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?!


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

Snippets of my life #7

I am sitting in office typing away. In walks some guy (G) and talks to my colleague (C) in the next cubicle.

G – “Your African friend is in office. The entire office smells of him”

C – “My friend?”

G – “Ya, smell downstairs.”

C (lets out a laugh. She does not find it offensive AT ALL) – “Oh, the office cleaning lady was in today. She used bleach to clean the toilets.”

RG guy walks into my boss’ room to talk to him by the time I turn around.


I could not believe that. I peeped in my boss’ room to see who it was. RG is some old friend of my boss. RG was the same guy who came to me and made dumb ass statements about Indians and India when he knew I was Indian. I am never ever talking to him.

How people stand up for what is right

I really like this video being shared on the internet about how people stand up when somebody is being racist. Warms my heart.


A conversation @ lunch today

Today, we [A,B,C & me] were having lunch & they were talking about some country implemented a policy which is not good for business & creates a lot of confusion among the people. We agreed that this policy is lame. Then one statement made me go into an angry tirade.

A – ” *a certain race* are pigs. They are stupid.”

Me[angry] – “You cannot make racist statements like that. What makes you think you can generalise an entire race like you did an analysis of every single one of them? For every stupid person, you show me from their race, I can show you an equally stupid person from your race. Does that mean people go about concluding that an entire race is stupid?”

B – “It is everybody’s personal experience. Many of them are really stupid.”

Me – “You can stereotype but then be willing to break the stereotypes when faced with a person. Judge them for they are in front of you. Don’t try to justify racism.”

B – “But that policy is stupid.”

Me – “Yes, it is ridiculous. Then, blame the action & the policy. It is not like every single person from that race made that policy.”

A – “You have not had experience with them. If you come from where I come from, you will learn how minorities are treated badly.”

Me – “That is the state. Then, what about minorities here? Are you being any nicer to them? You call *race A* pigs. Another person called *people from a certain country* pigs. So, both of you can can call each other pigs. How does that serve you?”

B – “We are not pigs.”

Me – “Similarly you cannot generalize an entire race also right?”

A – “Oh but….”

Me – “That is not okay. You kept on stereotyping me & when you don’t know a single person from my country, what makes you think you can make statements like that?”  Read about that here

A – “Oh no, I like people from your country …….I am sorry but you seem to have bad experience here but I am not like that.”

Me – “Like what? Not racist? You guys are obsessed with people’s races. People are people. Get over their races because people can be many things beyond that.”

Angry reaction? – Oh yes.

They started a topic that made me rant but I needed to call them out on it. Next time, I hope they would think before making lame statements like that. These people seriously need to work on their world view. 

I am not my country even though I am – 2

Remember how I blogged about how people stereotype people from a certain country and force you into boxes, previously here? Well, this week it happened to me. We have a new person in our office and this is how my conversations with her went.


She – “I used to work in HSBC.  I was making cold calls  to many clients in India for sales. I have never been to India nor do I know any Indians but I know about India from talking to these clients.”

–  How is it that people have lived in a country with so many foreigners and Indians in particular and still have never interacted with any Indian until now? 


Me – “What is your comment on this issue in your country?”

She – “No, we do not have that problem.”

– That is a blatant denial of certain key problems in your country. When, you can start criticizing other people’s countries, when you have just met them, I think you must be willing to look at the issues in your country as well critically. I encounter this attitude pretty often – my culture is superior  to yours because ……. and you have those problems in India.


She – “Why India is so conservative? My clients told me  ……….”

Me – “Yes, patriarchy is an issue in India but the particular issue you point out is present among east Asians too. East Asian women may have it better but that does not mean the issue you refer to  is absent completely.”

She – “No, we do not have any such issues like that.”


Me – “Well, you cannot generalize. Everybody is not like that. It is much more complicated than that. India is very heterogeneous.”

She – “No, your family will be like that. My clients told me.”

– My getting very very irritated point. You do not know me. You do not know my family. You cannot tell me how people I know will be with certainty from what you gleaned from few sales conversations over the phone. AND you met me today.


She – “Do you know Indian language A or Indian language B? Where are you from?”

Me – “I know both.”

She – “That is not possible. You cannot know both. My clients told me it is difficult to know more than 1 Indian language.”

Me –  *WTF moment* “Can you stop generalizing Indians.”

Looks like I am quick to get irritated [which I am] but I am running short on patience with such people considering how many of such ignorant people I run into, regularly. I am okay when people ask open questions but I dislike it when people insist this is how things and people are in a country, when they have never ever set foot on it. For East Asians, nationality and race seem to define a large part of who they are and many don’t bother developing their other identities. Thus, they often find it difficult to go beyond other people’s national identities.

Note – Okay, sounds like I am stereotyping, but this attitude  is quite common and I am always watching out and checking if they do not fit into this.

I am Indian. So what? I am so many other things too, so get over it. I don’t see it as an issue and do not bring that up every single time. Why is it so difficult to get to know me as a person, instead of trying to always define me by my nationality?

Self Racism

I was in the lift with a white guy.

Lift door opens.

There are 2 cleaning ladies who wanted to transport their cleaning stuff to another level.

On seeing us in the lift, they refused to enter and closed the lift door.

The white guy opens  the door and ask them to come in because there was space in the lift.

Me (surprised):  “Is there something I missed?  Why did they refuse to enter the lift?”

White guy: “Probably because we were in the lift and they do not want to disturb us, sort of like respect as they are cleaning ladies.”

Me: “None of the cleaning ladies ever refused entering a lift when I was in the lift!”

White guy: “Most of them refuse to enter the lift on seeing me”

Me:  “This is self racism! They are automatically giving you more respect and are intimidated by white skin but they think it is fine when an Asian is in the lift.”

How many times have I come across this attitude in Asia? Among so many Asians.

Before we complain of other people being racist, let us stop and analyse  how often and why we  Asians perceive white people as superior, richer and smarter and often look down upon dark skinned people and are less courteous to them.  

Breaking your conditioning – Catch yourself, every time you automatically attribute certain characteristics to a person because of their skin colour. 

This is What They Think but What They Shall Never State

She scanned the rental ads.

Most ads said – no Indians.

She saw an ad for a beautiful room.

It did not say – no Indians.

She asked if she could view the room.

The owner said alright.

She went to the house.

 She knocked on the door.

The owner came to the door.

The owner recoiled on seeing an Indian.

Too late.

She was at the door.

The owner showed the room.

How long do you want the room for? –  The owner asked.

She said about 6 months or more.

The owner said –  I want to rent out the room only for 2 months.

That was clearly a lie.

The ad had mentioned rental for 6 months or more.

The owner claims to be non-racist.

The owner has a boyfriend from a different race.

Surely the owner is beyond racial barriers.


The truth is white skin is superior,

Dark skin is inferior,

This is what they think but what they shall never state.

They do not have to state, 

As it is evident in their behaviour,

Every time they encounter dark skin.