Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Surrey stand-off

A few months ago, on our way to Seattle, we decided to try this new South Indian restaurant that was on the way to the U.S. border. We tried the food previously, as the restaurant had catered the Tamil Puthandu celebration that we attended earlier this year. Husband-ji also met the owner at this party and he was very nice - also from Hyderabad.

We hadn't got an opportunity to go to this restaurant because it was too far away from the city. It is located in Surrey, which is hugely populated by Punjabi's. 

We had no idea what we were getting into as we approached this area. In my naive mind, I was so happy to be going to an Indian area and having South Indian cuisine. Being an Indian at heart, I am always happy to be surrounded by fellow Indians as it is more natural to me. As we drove to the restaurant, we noticed it was in a weird area. It was holed in between gold shops and truck depots, with immigration attorney offices filling the top. How strange, we thought.

We arrived at the restaurant in a happy-go-lucky mood, excited that this was the first leg of our trip across the border. As we entered, the ENTIRE restaurant (about 20 people) turned around and gave us a look as if we were a piece of rotten trash being dragged in the door. I felt embarrassed, and I looked down, and my daughter who is usually outgoing, went into my tunic and hid. My poor baby, I thought. They are scaring her...

The Telugu waiter seated us at a table, while the diners continued to stare at us and pick us apart. It was an extremely awkward meal. We tried to laugh it off, but it really put a bad taste in my mouth. I couldn't even enjoy my Hyderabadi Vegetable Biryani that I was so excited to try.

(This dish was delicious but I lost my appetite...)

The thing I really didn't like is how they stared at my daughter with a look of disgust. She is just a child, I thought. She doesn't deserve this... And now she is more aware of the world - how am I supposed to tell her when she gets older that sometimes people will think we are disgusting, just for being who we are?

As a mixed couple, we receive many looks on a daily basis by passerby's in public. Sometimes it is a surprised look. Sometimes it is a kind look. Sometimes it is a curious look. But that day, the look we received was one of disgust - that we were these people's worst dreams come true. It was an awful thing to experience - and we hadn't had to deal with that type of look in a long time. It hurt my soul a bit. It reminded me that some parts of the world are still like this.

I don't know what they hated more - that husband-ji was a South Indian, that I was Canadian, or that we had a family together...

These people don't even know us, I thought. They don't know our story, how much we love each other, and what great parents we are...how can they judge us and look at us with disgust?

Clearly, just us existing had destroyed their sentiments and poked a hole in the minuscule world that they live in. Yes we are a mixed couple. This is a reality of the next generation! Get over it!


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Dear readers, if you are a mixed couple, have you been in uncomfortable situations like this?

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33 comments

  1. Alexandra, I would not read too much into the "looks". Like other nationals, some Indians too have a naturally frowning, brows creased and furrowed look. Despite being Indian myself I have often first mistaken that look for narrow minded, bigoted folks. But have been surprised after talking to these folks, how their face breaks into a warm smile, wiping away the frown.
    Of course,there will always be some genuine haters,who lead miserable lives themselves, but why spend our precious time giving them any thought?

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    1. True, it is just unpleasant. It was not a natural frown - I tried to smile, they did not. They laughed and snickered, they looked with disgust. Things like that don't even need words or translations. I wish we had never entered that place.

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  2. So sorry to read about your bad experience. Sometimes people judge by not knowing you so ignore them. I know it is not as easy like that you but you guys are such a beautiful family that people who know you and your story will love and respect you. Take care and do not let stupid people hurt your feeling. Take care and big hug to Maya...

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  3. Oh my! That was bad. I have not experienced anything like that so far or maybe I just tune out and ignore. Next time, maybe staring right back helps, which is what I often do when people stare at me.

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    1. Maybe I will stare back and look with disgust at them LOL

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  4. How weird! And so rude. Poor Maya ...
    I can only recall being stated at like that once. We were walking holding hands in Sweden, just outside my house. A elderly lady looked at it with a mix of fear and anger. She looked like she thought he had kidnapped me and that she wanted to come and rescue me - from my lovely polite boyfriend. It made me feel so upset. He just told me we would have to get used to that looks of looks from now on.
    It's nice to hear that you feel "Indian at heart"! I often feel like that here in China / Taiwan. And the more time I spend here, the stronger the feeling gets. I sometimes say I'm half Chinese. It will be exciting to see if I can get the same connection to Indian culture.
    Now it's just little more than a month until I will go to India for the first time, with him, and we will finally meet his parents! :D

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    1. So excited for you! It will be an amazing journey!

