Americans are all rich, white and promiscuous. At least that’s what Adnan Ali Syed thought before he came here and found out for himself.
It’s not easy for a person to live in two entirely different cultures. I can tell you from firsthand experience.
I lived most of my life in Pakistan but recently came to the U.S. (Everett, Wash to be exact) for 11 months to study journalism.
But I was surprised to find out that going back home to Pakistan required even greater patience and strength — not least because of all the confusion amongst my compatriots about the place I’d been living for the last year.
So I resolved to correct the five most common misconceptions about America by South Asians.
1. All Americans are white
South Asians synonymize Americans with angrez or goray, which means English or white. The mental picture of a U.S. citizen their brains draw is a white person. Before I came, I was no exception.
Imagine how irritating it was for me to elucidate to my friends and acquaintances that being American means diversity in culture, values, traditions and in skin tone, while their brains insisted exactly opposite.
Upon my return, a number of my friends suspiciously inquired, putting on weird looks on their faces, whether black-eyed and black-haired folks in pictures with me were also Americans?
“Gosh yes!” I told them.
America is a country with multiculturalism touching its pinnacle and with diverse-skinned folks from all over the world have been pouring in as immigrants for decades.
2. Americans usually have more than one boyfriend or girlfriend
“How many girlfriends did you enjoy the company of in the U.S.?”
I got sick of this question within two weeks of coming back home to Pakistan. My friends tortured me to death hurling ceaseless inquires of the sort at me.
They could not believe that being in pictures with female peers did not mean they were my girlfriends.
At times, questions got especially stinging like the one: “Kitni bachian pata kar aya hahi tu?” or “How many girls did you sleep with in the U.S.?”
I mean it’s gross. Who talks like this?
My friends, I’m afraid. And they’re not absolutely at fault. This is how Hollywood movies — the only available information source for a big majority of folks in my country — portray U.S. society and culture: ultramodern and lacking all religious, social, cultural and moral restrictions.
To be very honest with you folks, for quite some time after my arrival in the Pacific Northwest, seeing girls and boys who were not married or engaged hanging out together was kind of a thorn running in my foot. It challenged deeply-rooted cultural and social norms of my homeland.
Later, I came to understand that people in the U.S. seek to measure their compatibility for love, tolerance and compassion by living as boyfriend and girlfriend before they tie the knot on documents.
But in most cases I was amazed by their level of loyalty to each other during that first phase; they are like husband and wife in their behavior, even if they’re not documented as such.
3. There are no poor people in America
I never thought ‘beggar’ could be an offensive term until I came to the U.S.
Speaking frankly, in South Asia there are many people who are without shelter, without food, without proper cloths to cover bodies, and without means of income who resort to begging. They have no respect in our culture whatsoever.
To my astonishment, I found beggars in the U.S. too.
The difference is that there they do enjoy some sort of reverence, and are referred to as ‘homeless people’ rather than beggars, as the latter term has an offensive nature in itself.
The network of food banks operating in the U.S. deserves a moment of applause. Happily, I noticed that a food banks makes sure the nutritional needs of those less fortunate are met in a respectful fashion.
Owing to ineptness of the governments in South Asia, no practical rehabilitation or settlement plan exists for homeless folks, and thus those disadvantaged tend to live on begging for money, food, and clothes from affluent sections of community.
4. You won’t find Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi Foods in the U.S.
“Don’t eat everything in the U.S.” “Wo log haram cheezain khatay hain,” my friends advised, back when the U.S.A. was a mere distant dram for me. “Americans eat unlawful foods all the time.”
I went to the U.S. subconsciously worried how I was going stay fed in a completely foreign cultural setting. South Asians have religious dietary restrictions that vary from region to region. Most Indians, for instance, cannot eat beef owing to religious obligations. Identically, Muslims cannot eat pork or ham for similar causes.
However, I was happy to discover that America is all about food diversity. The U.S. is known for chicken and cheeseburgers, french fries, pizza, mac and cheese, hot dogs, donuts, steaks, and many more options.
South Asians may not be so acquainted with all those foods. But no need to worry. On one hand, the U.S. offers diverse culture, values, traditions, norms, and customs, while on the other hand, it is also known for food diversity.
One can sate their appetite at all kinds of restaurants including Mexican, Italian, American, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Japanese and so on.
And apart from cooked food, markets catering to Asian, Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, Pakistani, Mexican and Spanish cuisines offer raw-cooking ingredients for recipes from their respective regions.
5. South Asians go to the U.S. and never come back
Okay, this one is sometimes true, but not always.
“Agar tum bhot shareef insan ho to USA say wapas ajao gay, ” argued one of my office colleagues before my visit, “You will come back from USA since you are a gentleman,”
I can count on hundreds examples of people I know in person (including myself) who went back to India and Pakistan from the U.S. in last two years.
There are examples, nonetheless, whereby a few from Pakistan and India chose to abort their flights going home. Those having genuine reasons to prolong their stay in the land of opportunities are not to be judged either. I mean, who does not want a healthy, stable, fearless, tension-free, lucrative, and of course a secure future for their family?
This is what the U.S. offers to all and sundry who step in.
These aforementioned stereotypes, and countless others that combine to form a big tide of culture shock and reverse culture shock for folks visiting U.S. from South Asian countries.