4 Things Every Indian Should Learn From An American

This post can be a little controversial. Many of my readers are Indians. πŸ™‚ But the purpose of this post is not to be judgmental of a culture, neither it is to over-generalize human behavior. I want to help others in understanding some valuable aspects of American culture in which I have have been immersed for the last 10 years. These have brought out the best in me and have proven to be beneficial for my personal well-being.

I completely understand that each culture has its positives and negatives. Hence just to balance the scale, my next post will be about what Americans can learn from Indians. πŸ™‚

But before I start with my list, here is the story of what inspired me to write this blog post.

I received this message from a friend. Message

I first met her in the first year of my engineering college. During those 4 years, we got to know each other better through our common classes, and the time we would spend together in our on-campus housing and cafeteria. We now stay in touch via online tools. Needless to say we have known each other for quite a long time.

While I feel I have always had the same personality, I also agree with my friend that I might seem like a totally different person. Granted that she knew me in the same 4 years of my life which did not at all bring out the best in me. In contrast the comparison is probably the years that are bringing out the best in me.

As I started thinking what caused this transition, I realized that the influence of American culture has a lot to do with who I am today. Other than the expected development which many people receive through higher education, financial independence and age, being exposed to this culture has tremendously helped me in expressing my strengths and accepting my weaknesses.

Obviously, there are people who do not embody any of the aspects which I am going to list. But the characteristics I have included here are what I generally find among many Americans.

Here are the 4 aspects of American culture that I admire and value the most, and believe that every Indian should learn to bring these in their life as well.

1. Speak your mind.

I have always been the person who expressed what I felt without hesitation. Growing up in India, which is a group oriented culture, people tend not to express themselves frankly in the fear that they may hurt the other person. Naturally, my frankness was often interpreted as my arrogance. Most of my family members discouraged me to express my opinions in the fear that I will become too opinionated and boastful of my thoughts. Even my thoughtful analysis of a situation or a person was not always acknowledged.

When I came to the USA, it was exactly the opposite. Not expressing your opinion was considered a sign of weakness. It was hard for me to establish credibility without voicing what I believe in. It was new found freedom!

While I was and still am absolutely comfortable in accepting that I do not have an opinion on a every topic, I do speak my mind on the subjects which I care about. I learned how to express my opinions in the words that people understand and do not get hurt or offended. My speeches and writings are a great example of how this has benefited me.

And yes, there is absolutely no need to hurt anybody intentionally. But keeping what you really feel in your mind is not the best way of live – for yourself and those around you. The burden of maintaining a facade is much too big to carry around daily. By being honest about my emotions, I started attracting the company of those with whom I naturally get along. Those honest and deep friendships in turn helped me discover more about who I am, what I value, and what do I want from life. Being true to them meant being true to myself.

The only caveat that comes with this lesson is that you must strive to develop the best interpersonal skills. If you treat other human beings with respect and compassion, you will naturally find a way not to hurt them.

If you develop good communication skills, you can learn how to say something that the other person may not like hearing but will appreciate that you told it to them directly.

2. Share your blessings.

This is THE most important lesson I have learned in the USA. It has made such a profound impact on the way I live my life that I tear up every time I speak about it.

I have learned that you do not have to rich to be giving. No matter how little you have, you can still do what you can to spread the light in somebody else’s dark world.

I was a Master’s student in Dayton, Ohio. I was one of the many international students who did not have a car. Now that I know how little most Americans walk, not needing a car does sound strange. But at that time it was just normal. I lived less than a mile away from the college campus and all other basic places like grocery and a few restaurants were close by. My needs were small and I never felt paralyzed without a car.

Winters can get tough there but nothing that I or many others could not handle. Then one winter, a friend who was also a student at that time, called me.

“I am buying a used car, and I want to give you the one I currently own as a gift. All you have to do is to come with me to get the papers signed. I just cannot see you walking through that snow during winters.”

I could not believe my ears. She was also a full time student, working her way to pay for college, and taking care of her family. I thought of many, many ways she could have used some extra money if she sold the car. But despite my trying to convince her otherwise, she was determined to gift me that car.