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  5. I want to know what these particular Indians all looked at you that way... what is it about their community that made them all act that way??

    Murthy and I have never had an incident like that, we sometimes get confused looks or even stares, but never glares. When we baby sit my little brother and sister (5 and 2 years old) in public, people often look at me, look at Murthy, look at the kids, then look back at us like "huh?". Obviously they look exactly like me but not like Murthy at all. Some Indian Aunty who owns a restaurant near here asked Murthy if I was his wife because we had my little brother with us. lol. We don't get questions like that when it's just the two of us. And my little brother doesn't look Indian at all, he's pale white, blonde-haired and blue eyed. Why do people just assume if you're an adult with a child you're automatically their parent?

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    1. Well, this community in particular, to generalize A LOT - is well known for its backwardness and honour killings and lack of multiculturalism despite being here for over 200 years. Surrey itself is also incredibly unsafe with gang violence.

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  6. Oh wow. I haven't noticed a look of disgust but disappointment yes. A person who has a natural frowning face is much different than a disgusted face for sure.

    I know being in a mixed couple and living in India I can tell the people who assume OUR daughter isn't my husband's because she has my colored hair. They make assumptionsure and I can tell their attitude. They emit it (by the way both kids are both of ours... DNA and otherwise).

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    1. One time when we were in Italy an old lady asked me if my husband was the father of my daughter. He was soooooooo offended!

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  7. We stopped in Surrey once on our way back from Victoria- got the same kind of glares when we stopped for gas. Usually other Indian people always stare at us when we go out, and I always want to smile really big in their direction because I was lucky enough to marry one of these awesome South Indian boys. He is the best, so sweet and a true gentleman and takes such good care of me. We are leaving for India in a week (1st time for me to meet them after almost 4 years of marriage) and I'm a bit nervous about meeting the parents, but his younger brother also married an American, so they already have one foreign daughter-in-law. Here's hoping it goes well!

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    1. Not surprised at all - Surrey is absolutely god-awful.
      I am so excited for you! Good luck and have an amazing time!!!!!!!
      xo

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  8. Have you ever heard of resting bitch face? As silly as it soundsits kind of how I felt about done village women who looked at me with this terrible glare and setting them smile was actually more frightening. Lol! For me from the u.s. when I met a person's glance I smile but I've found in the Indian culture it is not the same. I was told its because India is so over populated, can you imagine smiling at every person you see in the street? Obviously you and your family were made to feel uncomfortable and I'm sorry for that. I only wonder if it was a case of having an expressionless look that came off wrongly. I have never come across a similar situation married to a desi. People tend to be mostly fascinated with us and think our children are absolutely beautiful and gush over them. Where I live there is quite a large population of Telugu people, many hail from Hyderabad also. Things are always different in other places but I just wanted to share that I hadn't experienced any such negativity, not to say that you haven't just that I hope it was only shock and not disgust...

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    1. BWAHAHAAA!!!! Resting bitch face!!! That's hilarious!!!!!

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  9. @Alexandra

    In India, people do look at mixed couples with curiosity. They probably think of the the Indian man/women as guide or liaison officer since many multi national companies have branches here and the Indian staff often accompany foreign officials of the company. Most foreigners require a local man, because without reliable local help, India is a baffling country for most foreigners.

    Indians still have problems accepting Indians equal to foreigners. I remember Sharrel Cook wrote a post about how her husband is often mistaken for her guide and she is extended more privileges than her husband. Some Indians also envy the man when they find that he is married to a foreigner. Marrying a foreigner is tough for an Indian with all the social pressures. Once it happens and the foreigners is accepted, it becomes an issue of pride/curiosity in the family. It can evoke different feeling among different members of the family. Some consider it as an accomplishment for the guy while some other consider it as corruption of family line. We still vouch the superiority of the British and their governance, so we kind of use the same yardstick to measure all foreigners, placing them slightly above us in everything. Colonial hangover, I guess.

    Basically, a mixture of curiosity and envy I guess. . Most of the mixed couples are taken positively. But, we have a more negative attitude towards mixed couples of Indian origin (inter caste, inter religious etc.).

