Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Indians & Canadians: No "five minute friendships"

India and Canada. One place is a smoking hot land, filled with flavorful food, eccentric characters, ancient traditions, a billion people and a million languages. The other place is a cool, calm, and polite land which is one of the least populated countries on Earth. It's basically a big friggin' forest. With English and French speakers.

Yet these are the lands we hail from, which seem so different at times it's like they are separate plants in another universe. Sometimes it seems like we have nothing in common at all. The way we interact, communicate, the things we value, our priorities...sometimes it's all different.

Mostly, I find Indians similar to Americans in a lot of ways. Both countries are wild in their patriotism that you'd practically get murdered or directly asked to leave if you question them, how their country is run, or their politics. They are both passionate and wear their hearts on their sleeves. And also very loud. From the North to the South, to the East to the West of America and India, the volume is up-up-up. One thing that prepared me to marry into an Indian family was actually living in the U.S. before, and having people constantly tell me to "speak up"...and at the same time, talk over me!

With Canadians, I don't find as many similarities as I do with Americans, when relating to Indians. Maybe this is why so many Indians flock to living in the U.S., since they have more in common with people there.

However, recently I was reading Where the Peacocks Sing by Alison Singh Gee from my April reading List, and something struck me.

[At this point in the novel she has flown to India to meet her fiance's parents and she is a bit upset that they didn't love her immediately.] She writes in the novel:

So far, my arrival in India and my meeting with my new family had not brought the fusion of lost souls I had imagined. I sat down on the edge of the bed and put my head in my hands. "What's wrong?" Ajay said, as he entered my bedroom.

"Why is it that my newspaper column could charm half of Asia but I can't even get my own future in-laws to like me?" I shook my head. "Your father hardly spoke to me. Your mother doesn't understand a word I say and she thinks my favorite shoes are horrid. She barely faced me at breakfast. Things are not going very well."

"Give it time," Ajay replied. "Indian relationships take longer than American ones. We don't believe in instant noodles and we don't trust in five-minute friendships. There's a different rhythm to how we do things here."

Now this is one way that Indians and Canadians are very similar. Especially Canadians here in Vancouver.

When I came booming back from the U.S. with my fancy degree and resume, I was shocked to experience that here in Canada it is actually very difficult to make friends. People are very stand-offish. I totally forgot this when I was lived in America because I had not experienced this as an outsider. When we moved back to Canada, it took years to build good friendships with people, and at times, we were very lonely. Most of my good friends now are actually my old friends from high school, because I found it so difficult to strike up new friendships with strangers.

Now it has been 7 years since we settled back here, so I have again become almost fully Canadian in my personality. First of all, I only start talking to someone if I have seen them about five times already and completely observed their mannerisms and demeanor. I realize that this is actually quite stalkerish. For example, the mothers at my daughter's various extracurricular activities - I see them every week, we wait in polite awkward silence in the same room as we pick up our children, I smile and stare at them, but I do not really say anything until mid-semester, because I am too busy feeling them out and soaking in their whole vibe. Sometimes I even see the same mothers at different events, outings and classes, and we very rarely speak. It is not that I don't like them, in fact I really do like some of them a lot, but it is just slow to develop. I hate it when I start talking to someone and then we don't become good friends, like ugh, I just wasted the effort to speak! Exchanging phone numbers with somebody is practically like getting married in friendship. This kind of behavior is totally Canadian, and very politely standoffish. I am comfortable with this cultural dance now, but when I first moved back here, it felt very foreign to me. That is why I am drawn to American expats who are living in Canada, because it does not feel forced with them to have an "instant noodle" friendship.

Just like in the novel, up here in Canada, it takes a lot of time to develop relationships. There are no instant friendships. Relationships take time to develop as people observe each other and feel each other out.



  1. That's very interesting. As an American who's only been to Canada once (but have had Canadian friends who lived here), I had always thought that Canadians were very friendly and polite. But maybe its because I had never gotten a chance to really experience Canadians in their natural lifestyle for a long time period. When I was in elementary/middle school one of my good friends was a Canadian kid from Quebec (who was fluent in English and French), and his family was seriously the nicest I've ever met- so polite and hospitable. We'd always play hockey in the street together, fun times. Maybe part of it is the stereotype that they always say 'sorry' for everything- though I never saw it firsthand so I don't know if that's true. We went to Calgary around 2002 or so and I remember the people being as friendly as Americans, though I was only in 7th grade so I probably wasn't the best judge. The thing I do remember about Calgary is that things seemed to be spaced pretty far apart and there was a lot of wilderness nearby, which led to a certain sense of reserve, more so than in America where habitable society is modernized everywhere.

    As for Ajay in your story here who said "We don't believe in instant noodles and we don't trust in five-minute friendships," ... uh, maybe he's never heard of Maggi noodles? hehe

    1. "As for Ajay in your story here who said "We don't believe in instant noodles and we don't trust in five-minute friendships," ... uh, maybe he's never heard of Maggi noodles?"

      My thoughts exactly!

  2. Reading this is so fascinating! This made me think of an incident a few years ago when we were visiting a community here in the Philippines, and my Canadian friend was walking around the village and he got tired so he asked some random family if he could take a nap on their porch. Not only did they agree, but they gave him a pillow! Granted, that was a rural village where people are generally more trusting, and foreigners tend to get away with more things than locals do (particularly Caucasians). But coming from a country where people don't say anything to each other for weeks, no wonder he thought Filipinos are so friendly!

  3. Quite an interesting observation. I do think many Indians also like to feel your vibe to an extent before they decide you are worthy of their friendship. In that sense and from my personal observation, I've always found Americans far more friendly than Indians..

  4. My personal experience has been Americans and Indians are usually friendly.

    Indians can be quite friendly (though some people do take time to warm up especially, if you have not been introduced by someone they know) as long as one is not breaking their social norms and positions. People I was introduced as friends' friend have also been nice to me but of course, I think it is natural to take time for any friendship to organically grow.

    In the author's case, she was a foreigner and she was breaking into their norm by marrying which would explain the discomfort. People are not nice to the arranged marriage DIL as it is, love marriage DIL is another story altogether. So many times people are testing each other out as it is and there are so many formalities and unwritten rules in place that people are wary but this is applicable to people in marriages and where there are social hierarchies like in terms of age.

    If the author had been a friend introduced by their daughter, I am sure, most of them would have been really friendly, maybe less chatty because they felt self conscious about their language or home or stuff like that.

    Having lived in east Asia, I feel that, compared to that, I feel Indians and Americans are very very friendly. If one is a foreigner, no amount of years you spent knowing them matter because you are always an outsider here and they will never consider you the inner circle aka a friend, so much so that I don't even bother wasting my time. Friendships here cannot progress organically as you know each other more and more and I like to call it a glass ceiling for outsiders. You just can't progress beyond a point with them. What matters as a friend is who you grow up with not someone you share your life view with. However, if you are family, people are automatically assume close relationships.

    So, I think the author expected something like that - I am his wife and therefore, his family will automatically take an interest in me and be friendly with me (which is what happens in cultures with no arranged marriage) whereas in India (& other arranged marriage cultures) a girlfriend turned wife indicates a loss of power and she is seen as a threat to their system. So, the family is not so nice initially (and DIL is the lowest in the pecking order).


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