cultural elitism and plastic sporks: USA 1; India 0

As I see it, there are two mistakes travelers make when visiting other countries.  One is to pine incessantly for the comforts and customs of one’s own homeland and lament the poor service/food/manners/transportation/technological amenities/etc…of the foreign country so loudly that you miss the inherent beauty and uniqueness of said culture.  This is the ugly american tourist’s response to being brought water “avec gas” by default when the waiter clearly should have assumed tap water, like they do in the good ol’ US of A.  This perspective is borne of a closed mind and love of comfort, and is unwilling or unable to appreciate differences for what they are: different.

The other error, which we see quite a bit here in India, is to over-celebrate the foreign culture because it hasn’t yet let them down the way their home culture has.  These tourists complain about Western imperialism and obesity and praise how “quaint” Mussoorie is and how “gentle” the Tibetan people are.  This is perspective is borne of disillusionment, and is unwilling to thoroughly assess a new culture, warts and all.

We, as foreigners in this strange land, think of these things all the time and are trying to avoid either extreme.  We hope that during our exile, we can see both our homeland and current station through honest, uncolored eyes.  We still get homesick, and it’s interesting to see what small things we miss and what we don’t.  For me (Abe), I miss driving wherever and whenever I want.  Not surprisingly, I miss being able to watch NFL football with a beer in one hand and a burger in the other (is there really anything more American than that?) and, more surprisingly, being able to cut that burger with a plastic knife.  I do not miss American teenagers, entitlement, or partisan politics.

Being fair and honest means being able to critique each culture on their own merits, so wherever you are from, do not take offense as we separate the good from the bad.  Starting with plastic-ware.  At our recent “International Day”, the American booth served a respectable pork chop with these “utensils”:

America, I could not love you any more than when I try to separate meat from bone with one of these useless pieces of plastic.  You couldn’t cut through yogurt with these.  Seriously.  I have to eat one cheerio at a time to keep from overloading the poor things.

Back home, my parents are still using some of the “unbreakable” plastic utensils they bought when I was in 10th grade.  Yes, those sporks may take eons to decompose in a landfill, but the Indian version will decompose in your mouth if the curry is extra hot.

USA 1; India 0


About bethraham

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One Response to cultural elitism and plastic sporks: USA 1; India 0

  1. blall says:

    Interesting post bethraham – It is interesting to see North Americans behave in India exactly how they do not appreciate immigrants to North America behave.
    As an immigrant to North America (and now a North American myself) I recall similar conversations lamenting how ‘these immigrants’ really should stop pining for home and ‘Why are they here when they don’t like it?’.
    I agree with you that you also cannot go overboard in praising the host country at the expense of the home country – there is a balance somewhere and one day we will find it ….. until then plastic spoons will continue to break.

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