Off with ’em Misconceptions!


I entered the United States mentally prepared for things that would surprise me. But oh well, I still end up shocked, surprised, all that jazz.

First, about Americans. All I knew of them was that Indians worked rather hard in American companies. If something had to be done, it HAD to be done, even if it was 2 am on a Saturday morning. I don’t yet know if that’s a misconception, but here’s what I know: Everyone, EVERYONE without fail just clears off the California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology building at 5 pm sharp. And the place wears a deserted look on weekends. DESERTED. Yeah, there might be exceptions, but the place is tombish as the evening wears on.

And then about geekdom. I thought they were the bottom rung of society, etc. But then, I see Tshirts that say “Talk nerdy to me”, and “I Love My Geek”. And a few other things besides… geeks are the cool guys here, or so it seems to me in gradschool. But not that much geeky joking around. Not here, atleast. I thought I cracked the least geekiest jokes, while I was at NITK, atleast when you compare me to a SaiO or folks from Tronix ’08, but a post-doc with a double PhD from two continents and several other geek qualifications besides told me of late that I crack the nerdiest jokes he’s ever heard. ‘Plenty more where I come from’, I said.

And mad scientists. I attend classes taught by one of them. Contrary to popular perception, they are the most sociable people, some of the funniest I’ve met. And they have the best sort of communication skills I’ve ever come across. Even the most complicated equations take on a pleasing face when they are teaching you about those. They’ll talk to you for ages about their research and it won’t be boring in the least. Even if it has nothing to do with what you’re interested in.And if you don’t understand something, you can ask a million times. Oh, their awesome patience.

And the utter lack of hierarchical barriers. Getting back to the aforementioned Institute which is deserted at 5 PM… I found that out the hard way. On my second day in the place, I had been staring at my monitor for two hours and stepped out for a breather at 4:55 PM. I came back at 5:02, to find everyone gone, and the lab locked up. My things were inside, inclusive of wallet, mobile, laptop, keys…. and the whole place seemed to be deserted. I was told by someone to go up to the top floors, where the folks with keys were. And they were the only ones with keys, apparently….. this place was out of reach of Campus Security too. And hurry, because everyone leaves at five. I did so. I barged into the first open door and disturbed a man having a no doubt well-deserved peaceful cupcake. I blabbed something about my situation and he cross-checked whether I really did belong there. And then came down three floors to open the door for me. And waited till I had cleaned out my stuff. “Thanks!”, I said, “What do you do ’round here?”

“Oh, just Assistant Director”.

But then, the overwhelming social equality or whatever gets to me. We’ve come a long, long way since John and Yoko sang “A very Merry Christmas / For Black and for White / For Yellow and Red Ones / Let’s stop all the fight”. No allusions to perceived skin colours. No shortforms of people’s countries of origin – those have already been used during WWII and hence been given rather negative connotations. And lighter shades are more common than darker ones. And all you Dalit Leaders who talk about affirmative action and social justice…. just live here for ten days and then talk.

And for some strange reason, all the evangelists are South Korean. All the churches I’ve seen are, too.

And there’s this one-toothed old black lady at the same spot on campus every day getting people to sign petitions to make weed legal and taxable.

Did someone say the Nano would increase pollution? Hell, they haven’t done a comparative study of the USA and India. It naturally comes to me to hoard every single scrap of paper I find, and at the end of six months, parcel them off to the raddiwalla. Here, you shred and throw. And what’s with the leaf-blowers? This post sums it all up for me. Oh, and how many eucalyptus trees! In the middle of the desert! Isn’t it common knowledge that eucalyptus depletes the water table?

And the houses don’t optimize on sunlight.. it’s the way they are constructed. If I want to use my walk-in closet or the bathroom, I need to turn on the light. Even if it is blindingly bright outside. And all the doors/windows face only one way. No cross-ventilation whatsoever. Oh man….

Every single building, device and vehicle here seems to be built for an emergency. The first thing that hit me were the doors (literally). You pull the door to go into a building. So that when there’s a disaster, you can push the door (which is more natural) to get out. Every single time I approached a door initially, my head would fill with images of a hundred screaming people pushing Bren Hall’s main door and spilling out.

I mentioned my blog in passing to one of my non-Indian friends, and he asked for the URL. I gave it to him… but couldn’t help thinking WHAT he would understand from this page. All the lingo I use, all the references I give on this blog…. they seem so localized. That’s just a realization… I’m not complaining.

A Happy Kannada Rajyotsava to everyone.

And something I’ve been wanting to embed on a blogpost from a long time.. here you go:

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About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
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16 Responses to Off with ’em Misconceptions!

  1. Vikram says:

    Seems like you are impressed with _everything_American_?

  2. Mal says:

    No, Vikram’s right. You do seem very into it.

  3. Dee says:

    You are of course, entitled to observations, and thus, we are, to impressions and lesser misconceptions.

  4. Studying sounds like FUN there – I think thats where Indians win you know. Here, to do anything you struggle against a million people. The minute you go to a place where its relatively easy, and its much easier to do stuff.

  5. Shreevatsa says:

    Everyone, EVERYONE without fail just clears off […] at 5 pm sharp. And the place wears a deserted look on weekends.
    So it’s true what they say, about California being more relaxed. 🙂 Here you can be leaving the building at 3am and you’re still likely to meet people walking in — even on weekends. (Or maybe there’s no actual difference, just a matter of definitions of deserted and tombish.)

    But then, the overwhelming social equality or whatever gets to me. […] And all you Dalit Leaders who talk about affirmative action and social justice…. just live here for ten days and then talk.
    What do you mean?
    (“Overt political correctness” is an interesting phrase; I’m wondering who would possibly be politically correct covertly.)

    • wanderlust says:

      in india, the place is more inclusive. you have people from advantaged sections of the society, the disadvantaged sections, everywhere. but i don’t really see that here.
      you can guess someone’s profession by their skin colour, and you’ll be mostly right.

      • Vikram says:

        “you can guess someone’s profession by their skin colour, and you’ll be mostly right.”

        Where? US or India? Either case, I beg to disagree.

  6. Mahesh says:

    As disappointing and callous of me as it is to write this, congratulations on going through another stereotypical stage of living in the US as a grad student.

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