The stereotypes of Western women in India can be summarised in a single conversation I had with a young man at wedding, in a very small city a while ago. This guy was studying with the intention of someday leaving India and continuing his education in America. A place which is, he kindly pointed out to me, far better than London.
The assumptions and stereotypes of Western woman in India are largely based on what people see in Hollywood movies. We shouldn’t assume real life is the same as movies. I have been living in India for three years now and, unfortunately, I have never been involved in a spontaneous yet perfectly choreographed song and Bollywood dance (and I was really looking forward to that).
It all started with him offering to go out and get me a sandwich because he assumed I couldn’t eat anything from the vast buffet of Indian food. It was really sweet of him, I reassured him that there was plenty of food I could eat here and it wasn’t necessary. I actually enjoy Indian food, this surprised him.
An hour or so later, this young man came and spoke to me again. My husband had to help the groom prepare something, so he took this opportunity to pull up a couple of chairs and ask me questions. I didn’t mind, I could tell how much he wanted to talk to me, I like speaking to people from a cultures I have never experienced too. Then, he did most of the talking.
“If I went to London and I spoke to a foreign girl, would people come and beat me because I am Indian?”. I replied with, “it depends on what you said”, but the joke was lost on him and he starred at me in all seriousness. I assured him that London is very multicultural, hundreds of thousands of Indians live there, and no one would beat him for simply speaking to a girl.
“Do you have a lot of boyfriends waiting in London?”. No!
“In London do you wear mini skirts and all these things?” No, I am extremely self conscious about my thighs, so that’s not for me…
He did not realise from body language and facial expressions that he was asking really inappropriate questions.
“Will you divorce your husband?”. To that, I was speechless but way past being offended. He then tried to tell me that I wouldn’t be able to live in India permanently, because it’s impossible as life in London is very easy. For someone who had never left India, he had a very strong opinions on what life was life on the other side of the world.
“What was the hardest time in your life?”. I was left speechless again. A small crowd had started to gather around us, some taking photographs. “In India we have a very hard life but in London and America, it’s very easy, so that is why I want to know”. I can’t remember what I ended up saying, I was in a shocked stupor, looking around to see where my husband may have got to.
“How can you talk to your husband if you can’t speak Hindi?”. I explained that my husband can speak English very well so we don’t have a language barrier, he lived in America for a couple of years so he can relate to the cultural differences. With that the young man was off like a flash to look for my husband and ask him how to get to America, and why he didn’t want to stay there.
This guy was very young, excitable, and from a small city, even smaller than Nagpur. I would say that it’s not very common for people to say things like this to me. I receive some snide remarks occasionally, usually saying that Western women have no emotions (well, hello?), but most people I meet are interested to learn more about Western life, how I came to be here and happy that we chose to settle down in India.
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Thank you, Susan ❤
Well many Indians think western woman are easy. In reality isn’t true we have a vast of variety of women with different principles and different cultures even though we are all American.
Yes, everyone is different everywhere! 😀
Having lived in US for about an year I can say many American woman are as spiritual,religious and god-loving as Indian woman!
Sigh..Sadly this is how it is in rural or small town India (by which I mean sections of societies in so called “cities” like Nagpur). Low on exposure, high on ignorance , low on cultural sensitivities and common decencies and a high sense of entitlement (among men ). Try to ignore these jerks as much as you can ..You will need the hide of a rhino as I always warned you..
Hey VK, yes, I probably get 10% angry compared to what I used to at things directed at me. I don’t even flinch anymore when people ask why I’m not fluent in Marathi yet 😛
Wow! What questions! I understand they have been innocent questions in his mind, just curiosity… and I understand how he wouldn’t understand that a lot of it was offensive, but I’m sure it’s still hard to process some of it and surely uncomfortable. I was never hit with such questions in India, but my husband is American, so that’s one difference.
It was really hard to process, I will never forget the zeal he had when he spoke about this!
wow, I don`t know how I would have reacted in a situation like that. I guess I would be baffled and then think the whole week about perfect responses I could have given him XD.
I live in Japan with my Japanese husband and it sounds like Japanese people are the complete opposit of Indian people in that they mostly don`t say anything directly. I would be happy if there was some middle ground between India and Japan…
In Japan nobody has ever told me that I am this or that because I am white, although I`m pretty shure they think it. but I had been told on multiple occasions that I am very Japanese for doing stuff that was totally normal (to me). Cause many Japanese people, Japan being an isolated island country, think of themselves unique and special. which in many ways they are, bud sometimes I get the feeling that they think that everything they do is the japanese way to do it and they assume that nobody else does it like that. So then I tell them, `no, I`m not doing it like a Japanese, everybody does it like this. there`s nothing special about it`, which they are either surprised by or ignore. because they feel that they are complimenting me by saying that I did it the `japanese way`.
