Saturday, April 22, 2006

Desi Etiquette 101: the Desi Stare of Death

Why is it that when Indians are in close proximity to other Indians they stare? Indians will just look at you and see what you're wearing and how you look. This happens everywhere: at the mall while walking by fellow desis, in elevators, merry-go-rounds, etc.

Why is it that when Indian families walk by each other in a non-desi setting, it's like watching two rival gangs meet. It's not a hey-fellow-desi-it's-so-glad-to see-you stare, but rather a mean stare. It's almost like they're scanning your retinas to detect your caste and saying "Hey, what makes you think you're so good?" It's not a normal stare, it's The Desi Stare. While walking by other families the responsibility of each family member is to check out their counterpart in the rival Klan. It's like watching the Pandavas and Kauravas gathering in front of a Gap and Aunt Annie's Pretzels. Don't get me wrong, I like Indian people a lot. I like them so much that I am one. But frankly sometimes they weird the tatti out of me.

Most normal people are pretty good about trying to be coy about staring. Admit it, we've all stared at people randomly here and there...anyone who rides the subway in NY does it on a daily basis. But at least you're supposed to be a tad discreet about the whole thing. At the worst there is that one heart-stopping moment when your subject makes eye contact with you and you look away immediately. It's the same "shared moment" that we've all had when you stare at someone that you like in school and they spot you...or maybe this stuff only happened to me.

On a sidenote, this is also one dramatic example of how the movies are different from real life. In the movies, the actors would continue to look at each other and maybe end up sharing a drink or something. In real life you look away, think about what just happened, wish that you would've had the courage to keep looking at them, and then stare back again. Repeat 20 times... or again maybe this doesn't happen to anyone else but me

In any case, I digress. Indian people lack any urge to be discreet. If you spot someone staring at you, they will continue to stare. It's like "hey, fucktard I can see you, stop looking at me." But they don't budge. In fact, staring back almost encourages them to keep on looking. Dad's do it, mom's do it, even little babies do it.

Now it would be remiss to say that my own parents are immune from such criticism, but I would like to imagine that they're pretty okay about not partaking in the Desi Stare. Instead they do what all other good Indians do....they speak about people in Hindi while others are standing right there. This of course is not a terribly bad in front of non-Hindi-ites....but I think they get so used to doing it that they forget to stop when they're talking about other Indians. If you're gonna talk about someone behind their backs, at least have the decency to wait until the turn their back. There is nothing worse than being at a temple and having dad say something about the weird guy with a comb-over hairdo in front of him, and having the guy hear his commentary and reciprocate with a Desi Stare (it's the most logical comeback, almost a desi kung-fu move really).

My job of course is to play the role of the mediator/ court jester and change the subject to something which no one outsider can angrily interrupt. "So dad, which is your favorite incarnation of Lord Vishnu?" This by the way can serve as a pick-up line in various southern Indian train stations. But what's funny is my parents aren't the only ones who do this. For some reason it seems like it's okay to mutter your internal thoughts aloud as long as you do it in your native tongue. When was the last time you didn't hear more than a handful of slanders while attending a show or "function" with your parents? (If you're Indian and reading this, can someone explain to me why we're the only culture that uses the term "function" whenever we're referring to a play, concert, reception, etc. that we're attending with our parents?)

I would say that most Latinos are the same way, but from my vast experiences growing up in California, most of them are kind enough to tell you in English that they think you're an idiot.

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12 comments:

witnee said...

even though i'm not a desi, I've hung out with them so much that I too participate in the desi stare. My highly tuned desi-dar is quite helpful in finding the desi's to stare at. Quite.

Ameet said...

You know what's really going on during the stare? They're trying to figure out if you're going to trap them into some cultish web of pyramid selling schemes. They usually err on the side of yes, and avoid any actual conversation.

venkat said...

One word, my friend: Amway.

Shakes said...

all it takes is desire and a dream..and about 5 sucker-friends to be under you...

arati said...

They're judging you: "You think you can wear your hair like that without any coconut oil, do you?!"

arati said...

I don't know why we use the word function in this way.

But Webster's dictionary suggests a reason. Under etymology for "function": "Etymology: Latin function-, functio performance, from fungi to perform; probably akin to Sanskrit bhunkte he enjoys."

Abi said...

During my graduate student days (late 80s), Desis -- the grad student variety, in particular -- were better known for their Apologetic Walk ...

Also, their stare (in elevators, buses, etc) used to be the normal kind you describe: stare, and and move away on eye-contact.

Looks like this Desi Stare is something that developed recently.

yadbhavishya said...

Its ever-present man.
And Amway, Quixstar etc not helping any much.

But I have lately practised to do one thing. Look at them dang in the eye, say Hallo (not hello), almost approaching them but not quite, smile and walk away not meeting them in the eye again.

This DOES get them off you. Try it.

Shakes said...

or or, you can also say "hello, i think pink would go very well with your eyes"

twinkletoes said...

i stumbled acroos your blog through another...
and i am now. officially. addicted. at first sight. or you might say sound, because the moojic you play is like mannah for a thirsty,weary traveler like me..
as for the desi stare, being a desi fresh off the airindia boat last fall, i was subjected to it so many times that now i do things like making funny faces if someone stares/glares too long...

Shakes said...

aww, that's really sweet of you. i'm so happy you like my writings and my music. that make me happy... and it all worth it :) where did you hear about my blog?

twinkletoes said...

aNTi's blog, actually.
i was listening to your brit rock tracks and it took me back to the time when i used to live on coldplay :o)