Stereotypes and misconceptions about India 

Stereotypes & Misconceptions about India

Recently at a bar in Mumbai, I had a strange encounter with these white guys from Europe traveling across India for a month. Well, it was strange cause, I was surprised what they though of India and us Indians to be, and it made me realise how every white person who comes to visits India or even interacts with us, has a few preconceived thoughts and stereotypes about India. This wasn’t my first experience, while living in the UK I’ve had people ask me questions like “are you allowed to date?”, “why don’t you have an Indian accent?” and the list could go on. I had to keep explaining that India is not what they see in movies or they hear about. It’s really big and diverse, and they’d be so surprised with what I would tell them. Not everything you’d hear about is false, but there is a lot of stuff that’s exaggerated and has just created a bizarre image about India, which is why explaining myself about India, that it’s not what you may think it is.

Indian isn’t a language:

So a lot of foreigners, assume Indian to be a language, and it isn’t that’s our nationality. I was communicating with a taxi driver in Hindi (our national language) and I was asked by one a foreigner, if I was talking to them in “Indian” well they meant Hindi which obviously I corrected. So, a fun fact here, Hindi is our national language, besides this there are 28 official languages spoken across India and over 200 dialects. Yes, this would be probably one of the most diverse nation in the world.

Curry isn’t the only Indian food and not every Indian eats spicy:

India has mastered the art of making curries, but there are debates and conflicts about curry being originated from England (does England like taking credit for everything we do?) non the less, if you’re visiting India, curry isn’t the only thing you should be trying, there is a variety of dishes such as South Indian food like idlis, dosas or chaats like bhel, aloo vada and there’s lot more you could find here. Now getting to our spice tolerance level, for the record not everyone in India can eat spicy, example myself, I have tears streaming down my face if my food has too much chilli. So next time you’re hanging with an Indian, don’t assume they’re spice superman, you’d be surprised to see that you could probably eat spicier food than your Indian mate.

Dating is a taboo:

So, I encountered this experience twice once in London and in Mumbai when I met these blokes from Amsterdam, who tried flirting, but I wasn’t responsive and the next thing they said to me was, “Oh you’re not allowed to date right, you’ll have an arrange marriage.” To he honest, this really pissed me off, cause you know nothing about my life to comment and coming back to our culture, arrange marriages do exist, but as time has passed by, everyone’s allowed to date find who they like and this doesn’t mean if someone’s flirting, I need to give them what they’re looking for. Times have changed, and arrange marriages exist in the rural areas of India and those marriages seem to be lasting a lifetime so I don’t see what’s wrong in that. Guys, honestly watch out before passing comments like this, it is quite personal and offensive.

Every woman would be in a Sari:

When I was a part of an exchange program in college, while talking to these students they told me they didn’t carry their normal clothes as it would be “too revealing” for India and most girls and women would be dressed in saris is what they heard. This has been one of the most false statements I’ve heard, like my mum doesn’t even know how to drape a Sari forget wearing it everyday. Saris are beautiful and elegant, they are worn on special occasions like weddings and festivals, not on everyday basis. In big cities like Mumbai and Delhi girls would be dressed in normal jeans and tops, or even dresses for night outs. And working women wearing indo-western clothes to work which would be wearing a scarf along with your jeans, or a longer top known as “kurta”. We live a pretty updated fashion world, so please get this mindset off and Saris are beautiful.

The Indian Accent:

So every white person thinks the Indian accents in very think and loud, how they mimic us in all the American tv shows saying “what are you doing?” I’m sure you’re imaging the accent while reading this. Now, open up your mind, not every Indian has that accent, we are very well spoken and let me repeat myself about the diversity in languages in India. Literally accents in English change from city to city, people in UK were pretty surprised by my accent as it wasn’t the thick accept you’d have imagined and wouldn’t guess that I was Indian. I’ve been fortunate enough to get the best education which allows me to speak well, but seriously that accent you’d very rarely find across India, maybe if you go down to south India (which is also the most literate part of the country).