This small act made such a big impact on my life. Ever since then I have vowed to share my blessings with others. I donate to the causes I care about, fund public TV and radio, volunteer my time and skills to non-profits, and volunteer my listening ear to a friend in need and advice to those who seek. The lasting sense of satisfaction, happiness, and peace of mind you receive from giving is an added advantage.

The generosity of one of my dearest, life-long friends is what I experienced firsthand. But this attitude of giving is not as rare as one would think. Many Americans make it a point to give during Christmas time. A friend recently celebrated her birthday by raising money for an organization which supplies clean, drinking water to those in need. Another friend runs marathons to raise money for his favorite charity. The fantastic concept of public TV and radio survives in the US only because of numerous donors. These are people just like you and me – not super rich but those who count their blessings and want to share with others.

India is a country of more than a billion people. If only every person will vow to help just one other person in their time of need, imagine how much difference it will make. Even our wealthy people do not donate as much as they can. Why don’t we have our Bill and Melinda Gates spending significant parts of their earnings on philanthropy?

I cannot change others but I can change myself. The goal of my life is to give to others more than I take from them. Giving can be of any form – money, time, inspiration or my skills. But I will give!

3. Don’t judge people from what they wear.

Ask yourself how many times you draw a conclusion about the person in front of you based on what they are wearing? I know people who instantly assume somebody’s social, economic, and intellectual status by looking at what outfit they have on. Well, many Americans do not do this.

This is not to say that Americans do not have a sense of style or do not care how they dress themselves. But they are definitely more lenient in cutting you a slack if you are not dressed appropriately. They may think you do not take care of yourself, but they will hardly ever assume your profession or financials based on your attire.

I have seen CEOs who do not stand out in a crowd, and impressive professors with tattoos. They could not care less about what others think of them because for the most part people who really matter, do not care.

Once you go beyond the persona, and start looking at people’s personality, you discover hidden gems. You meet so many wonderful people. You start making exciting friends and helpful colleagues. Not to mention the burden you remove from your own dressing up routine. It does not have to be perfect every single time.

“Simple living and high thinking” should not be just a phrase to learn in school. It should become one of our guiding principles. Dress up if you like to do so but do not judge others if they don’t.

4. Ethics

I am impressed at how ethical American people inherently are! People work for 8 hours a day even when nobody is watching. They return extra change they may mistakenly receive from a cashier. They pick up a plastic bag floating around on a road and throw it in a trash can. Students do not cheat on their tests. Some farm stands work on honor system. You pick up the vegetables you want, prices are mentioned there, you put whatever you owe in a can kept at the stand. Nobody keeps a watch but most customers do not cheat.

I am sure there are some who are not as ethical, and there are criminals who are outliers. But for the most part, people are honest and care about being ethical.

This behavior saves so much headache for everybody. You do not constantly have to be vigilant of your belongings. It also indirectly saves money and time. Can you imagine how smoothly a nation would work if employees – for the most part – do the work they are supposed to do, if employers do not delay the salaries, if cashiers do not steal, and police are not corrupt?

Life becomes much more productive and stress-free.

These are the top 4 values I have learned from American culture. There are more. Maybe I will talk about those some other time. The strong influence of this culture has made me who I am today. I am the same old Manasi but America has brought out the best in me. This blog is one of the tangible outcomes. It is an effort to live by these values – to speak my mind, to give inspiration, to spread what I learn in the school of life.

I strongly believe that every Indian – heck, every person – should learn and embody these 4 values. World would be a much better place with more and more people following this path.

Question:
Which of these values have you seen in other cultures? My friends in India, do you agree with what I said or do you think I have made a mistake in understanding my own culture?

Let me know your thoughts in comments. I would love to hear your views. And make sure you read the other half of this intercultural exchange.

Β© 2016 Manasi Kakade. All Rights reserved
Thanks to bshafer for the featured image.