Haha, that’s exactly what I did. I did think about it a lot after, along with snappy things I *could* have said :P. Middle ground sounds really good, everything in moderation is healthy I say!
Would love to visit Japan one day! xx
That’s really interesting that the young man thinks living in India is so hard. It’s even more interesting that he thinks living in London is easy.
I don’t really think of my life here in Nepal as being any easier nor more difficult than my life in California. Both have their challenges and advantages. In California I used to spend 3-4 hrs daily commuting to work and my day was planned down to the last 15 minutes. Here in Nepal I don’t have 24 hr electricity but who cares because time isn’t such a concern. (As long as I get lunch tiffin and dinner ready on time that is.)
I agree, there are different things you have to deal with in the different places! Timing definitely being one of them!!
My mom and two sisters accompanied me and my husband to India for our Hindu wedding. It was quite an experience being center of attention, none of us were used to that level of celebrity status when we went out. It seemed like everyone wanted to take photos of or with us (of course we declined, when asked) but I don’t think anyone got questions like the ones you experienced, Lauren. Maybe it was because we were part of the wedding so they were restraining themselves, also most were not confident speaking English so most conversations were very short (i.e. You look very beautiful/Indian!). After the wedding and my family returned to the US, my in laws found it very odd that everyone was staring at me/us. It was their first experience with celebrity status too, I explained that I’ve just been ignoring the paparazzi and enjoying spending time in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Haha, my sister came to visit a months or so ago now and a young girl asked if she was friend’s with Taylor Swift!
It’s definitely like paparazzi in some situation!
I hope your fam had a lovely time here xx
Well, unfortunately I have seen this kind of stereotyping in both sides of the world. I remember one of my colleagues in the states kept on telling she wants to see an elephant on an indian street. I tried to explain to her that in India we don’t have elephants roaming on the streets but she won’t BELEIVE. My daughter goes to a School in India which is better than a private school in states, but in western media, children in Indian schools are still pictured sitting on the floor and studying. So you can’t do much about these things.
I agree with stereotypes being made in western countries. So many of my friends have asked if we will have elephants, camels wondering on roads. I told them that i am from a metropolitan city in India and it’s extremely rare for elephants and camels to be wondering around the streets. I get many British asking funny questions such as “do you eat chocolates there?” “do you have pets such as dogs” “are there snake charmers wondering around the street?”
On the other hand now that my boyfriend is visiting India, my friends have asked questions like “do you intend to get married?”. We haven’t got more personal questions than that but it may happen if we went to rural areas. Personally i think i will be offended if anyone in India asked me or my boyfriends these questions. I understand people are curious and i should try to be more patient.
I hope you and your boyfriend are having a great time, Bhagy!
I’m yet to see an elephant in India, sorely disappointed.
But seriously, there are probably as many stereotypes I have had to hear about India from England as from England from India. No one is immune! x
India was voted the most ignorant country beating even the USA. I am from Indian origin and visit India regularly and some of the ignorance is mind blowing.
Oh that’s interesting. By who?
What perfect naivete! It is almost impossible to answer someone like that! First off, you are not controlling the conversation (not that you must!) and he is not actually interested in your answers. You exhibited patience and forebearance which is about being a woman of education and compassion. We used to think that Italian men were pinchers. Greek sailors were once considered dangerous to a delicate female. All these images are built from thousands of years of culture and all are changing because women can control their biological destiny and enrich themselves with education, opportunities that were not available until these last 100 to even 50 years.
I was a 15-year old girl when panty hose were finally invented for those of us who wanted to wear Mary Quant / Picadilly Circus in 1968, and sport those mini-skirts with amazing new body stockings. I wore yellow ribbed turtle from neck to toes, long sleeves, a four-inch wide patent leather hip-swung belt and a black and white skirt,barely 20-inch length giant houndstooth pattern. It caused traffic accidents. It was also the moment of the invention of The Pill and the launch of the astronauts to the moon, all womens revolution in one period of less than three years. We were powerful in new ways.
We don’t have babies “accidentally” anymore. Consider this while also sifting through these naive peoples’ impressions. It means that women can be more thoughtful and fulfilled by having choices that free them from what used to be an enslaved condition. The world will be ruled by women in the Age of Aquarius. On Tuesday, we (Americans) may elect a woman to the presidency. The consequence of taking women more seriously is finally coming to the USA, even though female leaders have already dominated the stage in Asia and in Europe. Every day another stereotype is brought down when women of compassion and education can inch their progress toward being taken much more seriously.
Thank you, Claire-France!
Do you have a photo? I bet you look awesome! Tuesday is coming up thick and fast, eak! xx
Claire France, you sound like a really cool lady!
Wow, Luma! You made my day!! Thank you for writing.
