Culture Shock

My uncle made a sudden announcement that he’s migrating to the U.S. of A, to the family’s surprise. His company posted him overseas with a pay that’s equivalent to ten times as much it’s worth in motherland. Despite the odds, especially the countless diplomatic hassles, he decided to pack his bags and live the american dream with his wife and daughter (my cousin), who was a five-year old back-then.

Three months of red-tape-dodging later, the three of them took a  flight from ‘namma ooru Bengaluru’ to ‘The Valley’, in pursuit of the much-cliched ‘American Dream’.

The flight was bumpy and it took  little Karthika (my cousin) six visits to the loo just to get ‘settled down’. Aunty and Uncle were excited about the trip, but Karthika wasn’t. She bawled all over the place when she heard the news of departure. She couldn’t stand the thought of leaving  her buddies at Sacred Heart’s School. And besides, she’d come to love Bangalore. She just couldn’t let go, yet her parents didn’t take no for an answer.

Twenty Three harrowing hours later, the trio landed at SFO (San Francisco Airport) – they were supposed to land at the San Jose Airport, which was closer to their destination – Palo Alto. Sadly, a storm turned things around, literally, that is. Now, that was a huge blow for uncle, cause he had his company car waiting at San Jose. SFO was over twenty one miles from their destination. The driver had been informed of the change, but it would take at least three hours to reach SFO (which was over 35 miles  from SFO, and the storm made driving hard). Uncle, Aunty and Karthika had to wait in the passenger lounge for hours. The jet-lag was killing them, and they hadn’t taken enough woolen clothes. To make things worse, temperatures neared sub-zero and it was snowing heavily outside. Karthika was seriously pissed – but even she was too tired for tantrums; she struggled to cope up with the cold, under four layers of woolen clothing.

CC Credits: artofthestate

The USA was new to Karthika. A whole new world of people who were either too fair or too dark. It was so clean, swank and modern. Every square-metre had some beeping/gleaming electronic gadget attached. She stared open-mouthed, with an emotion that was part-awe and part-fear. She observed every nook and corner of the airport, trying to read signs in English – she was already familiar with the language; her teacher at school was American, and she’d already learned ‘the drawl’ from her. She could read and write well-enough for a five year old. As she was observing the red neon signs on the wall opposite to her, something caught her eye.

‘Someone’, actually. Not some-‘thing’.

The plural of ‘someone’ to be precise.

Two people stood close to each other, beneath the neon sign. The man was clad in a tee shirt and shorts while the female wore a sleeveless blue tank top. Strangely, they didn’t seem to feel the cold at all. And they were doing something to each other. Karthika squinted. She moved forward, braving the cold, and eyed closely. The man seemed to be biting the woman’s lips. No, he was eating something from her mouth – she couldn’t be sure. It was gross! For all she could see – the man’s mouth was inside the woman’s. Perhaps the woman was hungry, and the man was trying to feed her? Aw, no – that shouldn’t be the thing.

Now, were they kissing each other?

No, Karthika reassured herself. People kiss each other in the cheek. Her dad kisses her on the cheeks before they go to work. Her mom does that too, when she’s playing with her. And she’d seen Mohanlal kissing his heroines in Malayalam Movies they show on Asianet. They must be doing something else, she decided. Two minutes later, they didn’t seem to stop and Karthika felt sick staring at them. She turned around only to see another couple in the act. And another. And another. She even saw a man, biting/stucking another man’s lips/tongue (ewww). Karthika’s tummy did a back-flip. She ran to her mom who was trying to find some sleep on her dad’s shoulder and rested herself on her mom’s lap.

Aunty woke up, and caressed her arms lovingly on Karthika’s head. Karthika’s query caught aunty unawares.

“Amme (Mom), What are these people doing?” (Pointing to a kissing couple).”

Clean bowled.

“Molu (Daughter), er, that’s the american way of greeting people! In America, you kiss a new person when you meet him/her. Much like we shake hands in India.”

“Oh, so they are kissing right? I thought so. But why are they kissing on their mouths? Why don’t they kiss on the cheeks like us?”

“Er… Er… I guess, that’s the American way of kissing, molu.”

“Oh, athu shari.” (Hmmm, I see).

Karthika failed to notice the beads of sweat that had accumulated on Raji aunty’s forehead, as she nodded in understanding.

Later on that day, they reached Palo Alto and they were ushered into their cozy apartment. The jet lag took a toll on the three of them, and they spent the entire day sleeping. Workaholic that he is, uncle left for work at 6 AM next morning. Aunty woke up soon after, and set about exploring their new fully-furnished home, awed by the profusion of gadgets, (especially the kitchen). Karthika took her time, and walked about their new apartment. She enjoyed the ambiance – and loved it even more, noticing the projection TV with countless cartoon channels. Meanwhile, somebody knocked the door, and  Aunty opened it. Next-door neighbours had come visiting  – A lovely black lady Michelle, and her son Tyler. Aunty ushered them in with all charm she could muster, silently-glaring at Karthika who was too busy with Spongebob Squarepants to notice. Reluctantly, Karthika had to switch off TV and attend to the guests; she knew the what the outcome would be if she didn’t comply! Perfunctory conversations later, Aunty eyed Karthika to talk to the guests. She hadn’t uttered a word, and she was dreading that moment; partly the reason why she glued herself to TV, not acknowledging the guests. She simply couldn’t get herself to do it. But now her mom had commanded her, and there was no escaping from it.

Taking a deep breath, Karthika got up from her sofa, gingerly stepped forward, and walked to Michelle and Tyler. She paused before for an awkward second, as Michelle held her arms out to her. Tyler, a six year old, beamed copiously at Karthika, who returned the smile.

Before Tyler knew it, Karthika went over and kissed Tyler, straight in the mouth for ten full seconds! 😐 😐 😐

Michelle’s eyes nearly popped out. Aunty had her arm on her head, silently calling all the Gods she knew, red with embarrasment. Tyler was in a daze, he kept staring blankly at Karthika whose smile now morphed into a puzzled expression. She stared at her mom and asked innocently:

“Amma, I was just welcoming Tyler, ‘the american way’, as you’d told me at the airport!”

Bottom Line:

Real story, altered names. 😉

By hari

A twenty-something support engineer, web developer, blogger and journalist who makes the web a better place for a living, at Automattic. Immensely passionate about WordPress! Also loves books, music, movies, and drinking hot cups of coffee on rainy evenings. Dreams of writing a book, someday.


  1. haha loved it! Can I just say I could totally relate?=DD

    Except I never went about trying it on someone after! Thank God! Before we came to the US, I had gone to visit my family home. And on the table was this book called America written by some relative of mine (in Malayalam) and I began to read it half-consciously. The first two sentences had something to do with couples sticking to each other on the side of the road. I was like 9 years old and I could not place an image to the words at all. (My mom made me stop reading the book after those 2 lines so I never got the context!) So when I came here, much like this heroine=), that was the first thing I noticed at the airport!

    By the way, your writing was so much like seeing a movie!=]

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