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36 Comments

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  • Hi Mansi
    Its excellent Blog!Very true and harsh fact about Indians they don’t follow traffic rules only in assumption I only can’t change world.specially Indian girls are very shy to express their thoughts in front of people.so India Missed out lot of talents and potentials people carry.Nice blog.keep writing

  • Excellent post! Very well written. Two things I personally would add to the list, 1) Smile and be pleasant – even to strangers on the street (which someone has already mentioned and which I used to do even when I lived in India, feels great to be smiled back at!) and 2) Learn to take criticism well – something I myself am trying to incorporate and based on some of the overly defensive comments, more Indians need to learn.

    Just my 2 cents πŸ™‚

  • Well written, Manasi!

    I am an Indian, in my final year of my undergrad at a university in India. I am an exchange student at MIT. It’s been 4 months and I am in the last week of my stay in Boston.

    This is my first time abroad and it’s surprising that I have never felt homesick in these 4 months. I completely agree with what you have written. To add to what you have said, I find people smiling cheerfully at me and also greet me, especially in the mornings.

    Many people engage in conversations with me, specially at bus stops. They are strangers, but they talk to us like as if they have known us for years! This friendly attitude is something that an Indian has to take home. How many of us Indians have ever tried doing that back in India?

    People are also very courteous here. I have heard countless please, sorry and thank you in these 4 months! Most of them never skip signals, never switch lanes while driving, never unnecessarily honk, never spit or urinate on the roads, etc. They don’t ask “What if I don’t do it?”, they just don’t do it.

    They are just not a species from a different planet. They are just like us. And so, we too can learn things which we have failed to do till now. I will certainly follow in India what I have learned from the Americans and sincerely hope that there is at least one person who would be inspired by me.

  • Really loved your post Manasi,you shared a nice information.These aresome of the things that makes them best in the world

  • Hi Manasi …..

    Nice you bothered about the said things. But the things are too general and I guess u are less exposed to our people and culture. Yes I agree that there’s difference in people of both the countries but you also take into consideration the population , social and economic conditions in both the countries. Still wehave
    any
    * celebrating their birthdays in old age homes

    * many students sacrificing their joys of new clothes and crackera in Diwali
    to feed poor and hungry

    * many peoples sponsoring education of poor and good students without even telling anyone
    * many of our saints like tukaram are preaching the same things to us from years

    So I think both the countries have many things to exchange so that we can make a better world. Thanks

    Manish Gudadhe
    Nagpur Maharashtra India

  • Hi Manasi,

    The article was well written in general; commendable. I do however feel that the views expressed, which I too share to a certain extent, is very idealistic and naive. Also, your experiences that you’ve shared is similar to my experiences in Vellore over a span of 4 years. I have come to appreciate that these sort of experiences are quite typical of certain academic microenvironments – where people are less motivated by money, appearances, etc. There are limitations of course. Can’t dress like a bum, poor hygiene and be expected to be taken seriously by somebody else even by a professor with a tattoo.

    The other thing, particularly considering a population dense countries like India or China, there’s immense competition for the limited resources (from materials to even space) which will stretch thin one’s patience. This can be considered to be root driving force for “each for their own” attitude rather than greed. The apathy is developed not innate.

    Another note on the naivety, you are completely disregarding the plight and problems faced by millions of Americans in this post. If these values were practised evenly, it would not be there. Healthcare? Public TV/Radio – don’t think USA is a shinning example of that. Look to Europe for that. Have you seen BBC programs? Its incredible to think that a country with the sort of resources it has can not have it sorted already.

    Yes, there is lessons to be learnt all around. We do need to learn to be more accepting, less rigid and more thoughtful.

  • I absolutely disagree with everything that this article imposes on the readers. Here’s why:

    1. Speak your mind: I don’t know why you even mentioned this, but here in India, we are encouraged to speak and free to disagree with our seniors. Did you never argued for more points with your teachers?
    2. Share your blessings: oh yeah, we Indians are pretty good at it. Somebody gave me their old phone because they were buying a new one. What’s the big deal? I’m sure you also have given some of your old useless stuff. It just depends on what country you’re looking at. Here in USA used cars are dirt cheap.
    3. Don’t judge by clothes: in USA people strictly follow dress rules. That’s why you can easily tell who’s a hooker and who is a working professional.
    4. Ethics: don’t even tell me about that. Go to NYC and you will paper/plastic bags all over the street. Nobody cares. I’ve been TA and taught over 200 students in past two years. There were more than 20 cases of cheating, and yes people from all countries were involved.

