Thursday, 28 August 2014

It's all getting a bit personal.

I grew up in a family that was very private - my parents didn't like talking to people outside the family about personal matters. To be honest they didn't really like talking to each other much never mind to us so we didn't have much knowledge about them. I never wondered if this was normal - it was for us - and didn't really notice it was odd. However, I've realised as time has passed that this is a very un-indian way of being. Sharing too much and asking personal questions seems to be a cultural trait that just missed my family entirely.

I used to go to a salon in Southall where as soon as anyone walked in the woman would say, "You need to lose weight," or, "You want a facial for your bad skin ?" It was like a really bad comedy sketch. However, it's actually not that unusual as my family in India will often do the same sort of thing and think nothing of it. It was when we visited India when I was 11 that I noticed that social distance just isn't a thing. People openly stare and ask questions like, "why aren't you married ?" (erm... I'm only 11) or "is everyone in your family fat ?" (yes, Auntie we are). It is very disconcerting indeed. What I wasn't prepared for was for that to continue over here. 

Of course living in and around London my whole life - apart from a few years in the Midlands at Uni - I often meet other people of indian heritage. The thing is I'm not wearing a sign that says, 'not equipped to handle indian inquisitiveness,' so they just pile in. It's not their fault, they just don't know.  I'm always amazed that some people will say things that are personal and ask questions that are inappropriate as a matter of course and just to be conversational.

Only the other day I was out with my boy and a woman with 4 kids started telling me about her infertility issues and followed me around adding detail to the story. I hadn't asked, but in response to her questioning my having an only child I'd said it wasn't all that easy and it opened the floodgates.  She concluded by asking me not to tell her family what she'd said - I've never met her family and wouldn't know them if I did. 

Then last week we were out at the shopping centre where there is a ride on fire engine and my son was playing on it with another boy. As the kids were playing the other child's mum started off asking if he's my only child, how old he is and why I don't have more. I was a bit taken aback, but politely said that he was an only child at the moment - I'd learnt from the last time. She asked what my husband does for a job, if I work, where I live and much much more. I felt a bit as though I was being checked out, it was quite disconcerting. 

The exchange I really feel uncomfortable with is the typical "where are you from ?" I hate this from anyone. I've known people for years and never asked where they're from as I consider it rude. I assumed my lovely pal Soraya was at least a bit indian and found out in recent years that she has roots in South Africa and Guyana - I had no idea ! It was only when we walked together for hours training for the Moonwalk earlier this year that I finally found out and after years of friendship that I felt I could even ask.

My lovely friend who I thought was called something exotic like Essjai (I'd only ever heard it not seen it written down) and whose dark hair and olive skin suggested some ethnic heritage turned out to be called Sarah-Jane and have some Irish parentage. I knew her for about ten years before I learned the latter.

You see I don't pry. If someone wants to tell me their life story I'll happily listen, but I don't enquire unless we are already friends. I think it must appear rude when someone asks me how old my son is, what his name is and other stuff and I reply politely, but don't ask the same questions in return. It just isn't in my nature to do it, but I think it must look like I'm not interested. To be honest if we just met I'm not really interested unless it's likely we're going to meet again. 

I'm hideously embarrassed when I'm confronted by people in the street, at the gym, in the shops who have no such qualms about nosying into my life. It makes me feel a bit out of touch as I'm using social media and sharing my life, but when it comes to doing it in person I want to just hide.

Here's a hint, if you meet me and want to ask a personal question, just tweet it to me, ok ?


  1. A Nigerian colleague was stopped on the streets of Bangkok by a total stranger who pointed at him and asked "Why you so black?"

    1. I hope he looked shocked and patted himself saying, "I'm black ? I had no idea !"

  2. Just catching up with your posts after the summer madness. This really made me laugh. All so very true.