INDIANS HAVE NO MANNERS?


I know there will be a violent response for this statement, both ‘pro’ and ‘anti’. Let me make it clear at the very outset that it was not I who said this. It was some foreign media agency which conducted a world wide survey on good manners and arrived at this conclusion. The survey was conducted in Mumbai and the city was placed way down the list.
The panel of judges had to answer a few inane queries like, “Did he say ‘good morning’ to you?” “Did the shopkeeper greet you?” “Did he hold the door for you?” “Did he say thank you?” “Did he remember to say ‘good night’ to you?” etc on the basis of which the whole Indian nation was declared to be lacking in manners!
What are good manners? Is it what is being orally articulated or is it what you mean in your heart? Do an effusive ‘Hi’ and a perfunctory hug signify that he/she is very happy to see you? Then try dropping in on that person without a prior appointment, if possible with your family. The bonhomie disappears in a jiffy and you will be served with more excuses than snacks, while being told politely why you are not welcome.
Once at a family function at a nearby hall, my son offered to put up 7-8 members for the night and brought them home. Without prior intimation, I had to arrange beds for them at 10pm .But they all happened to be FAMILY! In Indian parlance, Family signifies not just you, your spouse and your minor kids. It is an all encompassing word meaning friends, siblings, their children, cousins and their acquaintances. If not like sardines, every bit of space was made use of __beds, divans, comforters spread on floor carpets, couches etc _to accommodate them and all this was done without any fuss. It was fun catching up with all the news about family and friends till late into the night. The hospitality extended to hot coffee and hot water bath for each of them in the morning. Neither I nor my guests found anything bizarre in the whole arrangement.
That’s Indian manners for you. We would never ever dream of turning out a guest.
The cartoon character Moose’s mother-in-law may be a snoopy, comical lady always training her telescope towards the neighbors and their goings on. But here in India, our neighbors really keep an eye on our houses without being told. In fact, it was one such case that prevented the Electricity dept workers who were blindly fixing poles every ten feet, from fixing one of them right in the middle of the entrance to our driveway in our absence. I am confident that in times of crisis, each one is there to help us out; all this even though we may not exchange hearty greetings morning and night. During the times of calamities like floods and terrorist attacks, the way neighbors help each other is proverbial. Sometimes their help comes much before the forces or NGOs enter the scene.

The relationship with our serving staff is such that, we are aware of all their problems like family members. We do not mind helping them with leave and advances on their salaries in their time of crisis. When she walks in in the morning, our maid is confident that a hot cup of tea and a plate of breakfast will be offered to her. All this without exchanging Good mornings or Thank- yous!
As for holding the doors, one needs to learn the trick oneself before offering to do it for others. In the case of a revolving door/gate, it is a permanent mystery to most of us!
Coming down to the manners in shops, India is a country of vast population. A shopkeeper would rather attend to a potential buyer who means business than to an idle browser.
Well, this is ‘Indians’ for you, warts and all. They may be without external manifestation of manners but equipped with a heart of Gold, ready to share their home and hearth with anyone who drops in, ready to pitch in when a neighbor is in trouble. It is only those who come for short visits that find us rude, crude and undemonstrative. But those who have stayed longer have always found us a warm, vibrant lot.

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35 thoughts on “INDIANS HAVE NO MANNERS?

  1. Written by a Vietnamese -Japanese this ought to be humanity for all of us :

    Brother,

    How are you and your family? These last few days, everything was in chaos. When I close my eyes, I see dead bodies. When I open my eyes, I also see dead bodies.

    Each one of us must work 20 hours a day, yet I wish there were 48 hours in the day, so that we could continue helping and rescuing folks.

    We are without water and electricity, and food rations are near zero. We barely manage to move refugees before there are new orders to move them elsewhere.

    I am currently in Fukushima, about 25 kilometers away from the nuclear power plant. I have so much to tell you that if I could write it all down, it would surely turn into a novel about human relationships and behaviors during times of crisis.

    People here remain calm – their sense of dignity and proper behavior are very good – so things aren’t as bad as they could be. But given another week, I can’t guarantee that things won’t get to a point where we can no longer provide proper protection and order.

    They are humans after all, and when hunger and thirst override dignity, well, they will do whatever they have to do. The government is trying to provide supplies by air, bringing in food and medicine, but it’s like dropping a little salt into the ocean.

    Brother, there was a really moving incident. It involves a little Japanese boy who taught an adult like me a lesson on how to behave like a human being.

