve never been too choosy with this) as regards to one’s comfort level. What baffles me, however, are the ones that specify ethnicity as well! The only ones I see for this are from Indians. So the posting will read either male or famale Indian wanted.

Now I know this is not true 100% of the time. I myself lived with a couple of girls from Tamil (South Indian) for a while.

This attitude baffles me though. Part of me wants to cross out the word Indian and write on it “Whites only” just for kicks (joke)…

Also, I realize that other cultures have a tendency to “stick together”. Probably most. I’m just surprised that some are that *open * about it. Any thoughts?

My first take on this? The mindset of “I want a roommate who won’t bitch about the smell of curry.”

Where’s your uni located? Do Indian students tend to be recent immigrants (meaning language could be a problem)? If not, yeah, that seems a little odd. Most people are happy with a sane, responsible roomie.

It’s a caste thing. You wouldn’t understand.

I’m not Indian, but I’ve lived in India, married Indian, I’ve taken part in the culture for years and learned to adapt. Castes have requirements of personal cleanliness that Americans are oblivious of, and maybe they feel it would be unfair to Americans to make them learn all the rules needed to keep Hindus from feeling icked out. Or just too much trouble to explain everything. Americans wear shoes indoors. They bring beef into the dorm rooms in the form of pizza topping and slim jims (or in the case of Muslims, pork in the form of peperoni). Don’t even get me started on bathroom habits. You might be dismayed to learn how gross we appear in their eyes. Lots of Indians take on American habits (and get hassled about it when visiting relatives in India), but then again lots of them do keep to their traditions over here.

Where’s your uni located? Do Indian students tend to be recent immigrants (meaning language could be a problem)? If not, yeah, that seems a little odd. Most people are happy with a sane, responsible roomie.

I don’t think it’s always what Johanna says! In my case it would have been because my parents would have been very very disapproving if I lived with a non-Indian, and they were paying at the time, so…you see.

It also helps if you have someone who doesn’t complain about the smell of Indian food, as Cat Fight says. (Curry is not truly an Indian dish.)

And I, and most of the other kids from my community, were heavily encouraged to have Indian friends, to do Indian stuff, to see only Indian people. And those that were allowed to date, date only Indian.

(No, I don’t like it, and quit it as soon as I was out from my parents’ roof.)

Please explain. I promise I won’t be offended–this is the kind of thing we Canadians need to know in an international world.

I’m fascinated by Johanna’s post though!

To avoid hijacking this thread, I’ve started one in GQ asking more, and would love if anyone who knows more can help me out.

I think this simulpost proves that we Canadians are either really concerned about the culture of others and worried about offending, or are really nosy. :slight_smile:

But I think you still haven’t answered the question…even if the kids don’t necessarily agree with it, why do the parents want it that way?

How could I possibly answer for everyone? But in my case, it was because my parents didn’t want me to become too Americanized. They expected I would always have Indian friends, eventually marry an Indian man, have little Indian children, and in every way follow the culture exactly.

Now even Indian kids who marry into their own culture and have kids don’t follow their parents’ way exactly, right? Everyone makes accomodations and everyone is different from their parents. But most parents shake their heads and eventually realize “she’s my kid, not my slave” and back off as long as they are following the big rules (religion, marriage, etc…) Mine didn’t.

Basically, I can sum the stricter viewpoint up for you in this anecdote. My best friend and her younger sister was sent back to Pakistan as a teen, to study and go to college and get married there. Their brother was not. Father’s explanation?
“My girls will get ruined here.”

Oh, I don’t expect you to answer for everyone! I just was wondering if you had a general idea of the thinking. It actually sounds to me like typical first-generation attitudes (anyone ever see My Big Fat Greek Wedding? “Is he nice Greek boy?! NOOOOO!”

At the university I attend there is an Indian Student Association and an Indian *American * Student Association. Anaamika, I think, will get that one. Another thing, there is a European Student Association but the Greeks always crowd around one corner speaking in Greek.

If the Indian students in question are vegetarians, then that ratchets things up a lot. Strict vegetarianism – which shuns onions and garlic along with animal products (but not dairy) – is concerned about a lot of sources of spiritual contamination, including any kitchenware that has been exposed to non-vegetarian foods, and (among the most orthodox), any non-vegetarian people. The wrong person’s just stepping into a kitchen or a dining room can require a whole lot of ritual purification. Think about Jerry Seinfeld throwing away everything in his house when his girlfriend tells him she had put something in his toilet.

Sure do. And I don’t fit in either one, often enough. The IA student association is all people who have been born & raised here, the IS is people who have been born and raised there.

Not many niches for people who have been born there and raised here! I resent, positively resent, being called an ABCD (American Born Confused Desi, desi meaning Indian.)

My University is in Detroit and yes, pretty much all of the Indian students are from there. It isn’t just the roomate situation though. I’ve noticed that if an employer is Indian, they will try and hire Indians whenever possible. I worked in a department where there was a computer lab and a front desk. One of the other employees said that he wished I worked up front because of my great communication skills (I’ve done a LOT of customer service) When I asked “Oh, sounds interesting…how do you think that I could work up there?” He answered that I would pretty much half to be Indian since the supervisor always staffs the lab with non-Indians and the front desk with Indians. I see this too in my husband’s pharmacy where the majority is Indian as well.

Hmmmm…I’d not considered religeous reasons. Food for thought. I have however been invited lots of times to go over my Indian friends’ places (who were Hindus usually) so I don’t think there was any issues of purification involved.

Hiring is not usually because of religious reasons, per se. It’s because you have a duty to help your own people first before you help an outsider. It’s not that you’re not allowed to help an outsider, but that if you’re in a position to help someone, duty tells you whom to help first. First comes blood relatives and then rank everyone else in order to their closeness to you in societal and cultural terms. In India, nothing gets done until you find the uncle who knows the uncle of the guy who does it. That’s how people get jobs. They go to their relatives, then their schoolmates, then their caste members, then their ethnic group, etc.

Individuals follow rules according to their own preferences. Lots of people follow more relaxed rules or discard them altogether, according to their own preferences. Hinduism is adaptable that way.

Yeah, this is true. I know that by large, Indain society is very communal oriented. I actually dated a guy from Punjab for a while and we lived together for about half a year. He liked to think of himself as not being a typical Indian but when his friends would come by, if we were holding hands he would push my hands away and introduce me as a “friend” (even though we will sleeping together too). I realize that a lot of it is caring what other people think.

Still, I’m all for respecting cultural differences. But it is a little grating when your own ethnic group gets slack where others don’t especially in the work place. Again, in my husband’s workplace, Indian employees can take off whenever they want pretty much-non-Indians not so much. My husband told me that once one of his Indian co-workers said she was going home sick and found her later at the bar getting drunk. When he informed the boss, the guy barely batted an eye. Had it been a non-Indian though…

This just smacks of racism to me when certain ethnic groups are seen to be pretty much always in the right by their own.

But doesn’t this practice involve the risk of violating anti-discrimination laws? Remember, no one loves lawsuits more than Americans …

It’s not exactly about what they would think. Because probably everyone was aware that you guys were “together.” The point is that it is not acceptable to show inter-gender affection for someone while in public. He introduced you as a “friend,” because to say anything more would be considered the same as saying “this is the slag I get off with,” and that kind of thing is just not acceptable to talk about in company. It’s considered respectful to them as well as to you to downplay any overt hint of closeness, even when everyone is aware of what the real deal is.

It only seems like an “ethnic group” thing over here. In India, everyone is Indian, and there are still always “insiders” and “outsiders” and you always give slack to someone who’s closer to you.