gora evasion

It’s hard for people from this country to understand it, but it takes guts for an American to come to India. For those of us accustomed to supermarkets spanning acres and a Starbucks at every turn, India is the undiscovered country. As such, an American in India wants to believe he’s on a grand adventure (never mind the billion people who are here living our grand adventure every day). And this desire for grandeur creates a behavior among our fellow travelers that we call Gora Evasion.

“Gora” is what gringos are called here. They’re rare enough that even Jenny and I, after a few months in the country, began staring at them as much as everyone else. “Whoa — Goras!” we say, poking each other. “How the hell did they find their way to GK II?”

But while we may stare, we don’t say hi. We don’t make eye contact. They don’t want to acknowledge us, and we don’t want to acknowledge them. Because the last thing you want when you’re off seeing unseen sights is to meet someone who was in your rival high school’s marching band back home.

So when two Goras converge on a road, there are no pleasantries. No acknowledgments. If our eyes meet, it’s only by accident, and we both quickly look away. It happens in our main market and it happens in Chandni Chowk; it even happens walking past the Reebok Store in Saket Select Citywalk Mall.

A few weeks ago, we visited Mumbai. We were walking down a long, desolate road on the way down from Malabar Hill. It was twilight, the road was wooded, and the few people we saw were outnumbered by the bats: giant beasts with two-foot wingspans studiously swooping from tree to tree in search of the perfect perch to begin the evening’s hunt. And then, down the road, we saw them coming up: two Goras, a guy and a girl, coming our way,  on the same sidewalk. They were returning from the trail we’d hoped to blaze, and we were ruining the same trail for them.

“They’ll pretend not to notice us,” I told Jenny. We had been discussing our theory of Gora Evasion for months; this was the time to test it. As we grew closer, Jenny and I looked pleasantly ahead while the other two looked this way and that. And then, just at the point where two pairs of polite people would smile and nod in every circumstance back home, that’s when the guy elaborately pointed out, with wildly exaggerated finger motions, something above and behind and to the left of Jenny and I. And they both studiously contemplated this point in space as the four of us passed each other, greetings not exchanged, illusion of adventure unbroken. They were still the only Goras in Mumbai, and so were we.

15 responses to “gora evasion

  1. I found myself in an atm room @ HSBC w/ a gora the other day. He was tending to his young daughter & I actually attempted to make some plesantries. A knowing smile & and a – let me hold the door for your stroller. Alas, not even a smile. Your theory stands.

  2. As a desi from Delhi in the US, I can tell you that the exactly same thing happens with me in the US. We desis are everywhere in the US, but there is an unwritten rule that we will not acknowledge the existence of other desis out on the street. I find myself making eye contact with people from all other cultures/countries, but not with Indians. I know for a fact that this is true for most other desis too. I have no explanation for it.

  3. Its called “lifeboat syndrome”
    and totally agree with Akshat, eventhough we desi’s might not hug each person we meet in India, we dont do “desi evasion” back home …
    we dont give “that look” … and its also because we’re not sure of the second persons reaction…
    Honestly, I am (maybe all are) prejudiced to think that the other person wont return plesantries so why bother??

  4. Agree with Akshat. Happens to me all the time at Walmart. I run into desis and they look away. Now, I am guilty of doing the same. Considering desis are more abundant in the suburb where I live than goras in Delhi the reaction does not really make sense 🙂

  5. Thanks for sharing that , no really, because until now I felt it’s only our problem!! We all desis here in US do that and when we get together with familiar faces we talk about how ‘other’ desis ignore us while outside! But don’t we all in the deep hearts really want to talk to that familiar face from back home and find out how he is dealing with all the differences and the “phoren” stuff?

  6. The US is very different than South America/Europe/Australia etc.., and a Gora in India can be from any of the places…

    And don’t you think saying hello to strangers is an American thing and not just a GORA thing..

    Having lived in USA in different parts, the desi evasion depended alot on the number of desi families in a zipcode.. If the locals had 5 desis in a they are best friends– but if you live where everyother person is a desi then the evasion seems normal..

  7. I have thought about the exact same thing. THANKS for putting it in words, now I know that it’s not something about me that keeps “goras” from acknowledging my smile and nod!


  8. Thanks so much for that funny post. Being a desi-american living in the US when we go hiking and meet goras on trails, we really have to remember to say Hi and smile . And this applies to all foreigners but we are free to ignore or just nod at the desis we run into!! In fact it is odd for new immigrants to smile and talk to unknown people and they have to learn this new rule.
    So this etiquette seems to be universal -the minorities are free to ignore each other but will follow social rules with others.
    The oddest thing was in a Safeway when I said hi the Gora responded with a namaste. Not sure if that was offensive or a compliment.

  9. Ok if white people are gora’s what are black people. I don’t think I actively avoided any known American’s. If someone greeted me I greeted them back. 🙂

  10. @ Dave and Jenny

    Your concluding line reminds me of a character called Daffyd (David) on a sketch show called Little Britain. He lives in Llanddewi Brefi and despite seeing much evidence to the contrary, believes that he is the ‘only gay in the village’.

    You can see a clip here:
    http:// http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4zx1ZX8GW4

    PS: Indians abroad avoid any eye contact with one another. So you are probably catching the ‘disease’ 😉

  11. Funny that you say say this.

    I am an Indian living in England – I make it a point to make eye contact and smile to all I meet, whether Europeans or Asian’s.

    Of course, not when I am pressed for time – other than that I am quite social!

    Smiling to all & sundry & saying “Are you all- right?” to perfect strangers is something that I have learnt here!

    This is something I would have never done in India to total strangers.

  12. @ Abhishek

    I don’t know which part of England you live in; I have lived here 10 years in different bits of the UK (London, Oxbridge, Berks) and I am yet to find someone who willingly smiles at others, and is not one of the following – lonely old age pensioner, small child, woman with new baby in a pram whom everyone stares at for hogging pavement space, crazy foreigner, a hustler, a chugger.

    Lucky you if you can find people who ask you if you are alright. 🙂

  13. It’s a funny observation but definitely true. I caught your blog right before I went to Bangalore last summer and enjoyed this post because it’s something I definitely saw there. I have a personal policy that if I am in am not hurried (as Abhishek mentioned) I would say hi to all and look them in the eye. I am sure that seeing me there they wondered what I was doing (summer research project at the Indian Institute of Science) so far from home (US). True, there are people from Europe, Australia. But, as a traveller I figured they would like a happy western greeting. Alas, no. I figured that there is a feeling in the avoidance that when you are in India you have no need to connect to a familiar culture, but it helps to compare notes at least. Indians, however that I connected with (security guards and such) were very smiley for a Western greeting. I miss their unrestrained joy of getting to know you…. Indians that I became friends with there would greet me happily, but no Europeans or other Westerners would even acknowledge me unless I got to know them. (One set of Australians for example that I met through yoga class are exceptions to that rule, and a dude I met on a train.)

  14. Pingback: Highlights from the Mumbai launch | Delirious Delhi by Dave Prager

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