An American friend of mine, who’s working in Mumbai, has met an Indian girl that he really likes. She’s in her early 20s and goes to college. They’ve been spending a lot of time together, and he wants to seriously date her.
Him being an attractive and well mannered guy just assumed the relationship would progress naturally, because it was obvious that they liked each other.
Not necessary so, I advised him. It’s not the done thing here. Having a foreigner as a friend is looked upon quite favorably, but crossing the line into dating defies the social norms which matter so much in India.
We all got together one afternoon. He picked her up on the way, but she met him in a hotel and not at her house. She also had a very early curfew. They had to leave by 7.30 p.m., so that she’d be home in time.
Coupled with my comments, this got him wondering.
He asked her what her position was in relation to dating foreigners. It turns out that it’s a big issue for her. Her brother and friends also advised her that it wouldn’t be a good idea. So based on that, she turned my friend away. Yet, she’s still eager to have long conversations with him on the phone each night. This has really confounded him.
I tried to explain to him the restrictive and gossipy nature of Indian society, and how foreigners are portrayed as lacking in the appropriate values. Thanks to TV and the movies, we’re viewed as people who like to sleep around, drink lots, and have little care for the importance of marriage and family. As well as that, foreigners in India are viewed as being here for a good time, not a long time.
Then, there’s Indian society, which loves to judge what everyone else is doing. Do something that goes against the grain, and it will bring disrespect to the whole family.
My friend made the interesting comment that in America, people who lead and pave the way are the ones that are admired. Yet in India, it’s the opposite — to be looked upon favorably, it’s necessary to do the same thing as everyone else and comply with society’s expectations.