This western women don’t have emotions is true and it’s a very nasty remark I’ve heard made (my partner is Indian) even after I had kids I was taunted that the love in India is more than here and it’s very hurtful.they seriously think that so set them straight that we show emotions but at the proper time.
Sorry I mean isn’t true but I’ve heard it said by Indian women…
I’ve heard it at least 4-5 times now. I wonder where it comes from?
Interesting to hear that you have too! I’m sorry, we know it’s not true xx
Lauren, please have patience because this will be slightly long post. Also, I dont know how will you take it because it also involves Britain. Please let me know if I have crossed the line of negativity or not.
Lauren, this stereotyping is not only because of Hollywood movies but also because of history. They combine hollywood and history to give back at even slightest of provocation.
the story for such questions arises out of two things
1) Colonial History of India
2) Liberalisation after 1991
Let me tell you an incident which happened when my friend took is EU(non-British) friends to India for a 2 month long visit. He went to a place in Shimla where the security asked him, ” Have the Whites come back to see their pasts?” My friend took offence and said, ” Sir, these people are not the ones who were here.” The security said, ” Sir I dont care, and for me all Whites are the same.” This security was well educated too. Now this comes out of the bitter colonial experience, which is summarised here by Shashi Tharoor, MP, Lok Sabha
So the anger the man who gave you such nasty comments comes out of the colonial experience. He combines the Hollywood stereotype with Colonial Experience. You may wonder, that its almost 2 generations since the Indian Independence but why still? Our educational system, patriotic regional movies made sure that we dont forget the atrocities of the colonial past. Hence, our patience runs thin and we just erupt out when even joked upon.
Coming to the second part, till 1991, India was a Socialist Democracy. Your husband will remember well as to how many TV channels were there before 1991. India’s transition into a free economy is just completing its 25th year and we have 1.25 billion people, give us some slack. Adding to it, within just 8 years of this transition we had internet boom. The outside world for us, opened up after 1996 I would say. The local cable channel, used to provide all the unedited english movies after 1130 pm and people got the whiff of the likes of Unfaithful, Basic Instinct, American Pie etc etc. People got introduced to internet porn, before they even got email IDs.
In conclusion, I say this, it will take time for this thing to pete out and it will. We need to remember that evolution is slow.
No lines crossed, Akshay 🙂
It’s something that crosses my mind often, the colonial past, because I wonder how my children will feel about it. Being both Indian and British. Anyway, that’s for another post one day maybe!
Things are definitely progressing 😀
On my first solo trip to India, I noticed people reacted differently if I said I was French or if I said I was British (I’m both), after a few days I just said I was French, and that was in the South too, which I believe suffered less than North India under the Raj and during partition. There is still a lot of suppressed anger against the Raj.
I also have to say that over time I have met people from middle and lower class, people living in huts, or tin roofed flats with no running water, so yes I would agree that life in India is really hard for some people – but also much easier than western life for the rich and super rich Indians. I saw a few elephants and camels too.
Some of the stereotypes some western people have about India and Indians just drive me mad…and I dare say it’s somewhat worse in the UK than France from what I’ve seen (I’d say there is the same problem between France and former North African colonies)…. But chatting with people is what makes stereotypes change in my opinion. So long as people talk together, then it’s good news (though sometimes nervewracking) 🙂
Take care xxx
That is really interesting, Padparadscha!
It’s definitely so easy to turn your back on these types of conversations but every little helps. I hope this guy feels a bit differently after speaking to me, not entirely sure he was listening though 😛
Hoping you are well xx
I am well thank you. I’m sure the guy is a little more sophisticated now thanks to you. 🙂
I understood only recently that a vast majority of Indians come from small towns and villages, I think 70-80% people still work in or around agriculture… So how could they know about our ways of life ? I lived in a village as a child and even people from the capital were an entertainment to me lol
Take care xxx
Very true! xx ❤
I have heard all these and more over the years. The most frequent and rather idiotic question I face is “Can you cook” as in can you cook anything at all. When I reply by “Yes”, it is usually followed by “Really what can you cook?” And they usually have a hard time believing I can cook many different cuisines, including Indian.
I still remember the “House Census guy” who absolutely wanted to know if we had real food abroad and by that he meant fruits and vegetables as he was under the impression we all ate ready to eat microwave meals and nothing else.
A view that was sadly shared with more than one doctor I visited, including one that at first flat out refused to investigate an odd weight gain pattern I had. She dismissed the issue as “Well you foreigners only eat burger and fries anyway”. I forced her to investigate and we found out I had PCOS and Insulin resistance and nope it wasn’t the burgers and fries I almost never eat anyway :-p
And of course as a foreign woman I apparently have no values, no morals, have a high disregard for family, can’t keep a household, live a life of debauchery, dress like a slut, and love getting divorced.