    Moral of the story, every body in this world is like every body else. Every country is the same, the culture is different and that’s what is unique about each country.

  • Hi Manasi,

    First up all a big thanks for ur wonderful writing..I feel the difference in people in india and US…We have Quantity but lacks quality..Ethics is now a research subjects for universities and they are thinking when and how to implement it on our higher education system..And the process has reached nowhere..Only UPSC had made an attempt by bringing Ethics & Integrity in their mains paper. So we can hope for a good administrative change and there by social change in the coming decade..We lack Openness..Our children are forced to follow conventions and procedures instead of their ideas and thoughts in school..Even a creative idea by a bright student cannot be nourished in most of our schools…We need to change this from the grass root level..Else our education system become grass without roots..The dress code is a concern for the people in india for a long time and slowly its changing..Yet there are some minds that are determined not to change their minds…And efficiency in work is the last thing and is the least thing we can expect from a majority of indian government servants…Through my readings i came to know that 10% of public officials are delivering their work at the right time …And sharing..we are speculators only..we look for others to share and get a share from other..Even a person met with an accident die in our roads..Humanity ..we lacks it everywhere…I showed some emotions in this reply..But its my feelings and i have to do my best for my country note to compete with others..but for my own peoples welfare ..

    • Hello Sarath,

      Thanks for your heartfelt response. It is good to know that UPSC is trying to bring the ethics in the curriculum. It’s a step in the right direction.

      But as you rightfully pointed out, it’s never going to change if everybody keeps thinking that it is others’ responsibility. If we want to see a change, we MUST be that change. So many of us – like you, me, and other readers of this blog – feel so deeply about this topic, that it is our responsibility to adopt these values within our lives. Motivate family and friends to do the same. Definitely make an impact on our children. Teach them the right values.

      It all has to start somewhere. One small step at a time, one person at a time, and one child at a time, we can make a difference.

  • Hi Thanks for your post. Thought provoking.

    I am a person who has lived in India and abroad at various stages of my life. I agree with most of what you say about the really developed countries. But one question – will you be willing / able to return to India and then apply these things you have learned. If you do, will it be effective? Or will you have to pay for it?

    I am planning to return to India at some point – basically with an attitude of giving back to my country. So this question is not a challenge, but an honest interest to know your thoughts.

    Jaison

    • Hello Jaison, that’s the plan! πŸ™‚

      But here is the thing, applying these changes is not contingent on being physically present in India. I see Indian people who live in the USA but do not embody these values or teach their children about those. Let’s start changing ourselves first. Become such role models that those around us feel they need to be like us. That’s the inspiration which needs to become viral. The rest of the change will happen – slowly but surely.

  • Hi,
    I loved your post and strongly agree with it. I couldn’t have put it in a better way.
    After a recent visit to the US, I have come to realise where we lack as Indians. Maybe that is just a result of better manners, or better education, even.
    I really appreciate your perspective, and look forward to more articles in the same vein.

    Thanks for the great read!
    Chaitanya

    • Hi Chaitanya,

      Thank you so much for your feedback. I am glad you liked the writing.
      I do think though that these teachings go much deeper than the education and manners. They are intrinsic to the upbringing from the childhood. So once we start caring, I am sure our children will! πŸ™‚

  • Hey, I appreciate your thoughts and you pen down these thoughts very well. @ To All – Let us not worry about about the cultures and traditions, but we will follow these “4 things” in day to day life which will make us happy.

    Happy Writing πŸ™‚

    • Hi Pradeep,

      You got the point! Ultimately all “cultural traits” are “human traits”. No matter where we learn those, the point is to learn and grow.
      I will enjoy writing, as long as readers like you enjoy reading it. πŸ™‚ Thank you for the appreciation!

  • Hi Manasi,

    It’s good to read that you have had a chance to mould your personality for the better in the US and your experiences really are worth mentioning.
    I won’t comment on whether you have misunderstood your own culture or not, because for me the above four points are not something that I would attach to a particular culture or a group of people. These values and ethics are something that each individual, an Indian or an American, may or may not decide to inculcate. One can not judge an entire nation based on this.