    Last night, I was sent to a little grammar school to help a charity organization distribute food to the refugees. It was a long line that snaked this way and that and I saw a little boy around 9 years old. He was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of shorts.

    It was getting very cold and the boy was at the very end of the line. I was worried that by the time his turn came there wouldn’t be any food left. So I spoke to him. He said he was at school when the earthquake happened. His father worked nearby and was driving to the school. The boy was on the third floor balcony when he saw the tsunami sweep his father’s car away.

    I asked him about his mother. He said his house is right by the beach and that his mother and little sister probably didn’t make it. He turned his head and wiped his tears when I asked about his relatives.

    The boy was shivering so I took off my police jacket and put it on him. That’s when my bag of food ration fell out. I picked it up and gave it to him. “When it comes to your turn, they might run out of food. So here’s my portion. I already ate. Why don’t you eat it?”

    The boy took my food and bowed. I thought he would eat it right away, but he didn’t. He took the bag of food, went up to where the line ended and put it where all the food was waiting to be distributed.

    I was shocked. I asked him why he didn’t eat it and instead added it to the food pile. He answered: “Because I see a lot more people hungrier than I am. If I put it there, then they will distribute the food equally.”

    When I heard that I turned away so that people wouldn’t see me cry.

    A society that can produce a 9-year-old who understands the concept of sacrifice for the greater good must be a great society, a great people.

    Well, a few lines to send you and your family my warm wishes. The hours of my shift have begun again.

    Ha Minh Thanh

  2. Sneha says:

    Dear Vimala,

    Oh totally. You’ve portrayed the cultural ideologies well in your article.
    Now, don’t accuse me; like last time of using ‘high funda words’

    Regards
    Sneha

  3. Unfair to write and declare something like this by visitors who does not know local cultures and ways… It should be dismissed like a pesky unwanted fly, they do not have the right to declare themselves as true judges of any country and its people.

  4. We Indians always find time to welcome our guests and neighbours when needed, without any protests. I agree we have so many faults of our own, but we respect and love human relationship. One of my friends from USA calls me whenever she feels just to relief her mind when she is tensed up and she is sure that however busy I’m, I will have time for her to listen to her problems, which she can’t find there. Not that I can do anything for her, all that she wants from me is just to listen to her empathetically, and she says where else she can expect such a loving and welcoming friendship!!

  5. Bingo Haley says:

    It is indeed very patronizing that some foreign agency judges the manners of the whole Indian nation based on a silly questionnaire.

    However, that does not take away from the fact that generally in India, there is little respect for ones fellow beings. Most people do not know how to wait in queues without jostling and pushing, why most do not even know how to queue up. Indians are probably the worst in traffic. When in a traffic jam, they try to squeeze through and jam everything up even worse. Foreigners who speak of Indians being phlegmatic and stoic have never seen Indians in traffic. I could go on and on: many who work in shops and in government offices are unfriendly to customers….. and on and on…

    The worst cut of all is how poorer people are treated. Disgusting state of affairs in a so-called democracy! Every where in the street, market-place, shops. Just go to a restaurant in a big metropolis like Bangalore, and you see rich kids who do not even make eye contact with servers and bearers, and generally treat them like dirt.

    The examples you have given of kindness and politeness are directed to friends, family members, neighbors, acquaintances etc. Indians take good care of their own…. so go on and pat yourself on your back and feel very proud that we are as humane as in the Orient.

  6. Sonal Shree says:

    I do not think anybody has patent on good or bad manners, be that person an Indian or a Westerner or from any part of the world. To generalize that Indians have no manners is myopic. Bad mannerisms can be people-specific, not characteristic of a nation as a whole. To say that ‘in general’, Indians are like this or that, amounts to being biased. For every person not treating fellow human beings with respect, there are thousands who do so quietly; for every auto rickshaw driver(for instance) not adhering to traffic rules, there are thousands who still wait patiently in the traffic queue every day; for every rich kid treating the bearers like dirt, there are thousand other kids who know how to show respect even to strangers; for every snob treating the poor badly, there are kind souls too who treat them well; for every rude or unfriendly shop keeper or government servant, there are several others who are extremely polite and helpful.
    I do not mean to be pro or against anybody. My point is simple- do not generalize.

    A very well written piece, Vimala. Keep sharing. I have read every word of it.