These are a few stereotypes I’ve come across, and what people thought about India and sometimes I found it really frustrating about having to explain my about things like this, and such stereotypes did exist but but everything has evolved over time, and sometimes a lot of things could be offensive if you have failed to be opened minded about a country and its culture. So, if you’re visiting India with an open mind I can assure having a life changing experiencing the culture here, seeing two sides to India and be mind boggled with diversity in one country its self.

66 thoughts on “Stereotypes and misconceptions about India 

  1. Well, I am glad that we dont have all of those ideas in our heads. We visited your country last year and loved. I have always been curious about marriage customs but not in a negative way just curious. We loved your country and are getting new 10 year visas in December and plan to spend most of next year in India.

    • It’s good to know you’ve had an amazing experience in India, and it’s alright being curious to know about a different culture. Whatever I’ve written about here, is just based on personal experience I’ve and some of it wasn’t pleasant. I hope you have a great time in India next year 🙂

  2. I find stereotypes incredibly frustrating. Why would someone generalize an entire nation based on… well… lack of knowledge, perhaps. Unfortunately, I experienced it first-hand. When I just came to the US many years ago, I was taken aback when one of my neighbors invited me to her house and introduced me to her guests as a person from a country where bears roam city streets. Seriously?

  3. This is what I love most about travels. You learn about different cultures and have to opportunity to help stop the propagation of stereotypes. And I completely agree, saris are beautiful 🙂

  4. It is so unfortunate India has a different picture in the minds of foreigners. Most of the time it is negative too. I too clarify facts when I get the opportunity! Great read this!

  5. I love this post ! will be sharing it. As a South African born of Indian roots I get the same as well. Oddly when in Kerala with a media trip everyone we met assumed I was Indian and instantly started speaking Hindi or Malyallum to me including the lady at passport control who check my passport 3 times lol.

  6. Being an Indian and staying in the US, I can totally relate to all your points! One of my American friends asked me about crime against women in India after the Delhi gang rape incidence. I literally couldn’t explain her anything and felt ashamed about that incidence. I don’t know why Indian Media and Ministry of tourism are not taking any major steps to change the perception of India against the world!

  7. Very interesting it’s so comin for different countries to have different dialects I wonder home many my home of the U.K. Has and I can’t understand some of them lol

  8. I get the same dumb questions because I come from Romania and I grew up in Transylvania, so people who meet me for the first time as about Dracula and about drinking blood. I have visited India and I agree that before you are actually there, you might believe the stereotypes. Like the accent one.

  9. Aha… you got most of it right…and I think your blog will enlighten a lot of foreigners out there..good job ! Note that Hindi is not really India’s “national” language. Its our official language. The map of India is not what India claims it to be…think its best to use the full india map with dotted lines whereever there are disputes 🙂

  10. I think stereotypes are such a shame! It always bothers me when people perpetuate them. I have never been to India but one of my best friends married a man from India so I hope I know better than to think people from India speak Indian or that all Indians have accents.

  11. This list of stereotypes should be done for a lot of countries. I would have indeed a lot for Italy too, this could be a very good suggestion for a next article 🙂

  12. Stereotypes are rarely acceptable for genders, cultures, etc. They degrade people and I find them frustrating as well. You were spot on with your stereotypes in India. It would be a great series for your blog to do this for others! It would be educational.

  13. I wanted to go to India after seeing a lot of Indian movies, it does look very amazing in the film. and therefore I wanted to go to India and prove it.

  14. I felt so related to the first two stereotypes! Some people also say Mexican is a language when it’s a nationality and not every Mexican like spicy stuff! I’m not sure if this is correct, but I heard that Spanish and Hindi have very similar words that sound the same. Maybe the language isn’t just the only thing we have in common!

    • Oh yes, that is relatable indeed.
      No, sadly they don’t have similar words, Hindi is very different. But, from what I know, Italian and Spanish are very similar! Is that correct?

  15. Nicely captured. It amazes me how these stereotypes still live on. I hope with more people traveling into India, we will have lots of these myths ironed out.

  16. Great points and I am grateful that you’ve pointed all of this out. I was 6 months in India and I loved how big and diverse of a country it was. There were some similarities as I traveled across the country, but for sure the diversity was as varied and beautiful as anywhere I have been.