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    1. In India, it is different - it is a look of curiosity. Outside of India, there are Indian communities who have chosen to embrace extreme aspects of their culture and carry it on like a mutation - very far away from India and disconnected from Indian culture at the very heart. When my husband - born and raised in India - saw the community in Surrey he was absolutely ashamed to the maximum. We never were looked at with disgust in India, it has happened only outside India.

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  10. Please just ignore these jerks.. There is a very popular song in India.. Kuch to log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehna (meaning - People will definitely say something.. Its their job ).Ironical that Indians only wrote this song. When they stare at you, they deserve a stare back at them..

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  11. At first when I read your description I thought you were in red light district... I've had people glare at me when walking by mistake through a red light street with my kids, and I've also had people glare at me in restaurants specially made for truck drivers or fishermen... I find in my life it is best, as Miguel Ruiz advises in the Four Agreements, to assume nothing. You don't know these people's stories, why burden yourself with a mental construction that gives you pain.... In the end was the food nice or not ? (Padparadscha)

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    1. Food was good but next time I'll definitely do take out!

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  12. I am an American with a South Indian boyfriend. We get stares from other Indians all the time, usually of disappointment, but also some disgust. I actually don't notice it as much as he does. He always points it out to me. I guess it doesn't bother me as much as it bothers him.

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    1. It bothers me a lot. I also didn't like how it hurt my daughter - kids can understand so much. My husband has a more relaxed attitude. Instead he looks down on whomever is looking down on us.

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  13. Alexandra I am so sorry for what you experienced. Unfortunately I have had similar experiences.

    I have mostly been treated with respect in India but sadly occasionally mistreated by some pathetic insular racist desis in the diaspora. I do not know why some desis abroad behave this way but it is very sad.

    Although I am an atheist I enjoy visiting Hindu temples in India so that I can appreciate the opportunity to learn about my husband's religion and culture. Yet I usually avoid Hindu temples in the US because they often attract the most narrow-minded people. One aunty at a temple told my husband that she would be ashamed of him if he was her son. Incredible! My country welcomed that woman when we did not have to so that she could become a part of the immigrant melting pot that is America and she returned the favor with racism! Another aunty at a temple could not handle that a white woman was feeding her children homemade chapatis and proceeded to criticize them. I had to restrain myself from laughing at her. At a temple cafeteria a desi family could not resist talking about the gori next to them, foolishly assuming I would not understand basic Hindi. When I loudly announced "it is so rude when people talk about you in your presence" they immediately shut up.

    The Canadian Punjabi community must be particularly insular because when we visited a Punjabi restaurant in a desi suburb of Toronto they waiter would not even take our order. He took the order of several Indian families who were seated after us but would not wait on us, we walked out of the restaurant. When we visited the Punjabi section of Calgary I was stared at like an alien which was hilarious because I am sure white people must be very exotic in Canada. (part 1 - Rebecca)

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    1. That is so awful. It is even worse in Vancouver - if you ever visit here do not go to any Indian restaurants!!!! Come to my place and I'll make dinner!!!!!!!

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  14. I live in New Jersey which is home to a large Indian population, many of whom reside in almost exclusively desi neighborhoods. Some of them are shockingly insular. Not only do they completely fail to integrate with American society if they are Pujabi they will only associate with Pubjabis, Telegus will only associate with Telegus, etc. We have attended several "desi functions" where I am the only non-Indian present and it is really sad because the hosts have often lived in the US for years. I recall a Telegu party we attended where the men and women as usual gender segregated desi style. I tried to talk to the women and I could hardly get a word out of them. (Yes they could speak English.) The men would not even talk to my husband because he is not Telegu. One bachelor in attendance who was obviously a recent arrival could not stop staring at us. It was a bit awkward and my husband and I were debating whether to talk to the starer because the party was in a public venue and there were children there who were not party guests, if he kept up that behavior we was liable to accused of pedophilia.

    When I am traveling in India I expect to be stared at because that is a normal part of the culture there. However, until recently I used to be irritated with the desis who stare at my family in the US. Every foreigner who has visited India knows the stare I am talking about, the unrelenting deer-in-the-headlights stare that can last literally an hour. In the US when desis stare at us it is usually benign but sometimes hostile accompanied with nasty comments. I used to think, "What is wrong with these people? If they live in the US how can they not understand that staring is considered rude behavior here?" Yet I finally realized that many of these desis are living very insular lives in desis bubbles and are clueless about basic elements of the host culture. A few may realize that staring is rude in the US but do not care.

