I've just had a great time reading through this and this post .
About perceptions that people in western countries have of India. Even perceptions that folks with Indian parentage but born-and-brought-up-abroad continue to have, about India.
Sometimes these perceptions have an envelope of "class"; Which is not to say, that there is anything classy associated with the perception. It is to say, that the perceiving individual is a class conscious individual, that gives him a slightly altered view.
We spent a year in Germany in the very early nineties. Lived in what the Germans call a "village" (and we would call a small township) outside Karlsruhe. The children were very young, and both of them (12 and 5) picked up German very fast, with the younger one even learning the finer points of the local dialect, possibly because she tended to fight in the local language with the big boy in their kindergaarten class who didn't believe in sharing turns on the slide and swings. I learnt sufficient German to allow me to get along.
Shopping at the smaller local supermarket, my clothes, language, and predominantly vegetarian shopping in a country bathed in beer , meat and potatoes, always drew attention. One day, I heard someone call out and ask if I was the "lady from India", and I turned to meet a cheerful lady who, it turned out, was part of a German ladies group that met once a week to practice their English. She asked if I was interested in joining, because she thought my English was very good, and they wanted to practice with someone. Of course I was interested, because it introduced me to the local folks, and I loved to make friends.
The most "accepting" of our differences in culture, were those ladies that came from academics, and those whose children had travelled to third world countries, and maybe some ladies who had travelled in Asia as part of their Church groups . I was never , ever asked about snake charmers, elephants, et al.
One day, as was usual on weekends, I was at the Spielenplatz (Play-Park) near the University, with my daughter, who was having a grand time swinging, running, and sliding across stuff, whooping it up, while I waited on a bench, for her father to join us from an errand. My saree would often attract curious stares , and one hefty looking mustachioed person got into a conversation with me . Me in broken German, with a fine random attachment of my own words, possibly killing the grammar, and he being very nice, about talking slowly in German, so I could understand.
He wanted to know if I was there under "asyl" something. I realized, that he was asking whether we were in the country under some asylum deal. (The newspapers were full of it). There were strong views on this in the country.
His attitude was a kind of demanding demeanour mixed with a be-polite-to-the lady type thing. Naturally, besides, shaking my head, and answering calls from my daughter, I explained to the chap that the husband was on a visiting academic assignment at the "Universitaet". ("Besukhen Professor" was what I said. Later on found it was the correct phrase.).
There was a sea change in the attitude of the chap. Academics are highly regarded in the western world (More about what happens regarding that in India, in another post). He was suddenly all proper and respectful, smiling at the daughter, complimenting her about her German. He was even more impressed when I told him that we would be returning within a month, on completion of a year long assignment. I often wonder , what the person's attitude would have been, had he found out that we were say, a family of plumber, or electrician, or a mechanic .
Back in India, "class" as we know it, takes a reasonable back seat, once the person is perceived as having an amazingly fair complexion.
In the early seventies, I returned home from graduate studies in the US , and before beginning work, went on a trip to North India, with my old American roommate from the University , who was visiting us in Mumbai, with her husband.
Indian woman of marriageable age, wearing pants, and travelling with a foreigner looking couple, and folks in smaller places, including trains would get curious. Delhi was without too many episodes , but we visited Agra and were supposed to fly to Jaipur in the evening.
Flying wasn't as common then (1972) , and airports were rather small. At least at Agra. There was actually a regular fruit stall inside the airport, with stuff displayed in descending layers, the bhaiyya sitting in the middle etc. I went by to buy some fruit as the flight was delayed . (!)
The bhaiyya, kept alternating his look between me and my friends and the conversation went something like this.
"Who are these people, of yours ?" His friends, fellow fruit sellers,hangers-on are all agog.
"Friends. From college."
"In Amreeka ? (the west is always amreeka).
You went there ? And made friends ? wah !"
"Yes. They are here to see all the wonderful sites."
(Looks them over, then looks at me in a confidential way)
"Are these two married ?"
"How many children ?"
"None so far "
"How come ? don't their families ask ?" he is really worried.
"In their country , this is decided by the two of them; no one else."
"What does he do ? Does she work ?"
"He works for a company, and she is a professor"
"Arre, then they must be earning a lot ? How much ?"
"You know, I don't know. And I wouldn't ask. In their country you don't ask questions like this. It is impolite. Bad manners."
"Just asking, sister. What a shame they have no children !"....
"Where are you travelling now?"
"Jaipur.. So many wonderful things to show them. "
My friends were watching us during this conversation, and were curious about all the looks and stuff they were being bestowed with . I bought some fruit to take with us in case we reached Jaipur late , naturally bargained nicely with the guy regarding the price, now that he and I were "information friends" .
And my friends were totally amazed and entertained to hear how a random fruit seller in a random airport was seriously interested in their status and details.
This, enquiring-after-the-familial/single/married-status-of-foreigners-in-India, is very common, even in educated urban families. (And I am not including in this, the type of visitors to India who flit from one five star to another five star place, and return without ever seeing an Indian style toilet, or eating with their fingers).
This is our form of asking about snake charmers and elephants. An average westerner , sometimes even in proper towns, is not very well informed on non western countries. By contrast I find that folks even in small towns in India keep themselves well informed on worldly things.
The point about Westerners coming to live in India and being called "expatriates" ("expats"), but Indians going to western countries to live being called "Immigrants" is something that had not occurred to me . It is so true.
But maybe I am thick skinned. More likely thick-eared.
Way back in the early eighties, after a summer assignment at one of the US's famous private universities, an offer was made to us requesting us to stay on and continue on a regular basis.
We were honored, but we said, No, Thank you ! and refused and came back home at the start of Fall.
At that time, after we returned (and in some cases, by fellow countryfolks, even before), we were called DUMB and STUPID.
And so I don't worry about things like immigrant and expat anymore.