Friday, December 19, 2008

How's it goin'

Eight months into my first trip to the United States and I still pinch myself sometimes. Am I really awaiting a snow storm? Do I really own a 60% down-filled jacket and boots with tires for soles? Do I live in a place so quiet that I can hear my own stomach ALL THE TIME? Do I step out on a day when the temperature is 2 degree centigrade and think it is such a nice day? Some things are easy to adjust too. But here are a few quirky details of the Amreeki way of life that I still need to get used too.

I think the thing that fazes me most is the abundance of choice available. The availability of choice only brings home the fact that now, there are so many things you CAN'T have. I really was much better off not knowing about the Chanel perfumes and Louis Vuitton bags that I can't buy. But, before this post becomes a rehashed statement on the cons of capitalism, the power of advertisement, media and materialism, I'll move on to other troubles I have settling in. If abundance of choices was my only problem, I'd be able to deal with it. But, combine too many choices and too little time to make those choices, and there's a neat trick the Gods played on us. Ha, ha. Now you know there may have been something better, but you didn't have the time to look. And, if you looked, you couldn't compare. And if you looked and compared, you know you can't afford it. So you're still miserable. Here's an example that typifies the problem.

How can it possibly be so hard to order yourself a cup of coffee? I'm better at this now, but I still don't always get what I want. So, I'm waiting in the queue at the hospital's coffee shop. First, crane neck to look at menu. Then, read a list of at least ten coffee flavors (with names like Jamaican me crazy) only to realize that only the 'flavor of the day' is available. Okay, now just to make things interesting, one of the coffee flavors is also available everyday, and this is scribbled into the corner of the menu board in white chalk. Flavor decided, you're just about looking at the mouthwatering display of muffins and cookies and for the life of you, you can't see them listed on the menu. So you don't know what they cost and worry about ordering them and getting hit by a hefty breakfast bill. You then read on the menu board that bagels are available, but you can't see any displayed and want to know what kinds they've got. Do they have flavored cream cheese? What does it cost? Do they toast the bagels? Questions, questions... And even as you stand there undecided, you get the sense of being on an escalator or conveyor belt; and you just have to keep up. Your hands are clammy, your heart beats faster, now it's your turn and you have no clue what to order. “Umm. May I have one coffee please?” you timidly whisper. “Small, medium or large? Cream or milk? Sugar or splenda? How many?”, the brisk woman behind the counter shoots. Okay... Small. Maybe with milk. I wonder will two sugars suffice? You just babble the first things that come to your mind, knowing well that you might be ruining you cup. She takes off to make your coffee faster than you can say Starbucks. Hesitantly, you call behind her, “And could you make it caramel flavored?” The dirty look you get could turn that caramel bitter! And what about the food? What? Ask all those questions about flavored cream cheese and toasted bagels while the person behind you fries you to crisp with their angry gaze? No, thank you. Don't you know I'm on a new diet? It's called the “too afraid to ask and order diet”. And it works like a charm. You finally juggle the coffee cup, your extra sugars, a stirrer and tissues with nervously shaking hands and barely make it outside without sloshing it. By the time you're done ordering and getting your coffee, you NEED that coffee!

The other thing that bothers me is the constant sense of movement and urgency around. Everyone knows where they want to go and is in an almighty hurry to get there. Rapidly moving coffee shop lines. Revolving doors that you had better time yourselves properly to get into. Escalators. Knowing the correct freeway exits. No wonder people here are so “prepared” for things. Decorating for Christmas begins on Thanksgiving. You go at least half an hour early for the movie so you can get good seats. You plan to get to the banks of the Charles early in the morning to catch the July 4th fireworks which begin at 9:00pm! You start your retirement fund in your first year on the job and your child's college fund just about the time he is born. You feel like like you're on a treadmill all the time. In fact, things are so much in fast-forward mode that you don't have time to even say a proper hello. Which brings up my next pet peeve: the American greeting.

You are walking down the corridor and you see someone walking from the other end who you know “by face”. Now, of course you're going to wish them. So, as you near and are just about to cross each other, he/she says “How's it goin'” Here, I am prepared to say my standard Indian greeting of good morning or good afternoon and I have to respond to the “How's it goin'”. Note the lack of a question mark after that statement. It isn't really a question. No one wants to know how anything is going. To borrow from the Foster's advertisement, “How's it goin'” is American for hello. So, I'm trying to figure out what to say to this question/statement. After all when you say “How's it goin'” and I say “Good morning”, it just doesn't ring right. Do I say “It's going great” (too exuberant)? “It's going well” (sounds like incorrect English)? “It's going okay.” (sounds too cool)? “It's going badly and I want to take the next flight back home” (too much information)? Not only do I have to respond to the statement but courtesy demands that I also thank you for asking and ask you the same question. And with my unblemished Indian accent “How's it goin'” sounds awful. All this has to accomplished in the time it takes for us to pass each other in the corridor. No wonder it comes out sounding “Huh.. itsfineyou?”. And no, the other person does not respond to your question. Maybe because he's out of earshot by then. Or maybe this is the daily-use cousin of the more formal “How do you do?”. I almost think that the other American greeting of the eyebrow raise to acknowledge a person is much better than this 5 second nerve-wracking encounter. The eyebrow raise and half smile is so much easier to respond to. Just smile back. Now questions, answers and accents to deal with.