To the extent that to redeem myself I should turn Indian, forget my culture since apparently it is disgraceful and crappy anyway.
I get that too! I always find it hard to list what I can cook because I can manage to cook anything I want to if I have the ingredients. I’m glad you stood your ground, I have had some similar dietary comments from doctors actually, you stood your ground!
The way you handle such questions is really graceful. Did you ever feel like punching him in face though? LOL. 😀
I must admit that I too had a few stereotypes of western women but these blogs and the Wonderful writers have changed my perception. It is a work in progress.
I am simply memerised by your love for the indian culture.
Yes indeed our understanding of western culture came from cable tv and internet. It was mostly american tv and hollywood where everyone is over the top. That is also where the image of the western women also comes. It is also how asian and western woman look at women.
They also reinforce certain stetetypes of western life. An intelligent person would understand that there is a middle ground. But that needs more information and exposure.
However things are thanfully changing with mire people travelling but I guess sterotypes are hard to break unless you have first hand experience.
I’m glad that you have been able to see past it, friend 😀
There is a bit of an Indian history behind the stereotypes. Though out the the 1950s-1970s, bollywood movies had two constant characters. The heroine and the vamp. The heroine was the quintessential Indian women, wore Indian clothes (sometimes she wore western clothes too), cultured with good values. The vamp, the sidekick of the villain, was invariably one who wore western clothes, drank and smoked and danced. Thus, who is good woman and who is bad, was established by such depiction. In those days of socialist poverty, we did know any better. We were literally brought up on these movies.
The vamp, immortalized by Helen, whom englishwomaninmumbai mentioned, who danced like a dream
In the absence of adequate knowledge and taboo, bollywood resorted to simplified stereotypes which were easily digested by common people. Now, they seem so weird. I think a few generations of Indians grew up with these movies and they still unknowingly guide us in man woman relationship in a distorted sort of a way.
I hope I have not offended you. I just wish to give a perspective to the entire phenomenon.
That is a really interesting perspective, thank you, Friend. Oh this Helen has a lot to answer for then 😛
This is a great topic 😄. I had lots of conversations with my Indian husband who has never left India and was definitely was under the spell of these stereotypes. What I have gathered from these conversations that Western women are viewed as polygamous, easy to be taken to bed, not having strong family values, non compliant, binge drinkers… At first when I received some offensive questions I was shocked but later I realized the questions are coming from ignorance so all I gotta do is answer and educate. Fortunately my husband is very protective so after we realized what is going on the questioning stopped.
Eak! It is a horrible feeling when you think that this might be what people think of us when they see us isn’t it. Like all things, education is definitely key!! 😀 xx
Hi I want love marriage
Grrrr! Don’t even get me started on this! First off, American culture is not UK culture. Whatever they are doing in Hollywood has no bearing on me and how I am. In Bollywood also white women are traditionally portrayed as the temptress or in raunchy roles (See Helen – the subject of many an Indian schoolboy’s fantasy!) Add a dash of colonial history into the mixture and tada! You have a recipe for a less than savory stereotype. While I have had the bad experiences and ignorant comments and the bemusing amazement at my ability to cook, eat and actually enjoy Indian food I have also had some genuinely nice conversations with Indians who are really happy to meet a Brit.
Now while I am pretty sure the negative far outweighs the positive and I am certainly no fan of what our ancestors did in terms of colonization, I have been told enthusiastically by an Indian work colleague of many positive aspects that Brits contributed to India. According to him, many Indians are thankful to this day for bridges and buildings and railways etc and he loves meeting Brits and loved visiting London and Glasgow and the culture, food and people there (so these were actual real places to him as opposed to the ‘mythical’ London that many dream unrealistically about).
I told him politely that the past is the past, the good and the bad and none of it has anything to do with me now but It was nice to hear someone being positive about British culture for a change instead of telling me how Brits have no family values and all women are easy etc.
AIB did a fantastic sketch on the subject of India & UK and colonization/independence:
I think to one and other the East and the West the other will always be ‘the other’ and ‘exotic.’ With this mystery comes fear, attraction and a whole load of other mixed up messed up emotions and ideas.
All we can do as women living in multicultural families and situations is live by example and smash some of the negative stereotypes and teach our children not to stereotype ANYONE.
Yes!! Exactly, I’m sure living between two countries will help them see passed the stereotypes!
I’ve had someone thank me for things the British did, I thought it was sarcastic but he may have been referring to that!
It’s all still fresh and I really want to learn more about the whole thing because we definitely did not cover this in history class. I have read quite a lot about it all since moving to India but there is always more to learn, especially now I have a little person who will probably be very interested in it all xx
please do share your findings! x
Oh boy! Yes, it happened to me all the time!
It’s good to see I’m not alone! 🙂
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