Intercultural Situations: Describing a Person from a Different Culture
My friend Pio is an information technology consultant who was born and raised in India. He spent ten years in a Catholic seminary in India before leaving and getting a job in IT. He had always been good at math, and after leaving the seminary he enrolled in IT courses. After completing his courses, he was recruited by American headhunters who were in Chennai, where he lived, looking for Indian IT workers. The headhunters asked him if he would come to work for a major banking firm in America. Pio’s father insisted that he take the job and Pio complied with his father’s wishes. His father’s reasoning was that Pio would earn good money in America and would be able to provide financial support for his family back home in Chennai, especially since his father could not depend upon Pio’s brothers who were no account. His father owned a small grocery store but his sons were not good at managing the business and his father saw the recruiters as a God-given opportunity to help make sure the family did not lose everything in the coming years.
So Pio traveled to America—to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to be exact. He began his career as an IT worker here, but he was quite miserable. He felt alone in America and was very sensitive about his appearance and how he sounded. Like many Indians, he had learned English at school, but his accent was thick and the American environment was not like life in Chennai. After several months he was homesick and told his recruiters that he wanted to go home. They tried to understand what the problem was and Pio told them that Ann Arbor was too quiet—he felt like he was suffocating. He asked at the very least for a change—so he was sent to New York City. Pio instantly felt at home as soon as he stepped off the subway in NYC. It was noisy, stinky and chaotic. He felt right at home.
He worked in NYC for a few years in the 1990s. Every month he was sending most of his paycheck home to support his family in Chennai. What he had left he used for rent and food and clothes. After a few years, however, he was again drained and anxious. He went to his bosses and told them he could not keep working there. Pio was a good, hard worker and his bosses did not want to lose him so they asked what the problem was and he told them he had hardly any money because of his situation and he was not able to save anything for himself. His bosses were astounded as Pio was receiving a good paycheck at the time, but Pio told them he saw only a percentage of that because his recruiters took a big cut of his pay. His bosses realized that they needed to get Pio out of whatever contract he was in with his headhunters and they hired him on their own and gave him a nice raise. Pio was happy once again.
Then, in 2001, Pio was called by his father and told that he had to come home to Chennai. His father had found a wife for Pio and Pio was to be married. Pio said okay to his father and returned home for his wedding. The first time he ever saw his wife was on his wedding day. But this was not unusual to Pio because that is the custom in India for many…
…could heal the boy. The men dressed in black robes were Catholic missionaries from Europe. When they arrived at the old man’s village they prayed over the boy and the boy got up and asked for something to eat. The old man was overjoyed and told the priests that they could have whatever they wanted: he told them to pick one of his wives and they could have them as their own. The priests said they did not want that, all they wanted was the old man’s soul. He was told he could have one wife, not several, and the old man said that was fine and so the old man became a Catholic—and because he was the leader of his village all of the people in his village converted to Catholicism as well. The other Indians in the area surrounding the village were angry and they told the old man they would not marry their daughters to any of the children in that old man’s village so long as they remained Catholic but the old man said that was all right with him. The village remained Catholic and so too did all the generations that followed. In India there are many pockets of Catholicism like this throughout the country. And so Pio was descended from that old man and his village.
Back in the U.S. Pio is quite happy to be an “American.” He still sends money home to his family but he makes a lot as a consultant, too, so he is doing quite well for himself and his family. He lives in a big house in a neighborhood of other big houses where there are several foreigners like himself living. When his sister got married back in India, Pio provided the dowry for her, as his father…
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