    This article would have been an even better read had it talked more about your positive experiences in the Unites States rather than comparing and chalking out “lessons to be learnt by every Indian”.

    This is just my opinion and I am hoping that you will take it in the right spirit.

    Thanks!

    • Hi Pallavi,

      You are absolutely right that following any values – not just these 4 – is an individual choice.

      But those are exactly the choices, which when made more commonly and more frequently by a group of people create a cultural pattern. What is a culture, after all? It is a set of characteristics that a group of human beings tend to showcase more so than other characteristics. There are always outlier situations, and outlier people who will not stick to the pattern. But when we say that a “culture” behaves in a certain way, that means when tested on randomly selected people and situations, there is a considerable higher probability that the outcome will be as predicted.

      A simple test would be to try out the same things in randomly selected places and times in India and the USA. e.g. try out selling vegetables on an honor system. See if it works. According to my observation of both cultures, it should work in the USA but not in India. This can be done for any characteristics.

      I believe that if we can predict an outcome with a certain level of confidence, that is as good as saying we can judge a nation with a fair level of confidence. But that confidence level is always going to be less while predicting how a randomly chosen human being in either place will react because of the added uncertainty of the outliers.

      Makes sense?

  • Hi Manasi,

    A very well worded article. Each of the traits you mentioned above are actually the better human traits which should be followed. I too have lived in the States for 3 years now and have the same opinion about Americans in general. But as they say there are two sides of the coin and mostly you tend to see just one side of the coin because of the environment around you. Every city in the US also has a part of town that struggles to keep up with the glittering side of the city and among the people out there competition is fierce. In our homeland of India also there are people who follow the traits mentioned above and the actual count may be greater than here in the US but they get immersed in the sea of people back home. I too have changed to inculcate these traits and will continue to do so but I cannot blame the people in our country for their ways because in a cut-throat competitive environment back home only the fittest will survive and thus everyone forgets the human traits in the race of life back there. I would still back and appreciate the effort you have put in to be instrumental in bringing about a good change and hope that one day it becomes a reality.

    • Hi Ashish,

      You bring up a valid point which I did not intend to address in this article. Why people tend to behave the way they do?

      You rightfully mentioned, “I cannot blame the people in our country for their ways because in a cut-throat competitive environment back home only the fittest will survive and thus everyone forgets the human traits in the race of life back there.”

      Hence it becomes even more important for those of us who are fortunate enough not to be facing the survival issues in our daily life. We have our own challenges, I agree. But the point is not at all to blame ANYBODY else. Rather put constraints on our own self to be our best versions, without making any excuses.

      Looks like you are already doing it. Kudos to you!

  • Hi Manasi,
    I have lived in India, Singapore, USA, Finland and Germany (each country for at least 2 years) in the past. I totally agree with your experiences and views. Like Americans, Germans and Finnish people are also the same: they don’t need to be monitored to show honesty, they assume buying a ticket before travel as part of their “natural” behavior, they hold life at the highest importance than anything else, they respect your time, they are PUNCTUAL, they focus on WORK rather than clothing, they smile with you rather than gossiping about you, and most of all …. THEY FOLLOW RULES!!

    Though it would be wishful thinking to expect such behavior from us Asians, fact remains that such superior thinking is simply not possible to be expected out of them. Some of the examples where we Indians can NEVER DO are as below:
    – stop spitting
    – follow Traffic lane rules
    – follow Traffic signals
    – clean toilet seats after using
    – apologize: say SORRY once in a while
    – gratefulness: say THANKS once in a while
    – give away your seat to a pregnant lady or one with a baby
    – wait till the flight comes to a complete stop and then get up
    – arrive in the meeting room 5 minutes before
    – close the meeting on time
    – check with people for their time and then schedule meetings
    – wash your hands before you touch a new-born baby
    – and so on … and so on
    We feel so proud when Chennai traffic is turned green for transporting a human heart from one hospital to another, while such events are part of normal life for people in USA, Germany, Finland, Singapore. If they start glorifying each great event like this, the newspapers will be full of them!