    • vimala ramu says:

      Generalisation is indeed bad. But, don’t we do the same with other nations? The behaviour of a few of them is enough to brand the rest. Don’t think I am playing Devil’s advocate.Thanks for your detailed comment, Sonal.

  7. Bingo Haley says:

    Generalization is not a bad thing …… there is a complete science to deal with variability and generalization – the discipline of statistics! As long as generalization by lay(wo)men, whether myself or the blogger or that last respondent, are not biased – blindly unpatriotic or jingoistic or Indophobe/phile or whatever else one could think of – generalization helps us to understand and describe the world around us.

    Now with this background and notwithstanding my love of India and Indian people in general, I stand firmly by my first statement: generally in India, there is little respect for ones fellow beings!

    Very happy to be able to discuss with polite folk. Looking forward to your next blog!

  8. Nuggehalli Pankaja says:

    Vimala,sorry, I am late,but atleast not too late for the perusal of the interesting article. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world! And all the spicy comments. That is why i enjoy coming late on the scenario.
    I am in tune with what all you have narrated- family barging as a matter of right, and also the cold treatment meted out by society-mannered people when confronted with ‘without-appointment-visitors’ !
    The letter from Japan is very touching! And that small boy with such lofty principles! God bless him wherever he be !

  9. vimala ramu says:

    Dear Pankaja,
    I certainly do not mind the delay in your reply as I know your reply will eventually come. Moreover, as you say, the later you are,more comments are there for you to read. I certainly didn’t bargain for such profound comments from men. Thanks for reading once again.

  10. After going through your post and the comments I feel that such surveys should be conducted and analyzed in the geographical and demographic context of a nation. In a country with huge population one cannot expect the sort of “formal” behaviour that one is used to in the West which comparatively has much less populace. Though I have never been abroad I have heard and read that while the city’s lay out is beautifully and meticulously planned one has a sense of desertion when it comes to people occupying space. One walks for miles before bumping into a fellow human being even in busy metropolitan. In that scenario, being your best to a chance passer by or co-shopper is not only less trying but also perhaps a welcome change and opportunity to talk. However, in a country where the population has crossed the billion benchmark crowd management will definitely be difficult. In a jungle of people, with the underlying “survival of the fittest” ethos, pushing, jostling, squeezing in, misbehaving , one up-man-ship and the general bad behaviour may be manifestations of the overpowering sense of competition (natural to the animal instincts) of the Homo Sapiens.

    We all know charity begins at home. If we are unable to be good to our own kith and kin how can we be good to the society in general?

    Manners is a relative term which has seen many changes in connotation with change of time and history. Indians were treated as uncivilized savages under the British Raj. In some of the countries in the West the same attitude towards “black/brown skin” still persists. What should that be called as I wonder ?

  11. Eddie says:

    I understand your perspective and when you’re in an indian persons home they are very accomidating. However when Indian people are out, and in public in America and acting as though we serve you because we work at an establishment is ridiculous. Maybe in some types of jobs that is the expectation. But most places… employees are there to help and assist you… not SERVE you. America is a salad bowl of culture. There is still an American culture and what is considered proper manners here. When in Rome… I do find it rude when Indian people try to set appointment with me and TELL me they will be over inbetween this 2 hour time frame assuming that I dont have other things to do beyond wait for them for 2 hours. I love Indian people, but sometimes in businesses, especially retail associated things, they act within their own culture instead of what American culture is. This is coming from an Asian person.

    • Dear Mr Edward,
      I am so gratified to see that my blog written almost a year back is still inspiring people to comment and express their opinion. It is certainly educative. Yes, while I wrote about Indians in India; you are quite right that American culture is expected of them when they are abroad. Thanks for taking time to write to me.

  12. Passerby says:

    I’ve seen Indian people do lots of weird things. They budge in without a second thought in front of people taking pictures and just go on with their business while the people behind them are awestruck and agape at such audacious rude behavior. One Indian kid pooped in a shower booth and came back for a second dump luckily to sit on the toilet this time, but left all the aftermath toilet papers on the floor. I can drop the “smell” part of the matter, since it can be a biological thing, but those things were just too shocking for me to see in America. Can you give me an explanation as to why I’ve seen those things? I am very close to developing a stereotype.

    • I am sorry you were witness to such a scene. One kid doesn’t represent India. It just shows bad upbringing.
      As for concern for others, it is a bit too much to expect from such a highly popuated country. We have all sorts of people, no group representing the whole.

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