  17. It’s amazing how stereotypes can still live so strong. There are so much stereotypes, I don’t count them! I can’t believe Europeans people (and I’m one) are so not evolved, and sometimes young people are so frustrating. It seems they don’t have any education and they dont know how the world works! I mean, they just need to read sometime to get it!

  18. Totally agreed. In fact I’ve seen highly educated professionals who visited India on business trips had a thought process that India has only road side markets from where they could buy cheap stuffs. They were shocked & frustrated to see all worldwide brands available on our land with no price lesser than their countries and this was not they were looking for.

    • Oh yes, but I believe they are looking for markets as malls and brands are available everywhere and markets give a more authentic experience. But, they shouldn’t be shocked by seeing luxury brands in India.

  19. This is so true on the stereotypes and misconceptions about India. I do excuse the foreign visitors on most of them, because well, they know what they see (mostly on TV). However, I have met many foreigners who are interested to know about our culture. I do get the “accent” thing wherever I go though 🙂

    • I have realised that Asians in general are portrayed in a very stereotypical way on TV shows, which I don’t understand why.
      I get the accent thing as well, where they’re surprised that I don’t have that heavy accent that they might have imagined.

  20. The curry thing is the one that bothers me the most (then again, I’m not Indian). It’s probably like the salsa in Mexico or the stir-fry in East Asia—that’s the only thing people know. Has anyone ever done a definitive study on how the whole curry thing (as an archetype) started?

    • Haha exactly, like there is Indian food besides curry!
      I don’t know if there has been a definitive study yet, but I have read articles and seen on shows where they debate about the origin of curry.

  21. Stereotypes are so absurd, but unfortunately always present no matter where you’re from! Just because I was born in Spain everyone expects me to sleep 2h siestas everyday, that I love the sun and running with bulls… well, it couldn’t be more different! 🙂

  22. Interesting — though I knew most of these it’s always good to hear more from a locals perspective. I think sometimes people are just clueless, and don’t mean to be offensive when they ask questions 😛 Though I can definitely see how it can be frustrating.

  23. As an American living in Germany… I see the stereotypes of Americans everyday. Oh my… We are loud. My kids have been unsuccessfully learning volume control. Though it is funny pointing out all the Americans. We stick out like a sore thumb. Gotta change those stereotypes and be “outside the box”.

  24. To be honest, I have no clue about India 🙂 but I can relate very much to your post.. I am from germany and I live in France and I am encountering stereotypes whenever I meet someone new:
    – how come that you don’t like beer? You are from germany!! (aka: you can’t be a real german)
    – ofc you’re english is good, you are from germany (I really don’t understand why people think that, german people suck in languages as much as other nations do, or not)
    – I really don’t have anything against german people, really, I think they are not all Nazis anymore today (in terms of: I forgive you^^)
    – why don’t you drive a german car?
    – ah the Octoberfest…
    – and professionally: you are always on time, you respect deadlines, you are organized, you are direct, you are efficient.. (People really DO believe that every german person is like this)

    … you can continue this list endlessly…

    In the beginnning it was annoying tbh, I felt like a constant disappointment for people 😀 But in the end I understood you just HAVE to talk about something when meeting someone new but I try to move quick over to other topics; I just had enough conversations about it ^^

    • Wow! I can only imagine how frustrating this could be.
      But, engaging and educating them would be a way of changing the stereotype people have about Germans!! This should be your next article 🙂
      And the Nazis thing is a bit much, quite surprising that people actually say such things!

  25. Informative post. I always teach my students to seek out people of different cultures and backgrounds, and ask questions to understand not everyone of one culture are the same….just as not “every white person” thinks accents are funny.

  26. Pingback: Stereotypes and misconceptions about India  — Big City Girl – LAW SCHOOL LEARNERS

  27. Hi, very interesting post! Just like you, I also encounter people trying to put a label on me on a daily basis and can understand how frustrating it is. I’m Peruvian, and people always assume I used to live somewhere high up in the mountains, although I was born and raised on the coast, just in front of the sea. They also assume that, because I’m from Latin America, I must dance very well and like certain kinds of music (basically “wild” or “sexy” latin songs). They also assume I’m super close to my family and that traditions/religion is important to me. Every once in a while stereotypes do apply to me, sometimes don’t but it’s the labelling thing that really bothers me.

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