    You did pop the bubble. Some desis are happy to become American or Canadian citizens and enjoy all of the benefits and opportunities those countries offer but are too narrow-minded to accept that their children will not necessarily choose to marry within their ethnicity. I know an American woman whose parents were immigrants from India. She was born and raised in the US and decided to marry a fellow American who happened to not be Indian. Her parents disowned her and the last I heard she had not seen them for six years. If it was so important to her parents for her to marry within their inbred group then they should have never left India.

    Alexandra please hold your head up high and remember what the first commentator on this thread wrote, do not waste your time or emotional energy on the haters. Teach your daughter to hold her head high and never be bothered by or afraid of racists. (part 2 - Rebecca)

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    1. One can only admire you to keep going to these venues, especially since you have said many times they make you uncomfortable, Rebecca. I will tell you one anecdote, in our family smiling to strangers is reckoned to be very rude and shocking. Last time we were in India I tried to take a picture of one my favourite SILs who is laughing and smiling all the time, but each time she saw the camera she frowned and growled. So all my western family think she is a stern woman judging by the pics and she is not at all ! I think, in some social backgrounds like in our Indian family, staring and frowning is etiquette. But then if I told you all the terrible events that happened to them, you would understand better why they beware of strangers. (Padparadscha)

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    2. Namaste and deja vu Padparadscha. I read in your other comments that you had a baby, congratulations.

      I had a feeling you would respond. I would like to ask you a question: When another person shares an experience that you yourself have not experienced why do you immediately seek to invalidate that person's experience? Do different perspectives cause you cognitive dissonance or do you simply believe that other people's perspectives are flawed? Although I am sure I failed over the years to respect your perspective even if I disagreed with it I do intend to respect your perspective now and in the future.

      Did you read my comments thoroughly before replying? The anecdote you shared can only be applied to your SIL and does not disprove my experience, Alexandra's, or other commentators. Is staring rude? Well of course that depends on who you ask and what the culture that person has been conditioned by. At no point did I write that I was uncomfortable, the main emotion I was trying to convey is irritation, there is a difference. I did mention that I avoid Hindu temples in the US so I am attempting to avoid potential irritating situations.

      There is an expectation in the US that immigrants will adapt to a certain degree and respect the local culture. Actually the level of adaptation expected is probably far lower in the US than France, at least that was the impression that I got when I visited France over a decade ago, maybe things have changed.

      Staring is rude behavior in the US and Indians who stare will be perceived as rude by many people, even if their intention is not be rude. But there is a big line between innocent staring and hostile comments. Hostility and racism are rude in every culture. - Rebecca

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    3. It's good you intend to respect me, have a happy festive season :)

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    4. @rebecca - I have a bunch of masala readers from NJ and many have said the same thing - they have had a lot of problems from fellow Indian communities in NJ with rude comments and awful judgements. In fact this post's relative I was referring to lives in NJ ----->http://madh-mama.blogspot.ca/2013/07/are-you-going-to-raise-your-daughter.html

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  15. I know they are curious and all but, when curiosity ends and rudeness begins? It is simply not acceptable to be this rude because of culture or what not. I think that a quick look is okay; heck we all do it. We see someone that is different or is wearing interesting clothes or whatever and we take a quick glance but there is no excuse to stare with no end.

    We get it from time to time and we also stare back. Most times this seems to work and they stop and look away but there have been a couple of occasions where it was so uncomfortable that we actually had to say "what the hell are you looking at". The look of horror in their faces was priceless; is actually quite funny especially when my hubby looks at them then at me and we start laughing.

    I say don't even bother. You went out for a nice meal with your family; don't let anyone ruin these times for you. You have to let these things go and get a thicker skin and prepare Maya as well for these type of situations. I say this respectfully Alexandra :)

    Millie B

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    1. EXACTLY Millie! Once again you are so on point. A quick look here and there is only natural, but a stare that lasts for hours is absolutely unacceptable no matter the culture.
      I think I need to learn the Punjabi translation for "What the hell are you looking at"....LOL

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