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Indian student blog Stereotypes, cultural diffusion and prejudices!

Spices

A common stereotype is that Indian food is always spicy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t refute this one, because of my limited cooking skills.

(Devendra Shintre)

Indian student Devendra gets a feel for how his country is perceived in Switzerland and sheds a few misconceptions of his own.

Stereotyping is bound to happen when two cultures rarely meet. In my case, I had never met anyone from Switzerland before coming here. The only exposure I had to western culture was through Hollywood movies and TV Series. Occasionally I came across foreign tourists in places like Goa or Manali, but that was it.

 For a country like Switzerland, which is infamous in India as a secret banking destination for corrupt politicians, I was expecting profligate residents. This image was destroyed when I met the locals, especially students, who were working very hard to make ends meet. 

On the other hand, I was the first Indian acquaintance for many people in Switzerland. Does that mean that they do not know much about India? Absolutely not. I met a religious Egyptian Muslim who was familiar with Hindu religious texts. He had not only read the Gita but was also eager to discuss the Upanishads. I also encountered a Turkish man who was using Ayurvedic products and studying meditation prescribed by the Indian spiritual guru Osho. Osho’s “ashram” is in my hometown of Pune and I had become aware of its existence only a couple of years ago. My French roommate cooks better “non-vegetarian” Indian dishes than I do. In fact, she taught me how to cook “Chicken Tikka Masala”.  The most astonishing fact is that none of these people had ever met an Indian before. 

Train board

Stereotypes are there for a reason. Swiss trains are rarely late and I had to wait a bit to find a train which was running late.

(Devendra Shintre)

So, does everyone have a favourable opinion of India? Probably not. “India is unsafe” is something a lot of people think.  While I cannot comment about the entire country, my city isn’t unsafe. As a teenager, I used to return after midnight from hikes and the scariest thing on the street was an occasional stray dog.  A lot of people are aware of “caste system and oppression”. Although it has still not been completely remedied, we have almost a 50% quota (even more in some states) in education and public posts reserved for lower castes. For quite a few people, the film “Slumdog Millionaire” was their introduction to Indian culture. Although it is based on reality, certain elements were cherry-picked to show only the dark and unfortunate side of Indian life. 

Coming to prejudices or ignorance, some people presumed that I was a refugee. During an interview for a flat share (WG casting), I was explaining the reasons behind my decision to avoid parties (mostly financial). I was asked “But doesn’t the state pay for you?”. I also had to explain to the person that by law I am not allowed to work during the first six months of my university studies. Not because I don’t want to. 

When I was discussing about WG casting with a friend, he told me that because of his previous experiences, he would have avoided selecting Indians as flatmates. That made me realise that the way I behave could reflect on an entire community of over a billion people. My conduct becomes even more important when there is little interaction between the cultures.

For more blog posts and information on studying in Switzerland visit our dedicated page Education Swiss Madeexternal link


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