Do you still remember our friend from the Red Fort in Delhi? The charming character in the Religion Talks at Lal Qila post? The fine young man from Jharkhand region. Well, I have to admit that I have been thinking about him. Not because of our religious exchange but because I am a tiny bit ashamed of myself. This may be hard to explain but I will try.
At one point during the visit to the Red Fort our friend stopped walking and looked at my parents who were a few steps behind us. He looked at them and asked me “are you parents farmers?”. For few seconds I didn’t say anything but then I cracked up laughing. Soon I was laughing so hard that I was crying. I translated the question to my parents whose reaction was pure astonishment. They looked at me for an explanation and the situation grew awkward. They asked me if they look like farmers and if their clothes made them look poor or something (indeed they were wearing some worn, old clothes…).
I found the situation –the question of our friend and the idea that my parents own for example cows– funny. I continued laughing but at this point my friend was overwhelmed with shame. He looked very uncomfortable and started apologizing millions of times. I am sure he would have disappeared if he could have.
Eventually I had to stop laughing and told our friend that there is no need to apologize. He kept saying “I am so very sorry” but calmed down when my parents started laughing too. In the end we were all laughing and for the rest of the journey I jokingly asked my parents about their (imaginary) cows.However, ever since this funny incident I have been feeling a bit guilty. Why did I crack up laughing? Why did I find it funny that my parents could be farmers? Why did my parents feel the same way? Were they influenced by my reaction? Why did we all feel as if being a farmer were an insult? Why do we perceive that farming is something old fashion and therefore inferior to how we “should” make our living?
Furthermore, how much of our initial reaction can be explained by our background: that Finland was an agrarian country until very recently, and that agriculture is often associated with the period before modernity (i.e. associated with the period where no one wants to return)?
Lastly, was our friend biased, too, because he comes from one of the poorest regions in India where farmers probably belong to a lower social class?
Whatever the answer, I feel bad because I behaved against my beliefs. I truly believe that agriculture is an integral, vital sector of the economy, everywhere in the world, and should be treated with respect. And respect is not what I showed when I cracked up laughing.
What is your take on this?
Some background: I am a principal author of a policy-handbook publication (http://www.oecd.org/investment/psd/ImprovingSkills%20(3).pdf) that aims at improving the agribusiness sector in the Kyrgyz Republic by different means, and one of the means is to market agribusiness as an attractive career option.
Marketing something begins with small steps, and one of them is to show respect and admiration to something.
Again, shame on me.
I think in the moment you were very human. I might have even had that reaction at first to. It’s just natural and as you stated the man only had his assumptions based on the scope of his own culture. For a more western culture we don’t mind being dressed for whatever the occasion is – hiking we wear what is most comfortable because we know by the end we are going to be drenched in sweat. Now think about your parents being in “vacation” mode. Most western cultures take again relaxed clothing because this is well…. a vacation. I have had the experience quite a few times here in Korea. All hobbies such as hiking, biking, fishing, scuba, golfing, etc. the Korean’s come decked out to the nines. Everything is legit to the activity they are doing. This even can be said for an activity that they never may have even tried yet. It doesn’t matter. It’s odd to me… but it’s their way. Hope that gives more perspective and helps take away some of the guilt.
So you think it is the clothes 😉 ?
Honestly, when I travel in India, I usually take old clothes with me that I leave there in the end of the trip. A good way to recycle and to hopefully make some poor people happy! I have very few fancy clothes with me in India (just a dress for Bombay parties and linen pants for airplanes, that’s about it). I never wear high heels there…
So, this is what I told my parents, too. Fill your suitcase with old clothes you forgot existed!
The other reason behind all this is that I think looking slightly “poor” (ok, I know, not a nice choice of word) may be good when doing extensive travelling as we did. No need to attract additional attention.
I understand! I do the same. I really do think it might have been the clothing. I have never personally traveled to Indian YET. But is it generally a culture that prides oneself on dressing nicer even to do things things that you and I don’t think it is necessary for? Again from my perspective in Korea… it’s like that here. I mean yes the stye is a bit flashy in the sense of colors or matching patterns, etc. but overall they take great pride in the way one looks.
Could be! I will tell this to my parents 🙂