    I want to openly challenge anyone who can prove me wrong here. I don’t care if it hurts any feelings, because only guilty ones get insulted.

    • Hi Mangesh,

      You bring up so many accurate examples. Thanks for sharing your varied experiences from other countries.

      I am disappointed though with what you mentioned:

      “Though it would be wishful thinking to expect such behavior from us Asians, fact remains that such superior thinking is simply not possible to be expected out of them. Some of the examples where we Indians can NEVER DO…”

      Seeing a thoughtful and analytical person such as yourself losing hope for the brighter future is heart-breaking.

      It all starts somewhere. If you looked at many countries and India 500 years ago, the picture was totally different. Every nation goes through cycles of good and bad. It is the choices we make as individuals within the bad times that defines if we keep progressing or digressing as human beings, and hence as a nation. During that process even the small wins like the Chennai traffic incident should be celebrated in order to establish standards of expected behavior.

      You seem to be blessed with intelligence and awareness of the issues. If people like you give up hope, what’s the point? That is as bad as knowingly choosing to behave badly. I challenge you not only to spread the awareness you have, change yourself, but also motivate those around you to follow your footsteps. It is not about proving anybody wrong through words, but rather impacting them with our inspirational actions and behaviors.

      Do come back to share more of your experiences. I would love to hear from you.

  • Hi Manasi,

    This might sound cliche- but very well written article.
    I need to learn something.
    Regarding your statement- I can not change others, I can change myself, I remembered what our 1st Indian Miss Universe Sushmita Sen said in one of her speeches. Don’t worry about changing world, you change yourself, world will change itself. I believe she is certainly the one who follows this and that’s why unlike other beauty pageant winners, her speeches make effective public impact.

    Thanks,
    Mukta

    • Hi Mukta,

      Thanks for sharing the quote from Sushmita Sen. I had not heard it. What she said is exactly the way to start making a difference. I am glad you learned something and hope you follow what Sushmita Sen said. πŸ™‚

  • I’m glad you’ve had such a positive experience of my country, but most of these traits are human ones. One culture may stress some while another may stress others. But none are intrinsically American.

    • Hi Sam!

      Glad you read the post! As I wrote to Pallavi, those are indeed all human traits. Culture is made up of nothing but humans so they ought to be. πŸ˜‰

      But stressing some values over others is exactly what defines a culture, shapes it, and distinguishes from other cultures. Hence while these values are not intrinsically American, Americans sure embody those.

  • I definitely think you have misunderstood your own culture!! Good to know that America treated you well and you are had all these “life altering” experiences there. But its so incorrect to say that all this is American and cannot be found in India. There might be many other things that Indians can probably learn from America (and vice versa), but these 4 things are definitely not it.

    • Very well written. Your writing is ACTUALLY very clear, straight forward yet not arrogant. Offcourse you know your country and culture very well,that’s why you could put up such clear differences. We Indians are still having the cultural and ethical hangover of the past. i don’t know about the times of Rama or Satya yug…but the ‘yug’ in which we are at ‘yudh’ every moment, this points are very clearly evident. All your points are pretty much valid. and I thank you for putting up point number 2…. will surely try to do my part on this!! Go ahead…. happy ‘speaking-your-mind’. πŸ™‚

      • Oh, wow, Sush! May be you should start writing. You expressed such profound terms: “cultural and ethical hangover of the past”, “we are at β€˜yudh’ every moment”. πŸ™‚

        Glad you liked my writing. I hope you keep coming back for more.

    • Hi Neha, thanks for taking time to share your opinion. In this case, I would be happy to be proven wrong. Would you care to share some of your experiences perhaps? Thanks!

  • Very very nice … and right thing we Indian should learn . we are really missing in Civic scene and humanity

  • Yes, Manasi very true… I am with you on all 4 things. I was like exactly!…. I was feeling like I am reading my mind which has been pened down in excellent words.

  • Hi Manasi,

    Awesome post. Tru that every bit u have written. Waiting to read many more upcoming posts.

    Rgds,
    Smita.

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