Of course there is never any trouble in saying a goodbye to anyone. There's a nice general all inclusive way of doing it. No need to look around you, of being aware of the world around, or stressing about saying the right thing. Just say “have a good one.” A good morning or good afternoon or good day, your choice. So, if you lasted this far in reading this post, I hope it's goin' well and that you had a good one.


15 comments:

Geraldo Maia said...

Veena,
From Brazil a friendly hello with my best wishes:
Geraldo

Akshay G N I said...

latino uncleji is line maraoing and all..!

nice to hear about your initial reactions and ur adjustment pangs to US of A, 8 long months and one trip to India later...
UPDATE OUR BLOG more often, if I was too subtle!

other than that, very nicely written.. :)
liked the coffee shop interaction description..

Veena said...

@ Geraldo. How's it goin' and happy holidays. :)

@ Akshay. Yes, next time I'll to update more frequently than once on 15 months. How difficult can that be?

Rathi said...

I must say, I AGREE!!

I never know why people keep asking you how you're doing, if they don't really want to know!

But cmmon.. post Mumbai madness, how can you complain about the pace of the city?

And shopping.. ah! Haven't I always said I never understand the point of it all!?
First, you check out all this stuff you can't afford to buy. Then you decide it's alright, let me just try it on and see if it really does fit / suit me. So you stand in a queue where there are at least a minimum of three women standing in front of you, holding a minimum of three sets of clothes to try out (plus one hidden between the folds so the saleswoman won't catch them!) waiting about a half hour to try on something you know you probably can't afford. Once you reach the front and try it on, you fall in love! And end up paying an exorbitant amount of money on a piece of clothing your boyfriend isn't even going to notice is new.
You end up:
a. with tired feet
b. guilty you spent that much
c. mad at your partner for being a man
d. all of the above
And shopping is enjoyable because....?

Sumedh said...

I really like the "Have a good one" concept. Saves you the trouble of looking at your watch (an even greater effort if you're one of those people who don't wear a wrist watch). So many times I've blurted out the wrong time of the day in my greeting.

There were a few other quirks you could have written about.

Bye now!

Hardik said...

Me planning to come there next year. Thx for the heads up. :)

Next time ask for tea. Throw a spanner in the works. :P

And how's it goin' ?

Preethi said...

Lol..the greetings bit killed me.
I'm glad you're posting.this one was truly funny without being blade ;)

sarthak said...

hah... i'm still struggling with the greetings - yeah and what the hell is have a good one, they really should change that, the stomach sound detail was unnecessary.

mani said...

Hi Veena,
Brilliant write up ! ! ! We enjoyed reading it. With just three simple ingredients, coffee powder, milk, and sugar our Udipiwallas will prepare a nice delicious coffee. An American would give atleast sixteen different versions of coffee. That's the difference. Some can make simple things complex, and others complex things simple ! ! !

Deeksha Gajbhiye said...

hey.....is it okay if I blog mark you? (Have already done it actually)

Aniruddha Agarwal said...

hey... thanks for dropping by! :)
n i dint take ur permission like deeksha! forgive! :p

Atleast ppl wish you out there. Each time.
N believe me; its tiring to see the same old thing again. Bagels. Buns. Muffins. Cakes. D'nuts. Yogurt.

Belch.

Firebringer said...

:) Nice write up. And yeah, I've been here nearly 4 years and I still get flummoxed by "how's it goin' " sometimes.

A good response is "whassap" (can be pronounced as "what's up" as well, to suit the Indian accent, and still sound ok)

That way, you are:
(1) responding to the greeting
(2) asking a Q of your own (if they perceive it to be a Q)
(3) Using an acceptable term that people in this country will understand.

ANother issue I found (at least in the South US) is that people don't respond to "Thank You", but they will if you say "Appreciate It!"

Didn't find this prevalent in other parts though

Shreya Lathia said...

My usual response to "how's it goin" is "survivin". Yup, without the g!

So nice to read you!

Gurupriya said...

oiii....how does a 5-mth delayed comment compare to an 8-mth delayed blog post?! :p
damnnn goooood fun to read...have u tried saying "badhiya haaain!" as a possible response?? or maybe a cheery "vannakkam!" in the place of "have a good one"
as for yr coffee shop experience...can very well imagine the agony...i experience it each time an aggressive lady (u ALWAYS have 1 of those in the trains i go by..!) stares fiercely at me in the eye and growls "ANDHERI????", just pre-disembarkment, when i'm occupying the vintage post-by-the-exit-space....my reaction is usually a timid nod-of-the-head, elaborate bag-adjustment-gestures-to-make-space & a meek offering-of-peace-smile....all this while, in my head, im giving her a resounding punch on her cheeky face, with gaalis aplenty! RINGS A BELL?? so, cheers to us "ferocious-in-the-brain" ppl....!

Kag said...

Really fun read Veena!
Wish there were more of these stories.
Tc,
samir kagadkar