Friday, July 08, 2011

Growing Pains of an Immigrant Life

An Immigrant life is often challenging albeit amusing. Though I immigrated to another country I can’t speak on this topic with authority, let’s just say I am one of the worst immigrants one has ever come across. This blog post is not to scrutinize my total inability to cozy up to a new place but to cheer all those funny and bizarre experiences that made me smile through my toughest phase yet. I must warn you though; I may need to resort to twisted ways to extrapolate my theory.

Knowing your phone etiquette is half the battle won: No one told me this and it is one of those dark mysterious secrets of an immigrant life. As an Indian, I knew where to get Indian groceries the day I arrived. I also got lectured by my fellow Indian friends (who had just arrived a few days earlier) on all sorts of odds and ends like where milk is cheap or where I can buy my winter clothes. Mobiles phone etiquette in North America however, remained in the oblivion.

I learnt, very brusquely, not to get excited and call all my jobless friends during the day to willfully endure myself to any pearls of wisdom they may have about coping in a new country. When you call during the day you’ll notice that your polite Canadian friends will answer the phone and stick to a succinct conversation. Your new found Indian friends (the same those who freely and eagerly gave you long sermons on every way to make your dollar last) on the other hand, will be out right rude and not answer your phone. And while you scratch your head and wonder what you did just within days of landing in a new country to rub someone the wrong way, you will discover, after 5.00PM, that incoming calls are charged during the day. Yes it was only after my husband found the phone bill, and had a minor heart attack, did he explain to me the wacky concept of being charged for incoming calls. It was totally unheard of in India and I didn’t even know you could be charged for it. Clearly, I was a cell phone abuser back home and the rest of the country was no better. I only wish these mysterious charges could be applied in India I could have avoided half my calls under this pretext.

The mobile concept in the west is far more complicated than meets the eye. As if this restricted calling was not bad enough, I had to learn a whole new chapter in my life - voice messages. Since I was never in the habit of leaving or receiving voice messages, I found this to be very strange and left a lot of weird and abrupt messages or simply didn’t leave one at all. Well again most of my immigrant friends were in the same boat. Not only did I have to do it for my mobile phone but also my work phone!

As Indians we jumped when mobile phones were introduced, we took to them like fish to water. However, in all the mobile frenzy, one habit never died - we still yell on the phone like during the painful days of trunk dialing. I have seen my grandmother do it, then my mother. I come from a family of yellers and I speak with a lot of gusto. Talk softly, the line is perfectly clear whether you are calling your next door neighbor or your distant relative on the other coast. When you conquer the art of talking softly on the phone don’t shove your new found habit down your mother’s throat, it will have severe consequences (remember, she is a yeller)!

Immigration will teach you what bankruptcy feels like: I felt very confident that we had shown sufficient funds to earn us a Canadian visa. It is only when I got here did the reality of it all sink in. The healthy balance that I saw in my bank account in Bangalore, which could have easily paid for nice vacation and several pairs of shoes, was an illusion. For it diminished to less than quarter when I came here. It is when I learnt the most crucial lesson of all; do not count your chickens before they hatch.

A typical Indian is very indiscreet about his finances and also loves to pry into his neighbours’ as well. I have lost track of the times a rather annoying mama (uncle) has asked me how much I make. And when I state my abysmal media salary his expression would show absolute contempt. He would then flaunt his Techi grandson’s astronomical salary, and lecture me on what I can do to better my poor career choices. Now, I will probably never meet this fictitious grandson, neither does the poor boy in question know his bank balances are doing rounds in the Mylapore kacheri circle.  The point being, this indiscretion shows its ugly head in many weird ways in a new country. Your Indian friends will always ask you how much you spend on your grocery, phone bill, clothes to just about anything and they will be happy to share all these details with you. Initially, it drove me crazy and then I would state the price before stating what I bought! Don’t take this annoying habit with you to work; you’ll be surprised what a different perspective your Canadian friends have on spending.

Housing, and more so rent, was another hot topic amongst us – the new immigrants. It was very competitive and the lower rent you pay the greater heights you will scale in the immigrant circle echelon. I pay 800$ in rent, which is a real bargain for a downtown apartment, however, for the first few months I nearly died every time I had to write out the cheque. That brings me to my next point, when it comes to money do not convert, it will only give you an ulcer! Everyone around will convert for you. For instance I spent a decent chunk of money to get myself a really warm cozy winter jacket, although the jacket kept me warm and will continue to do so for several winters, (provided it does not go out of fashion) I lost all my sanity over it! Every Indian friend of mine would promptly convert and rebuke my choices. Some would be more tactful than others but being diplomatic is certainly not one our best strengths. Your fellow immigrants will convert and will consider it a blasphemy if you spend 150$ for a pair of boots (but I love it). Yes! That was another one of my brave indulgent purchases for which I was never spared!  My defaming decisions have evicted my husband, who could no longer be in the running for ‘poster boy’ of the new immigrant community.

Even though I poke fun at my Indian friends, I am truly grateful for having them around. I clung on to them for my dear life in a new country and found some solace in knowing that they really understood what I was going through. It’s amazing how this opportunity pushed me to meet people from my own country, who otherwise would have been misfits in my delusional world that I built for myself.

Immigration teaches you a lot of things and I prescribe it to everyone. Every day in a new country is a challenge but I have learnt, in a very painful and agonizing way, to make the best of both worlds. Embrace the new values and make it your own by immersing it in what you already know. Above all my friend, be proud of who you are and stop faking your accent within days of getting here!


Choc-a-Bloc said...

Hahaha... That was quite Informative I must say!! for us Desi's... who have fancy plans of moving to an exotic country some time in life...This is a Reality Check for sure..
Good Read Dhiv:)

Krishna said...

I'll save my comments for in-person chat for later :-)

Dhivya said...

Thank you Vani! Krishna I'll wait to hear it...

Chitra Unnikrishnan said...

Haha too good Divs! Very well written. I was nodding vigorously while reading it :) and laughing too. You have a fan in me! Waiting for your next write-up.

Chitra Unnikrishnan said...

This was brilliant Divs!! Very well written. I was nodding my head in agreement and laughing all through the read. You have a fan in me. Waiting for your next write-up!

Bubblegum.... said...

That was funny and very well written! :)

Pavithra R said...

Loved your writing, Dhivya!!

aparna devdekar said...

hahahaha awsm blog :)
keep bloging :)