The Art of Small Talk


I am so tired of the shit I have to hear in the name of chit chatting from absolute strangers.

As much as I do not like generalizing about cultures, I have experienced this here so much that I have now made a conscious decision to avoid initiating any conversations with people outside of the business I am there for. I loved to talk to people to learn more about their lives  and society but these talks have started getting on my nerves and I was pushed over the edge last week after hearing the same thing several times in a row.

I get this from everyone – people manning food/drink stalls, taxi drivers, doctors, people on the road asking for donations, people taking surveys at exhibits, workshops, at bus stops, in malls etc.

These are the questions and comments I encounter from people I have met for the first time in the name of small talk:

  1. Are you a citizen or a foreigner? In these exact words. Because they can’t tell. Uncle never gets this question because white skin = foreigner. How does this matter to a guy who is trying to collect donations for a charity? He told me he was trying to know me.
  2. Which country are you from?
  3. Why are you here if you are a foreigner?
  4. What kind of a visa are you on? The type of visa can easily help you determine my salary range.
  5. How long have you been here?
  6. Did you apply for permanent residence/green card?
  7. If it is a citizen, they go on to tell you to do this, apply for job here, on how easy it is to get a visa/PR, to keep trying blah blah. Unless you are working in the immigration or the highest levels of the government, I am not looking for advice from people who are not in the my/Uncle’s fields on job applications. You are a citizen and you have never had to apply for a visa here. You absolutely are not aware of the terms for visa application and when it is granted. I don’t know why people feel it is okay to give unsolicited advice. Like telling us, we didn’t get it because we did not try enough or do things properly.
  8. If it is a person who got a green card, they go on to make a judgement of your suitability for application of green card like they are the immigration officer. There are so many factors for getting one (none of it is listed btw) and just because they were lucky to get one 15 years ago, does not mean that the situation is exactly the same now. Also, people are shocked that I would even consider leaving the country because according to them this is the best place because they have a green card. They tell me that I should keep on trying forever until I succeed. Why the hell would we want to continue staying when one of us (I/Uncle) cannot get a visa long-term?!

I AM JUDGING YOU

Let me demonstrate some of the incidents where I am asked these questions.

Incident 1

I went to the doctor and she is east Asian and she told me she felt like a second class resident in Australia and so she took up citizenship here. She started advising me on how good this country is and why I should not move out despite that fact that we are having issues with getting visas. What  are we supposed to do? Become illegal immigrants? I didn’t point out the fact that she feels comfortable here because she belongs to the majority race here while I am not. It is quite easy for her to feel like a first class citizen because she is in the majority here.

Incident 2

I was walking by and there was this donation drive. A guy stops me and asks me if I am a citizen. Which visa I am on? What am I doing here? I asked him how all this was relevant to what he wanted to talk about? Oh, I was just getting to know you. I could see he lost face. How in the world does my passport or visa help you know me? It just helps you put me in a box, you will never take me out of. People need to get better questions to ask.

Incident 3

I was at a free exhibit, when a lady (clearly from a government department) asks me if I would take a survey on visitors to the exhibit. I was like okay because I am aware that they need  to show some data collection. The questions in the survey are

Q1 – Are you a citizen/PR/foreigner on visa A/B/C?

Q2 – Age? I gave a range and she wanted the exact age and she put an age she preferred. You ask any woman here her age and she will for the life of you never tell you. The moment they are over 30, they are start claiming  – I am 16/18 forever ha ha ha but they will not tell you. So, I don’t get how that question got an approval.

Q3 – How did you hear about us?

Q4 – Occupation? How does it matter for checking out a free exhibit?

Q5 – Your salary range?

I politely told her that she needs to provide feedback to her superiors that these questions are very invasive. How does my salary matter for checking out a free exhibit? That is so dumb.  She totally lost face.

How would she feel if I were to meet her on the train and start asking what her highest educational qualification was or what kind of house/flat she lives in because I can easily determine her wealth status from her housing type. Wouldn’t that be invasive coming from a stranger? She was like she would be totally fine with it (Asian justification tactic alert. Never admit the problem and make lame excuses). She tried to justify on how income correlates to mentality but I told her that income/education need not correlate to a certain mentality. Maybe it did, 50 years ago but not now. Some of the most racist/ignorant/crappy people I have met here are people who earn a lot and better educated that an average person. They have travelled to USA, Europe, Australia etc and yet are some of the most ignorant people on the planet while people who are not high earners (in their definition) have been pretty egalitarian and less racist. This is totally judging people based on their incomes and boxing them.

Incident 4

Even the library system flashes in capital letters that I am a FOREIGNER. It really flashes in large capital letters! Why does it matter? A library member is a member irrespective of their visa.

Incident 5

Taxi driver telling us that we should apply for this job here and there and that we should apply for green card in this way or another. He is not even remotely in our field.

I am so tired of such stupid invasive questions/comments from strangers when people in this culture will never reveal anything about themselves even if you have known them for months. For example, they will tell someone of their own race about their boyfriend but will never admit to you that a certain guy is their boyfriend. Instead, they will correct you when you say boyfriend and tell you that he is ‘a friend‘. My colleagues of 2 years will not tell me where they went for a holiday because I am not one of them #samerace. They will have bitter arguments with other colleagues but will still tell them about their holidays because #samerace.

All this coming from a culture that is so non-inclusive, you will never be in their insider circle even if you have known them for a bazillion years because you are not one of them. I don’t get why such a society feels justified in asking invasive questions.

I have been to several states in USA (not in the last 1 year) and I have had so many conversations with strangers without being asked once about my visa status. I find it ridiculous that I am asked that question regularly here, everywhere I turn from people who have no legal authority to do so.

I am sure that there are better ways to chat and get to know people.

i dont need to your visa

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4 thoughts on “The Art of Small Talk

  1. Hi, just recently came across your blog and love it! I was living in – a few years ago (I think that’s where you are?) and am Indian, but from America. I have to say I felt in here people don’t lost their identity. Whereas in America we all strive to be American, fit in, etc. In – everyone still celebrates their holidays, each culture’s food is well represented etc.

    However, completely agree the visa, status, citizenship questions are absurd! The forms remind me of Indian aunties, wanting to know about every square inch of your life. I went to school in – and was so taken aback when all the Indian girls in my class got an email about some Indian event, but I didn’t receive it only because I’m not on an Indian passport?! I don’t know, it was so weird.

    1. Thank you. I have removed any country-specific information from your comments for several reasons. I feel that there is no real identity here. Isn’t that the point of an immigrant country with different cultures? To overcome your individual ethnic identities (not totally lose them) to become a part of one country. The maintenance of us vs them identities is the reason there are so many problems. There seems to be unity and celebration here but that is because of daddy being in control. But on an individual level, things are different.

      The Indian event is a classic example of that – Race is reinforced and separated at every stage and this is the reason that everyone sticks only to their own race. This is a problem now the world over- if individual groups of people only stick to themselves and don’t integrate,it becomes a problem. So many countries have this issue – from countries in Europe to India (divisions based on state). We can’t go beyond race if we keep on reinforcing racial distinctions.

      1. Sorry for including the country name! Agree, the way I can call myself American, people of that country cannot do the same. And racism is rife, no doubt. Your mention of India reminded me of the scene in Chak De India where each girl says which state she’s from, but only one says she’s from India. And I agree, I see too often people socializing with only their race. My high school was like that, I was one of the few in a multi-cultural group and for that reason we were certainly not the “popular” kids but we were happy 🙂

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