On toilet paper and cultural differences

I used to think I’ve been a foreigner all my life. My father was born in Calcutta. So was I. But we “came” from the south of India, we were Tamils; you could tell that from our names and, more particularly, our surnames; from the way we spoke; maybe even from our hair or our skin colour. Whatever the reason, a little part of me therefore thought I was a foreigner.

This, despite the fact that Calcutta has been fantastic to me, will always be a place of magic for me. Neither Calcutta, nor its Calcuttans, made me feel a foreigner; I made myself feel that way.

In the summer, for many years, my mother would take me and my siblings off to Tambaram, where her father lived (and taught Chemistry). And when I went there, I felt a foreigner. Even more of a foreigner than I felt in Calcutta. Way way more.

By the time I figured out what my grandmother was saying, that I wasn’t really a Dravidian but, instead, was descended from invading Aryans from a very long time ago, I felt a real full-blown whole-nine-yards foreigner.

So by the time I got to London, I was a foreigner indeed.

A foreigner at home. A foreigner away. A foreigner everywhere. Even if it was just a little bit of me feeling that way, it was there. And it gave me a different perspective. This perspective came into its own when I could afford to travel, and when I started seeing different cultures. I began to feel comfortable everywhere.

Over the years, I’ve been privileged to be able to visit over 50 countries, and felt at home in all of them. And I began to see that maybe I wasn’t a foreigner at all. I was a native. Everywhere. But particularly in places where I’ve spent real time. So I began to think of myself as a native of Calcutta, of Liverpool, of London, of Dublin, and of Windsor: the five places I’ve lived in.

The foreigner in me used to spot cultural differences fairly quickly, more as a defence mechanism than anything else. As the native in me grew older and displaced the foreigner, the defence mechanism became less necessary. And somewhere along the line I began to really enjoy looking at cultural differences, sensing the nuances, feeling the differences.

Which reminds me. Oh yes, the point of this post. Years ago, when I used to market and sell offshore software services, I tended to open sales pitches with a simple cultural point. I said “The English and the Indian cultures can sometimes be seen to be separated by something as thin as toilet paper. The Indians think the English are dirty, because they use toilet paper…..and after a pause, I gently moved on to how 5 star hotels in Dubai (are there any such things, or are they all six- or even seven-star?) learnt to operate between the east and the west. Cue the mini-shower-head on a hose by the loo seat. Enough said. Maybe TMI.

Cultures are strange things. Differences between cultures stranger still.

Which is why I found this post, using simple pictures to show the differences between Chinese and German cultures, really enjoyable. Do take a look, it’s wonderful. Thank you Adino; keep it up. I loved it.

Incidentally, I also really liked what Adino had to say in his About page:

Welcome friends, family and strangers to Adino Online. This is my very own space on the Internet.

“This is a blog for my family, friends and online friends in a journal format. I will update it at least five nights per week with articles like personal observations, photos, news and updates. I will not write about sensitive issues, politics, work, and gossip. I will not reveal any information that will endanger myself, my family, and my friends.”

I will usually post at night. If you have submitted any comments, please be patient until I approve them at night. Please be careful what you say in your comments. Don’t get me in trouble with our government ok?

One last thing, if you want any help setting up your own website or blog, I can help you in exchange for some consultancy fees ;)

I hope you all visit often, and I hope to hear from you in the comments and through email.

I guess that’s one more reason I love the blogosphere. How I can learn about (and from) other cultures.

5 thoughts on “On toilet paper and cultural differences”

  1. Yes, indeed. Indians born outside of India are foreigners everywhere and at home everywhere. But we have learned better than most people in the world how to be tolerant of every culture and to generally fit in. And it continues to evolve with Desi culture bridging the gap between generations and east and west…

  2. Within India your name and surname allowed your fellow country men to make an assesment as to your place of origin. I find it sad that as you state for “what ever reason” you felt a foreigner in your own country. However for those of us like myself and my children, born of black parents in a Caucasian country like England, it is always the color of your skin not your name, that makes you a foreigner in the eyes of your fellow country men no matter how British you feel, no matter how integrated we believe we are.

    Within my own ethnic community, like your own, there are still self inflicted injustices, based around the shade of your skin, the coarseness of your hair, the width of your nose, the thickness of your lips etc. based on misguided aspirations, to map as close as possible to those Caucasian physical characteristics that are deem by those blinked media barons, and sad to say many of my own people, constitute the universal image of beauty, propagated via popular publications and media portals.

    So the point of my post is this, Cultural diversity within your own country should be celebrated and embraced, however when you feel like a foreigner in your own country due the role of the dice that dictate your parents, your place of birth, and hence your clan, this exposes the ethnic internal prejudices we all have to fight and remove.

    Therefore JP you and I can never be anymore than a foreigners, no matter where we reside within this planet, even though I was born in this green and pleasant land.

    I have deliberately stayed away in this post from the subject of religious diversity, another time, another post.

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