Offending friends and relatives
Bikram Vohra (LAST WORD)
29 October 2010,
Are we sometimes unthinking about the way we behave when we go back to our home country — especially those of us who live in the subcontinent? Remember those occasions when we have unwittingly upset a friend or relative by something we have said.Like put on the A/C, it is so hot, I am sweating bricks. Like, doesn’t anyone care for hygiene anymore, how can you eat from the vendor? He is filthy. Sorry, I only drink bottled water.
Face it, there is no pursuit of excellence at home, we settle far too easily for too less, everyone is goofing off, that’s why the Games scandal occurred.
Judgements made by those who are passing through and really have nothing to do with the daily grind are arbitrary and not so nice.
I often think it is guilt that forces us to say and do silly things. If you are carrying bottled water or strips of Panadol, why make a production of it? Be discreet. Besides, it is a bit silly to carry bottled water, you can get it anywhere in the world. But I have met people who actually do bring along a supply.
In the next month or so, many of us will be making tracks for home and will end up casualties of the wrong thing said or done. In the wake of our visit will be upset in-laws, irritated brothers and sisters, hurt friends — and most of us will not even know why our sloshing goodwill went sour.
Because we don’t think, that’s why. In our desire to be liked and feel wanted once more we babble on inanely, saying all the wrong things with exquisitely wrong timing.
So, what I have done is list the seven major steps to avoid because they are slippery and fraught with danger.
Be grateful, because it is the outcome of tremendous research.
One, never patronise with a cheap gift, especially if it is to a senior relative. Everyone knows the genuine price so you are kidding no one with a two-dollar aftershave or a camouflaged ‘topped up’ cologne. Don’t ever give used stuff, people can sense it straight away. More heartburn is caused by giving bad gifts than by giving nothing at all.
Two, don’t tell friends how to run their business and drop brand names and electronic item model numbers at them. It is wonderful you know about the new IX7, you marvellous man, but you sound offensive when you display this irrelevant information. No one cares if your system has 24 functions. Or your phone doubles as a movie theatre, get over it. And don’t say ‘my Beamer’ or ‘my Merc’ or ‘Jag’ — that is so annoying.
Three, don’t show off about your foreign achievements, especially your lifestyle and your little collection of status symbols and your trip last year to Europe and the two days down to the Costa del Sol. It is boring, boring, boring and your friends will run away.
Four, don’t keep marvelling at how comparatively cheap things are as compared to abroad. You sound like you are slumming and that condescending tone will be registered. Expats at home do that gushing thing when they are out shopping: ooh, isn’t that super, I’ll take three, you know how much these were in London.
Five, never give business advice. You are out of the loop, you have no idea how things are in Karachi or Chittagong or Colombo so all your advice on jobs, the investments, the commodities are not worth a whistle in the wind. By the same token slow down on your advice levels on Dad’s health, Mum’s arthritis, the repairs to the house, the plot of land, taxes. You weren’t there doing the physical running around when the crisis occurred (hospitals, courts, lawyers, tax offices) so your rights are comparably curtailed.
Six, don’t be pretentious. Don’t call a brinjal an aubergine or baby cucumbers corgettes and speak of escargots in oil (no one eats snails in Delhi) or refer to the colour on the walls as Almond Essence or Pale Blanche, it is just white, plain flipping white.
Finally, don’t keep grabbing for the bill when out with old friends. You may have dollars in your pockets and you may even mean well but it is a sobering thought: they are probably richer than you and all your tribe, so don’t push it. If you do, what you are really saying is you are a better man than them and that is when you’ll find they don’t want to meet you again.
With good reason.