22 Quirks of the Desi in America

There’s an old Indian joke that goes that when Neil Armstrong went to the moon, he ran into a Malayalee running a tea stall there.

That would have been a giant leap for mankind, if it were true. But it doesn’t discount the fact that Indians are everywhere.

Indians in America bequeath each with other half-smiles of semi-acknowledgement. It’s a “Hey, fellow desi,” cool nod of the head, reined in by the sentiment: “Let’s not get too FOB here.”

From my own life and extremely scientific empirical research (ahem) on the subject, here’s a list of quirks unique to our brand.


1. There’s nothing that binds us as much as chai, cricket and discussions about whether we should return to the motherland. The last topic usually ends with, “But the traffic these days in Bangalore/ Delhi/ Bombay. Crazy! NOTHING is the way it used to be when we were kids and played cricket on the streets. Man, those were the days.”

2. The one place you give up any pretense at politeness is at the Indian grocery store. Suddenly, you find haphazard parking, lines being cut, and the best cilantro bunch being grabbed from right under your nose.

3. You have an uncanny sense of tracking the best deals like a trained K-9 dog to the victim. Want Black Friday every day of the week? Follow the desi.

4. You ensure that your offspring grow up more desi than any desi kid in India. They are enrolled in Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music, tabla classes and, of course, Bollywood dancing (so they truly embrace their cultural heritage).

5. Your kids have no choice but to be Ivy League worthy. Their resumes start coming together at age 3 when you enroll them in Kumon and Singapore Math. If they haven’t won a Lego Robotics, or Spelling Bee contest by age 8, you might as well throw in towel.

6. If you happen to be a stay-at-home mom, you must, at all costs, introduce yourself with excuses and explanations of what you do in your “ample” free time. Sound apologetic while making excuses to Indian auntie-jis who suddenly believe that women’s empowerment equates to women working outside the home

7. You’re a pro at sneaking food into theme parks and theaters. If caught, you have a readymade excuse in your back pocket, i.e. I have cultural dietary restrictions. And too bad if the rest of the theater smells my aloo parathas during the screening of Fast and Furious 7.

8. You laugh at what they call “chai” in Starbucks. If that’s chai, then Hillary Clinton is my mother.

9. Summer = deluge of family from India. Alternatively,  fly back to India – imperative before your kid is two years old and (heavens forbid!) you have to pay for the ticket.

10. You claim some connection with one of the 33 famous Indians in America. (Did you know Deepak Chopra is my mom’s third cousin’s brother-in-law? And Salman Rushdie and my dad went to school together.) Forging connections is in our DNA.

11. You have a restaurant waiting list alter-ego. When they yell “Nathan” for the third time, you wake up and realize that your table is ready.

12. You wince when you have to check the box on forms that says, “Asian” (You deliberate for the 188th time if you should just perhaps tick off “Other.”) “American Indian” still sounds somewhat appropriate and might win your kids a scholarship someday.

13. On the topic of American Indians, you’ve told someone you’re Indian and they’ve asked, “What tribe?”.

14. You’ve also been asked if you speak Indian or Hindu.

15. You store fire crackers from July 4th sales to use on a cold day in October when you celebrate Diwali. You will placate the neighbors with leftover kaju katli.

16. You have long forgotten the day when the letter ‘z’ used to be “zed.” (And you just read that as “zee”).

17. You still need your Milk Bikis, Parle G or Marie biscuit to dip in your tea/ coffee.

18. If you’re an Indian woman, you still crib about paying $10 to thread your eyebrows. And you still use the word “crib” (with no reference to babies or bachelor pads).

19. Speaking of women, you look at Caucasian moms running with double jogging strollers, two golden retrievers and a bouncy ponytail. And you think, “I’ll just wait till my kids are in elementary school.” Then you join two other desi moms and walk the neighborhood while exchanging MIL stories.

20. You want to cook Indian dinner for the family. But you also don’t want to smell like Swagat restaurant just walked into the PTA meeting. Enter shower caps while cooking, and sniff tests before heading out the door.

21. If you’re a parent, you’ve told your kids your version of the “we walked ten miles barefoot in the snow” story. Only there was no snow and you had shoes. And, oh, you probably had a maid and a doting mom who made you snacks from scratch when you returned from school. But your kids don’t need to know all the details, do they?

22. Remember the pledge you said in school about all Indians being your brothers and sisters? (Yeah, that’s why Rajive Gandhi married Sonia went the joke.) Turns out that line holds even truer outside the country. We have each other’s backs. And truly become each other’s family.




  1. Anne/ shereen says:

    This was just a refreshing read!! Totally relate to 1,2,4,14!!! Btw, we have $4 threading in Texas(shhh.. It’s a secret ;))

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