I stand out in India. The most obvious trait is my appearance. I have blue eyes, blonde hair, and white skin, but strangely enough my pants give me away as well. On my first weekend here, I went to the local department store, Pantaloons, and bought two pairs of thin dress pants to wear to work. The khakis I brought from home were thick and durable making them a nice long term investment and the last thing I want to wear in India. As I shopped in Pantaloons, a problem soon became very present. All the pants I could find were “Slim Fit”. A large portion of the male population in Kolkata is rail thin, making this particular lean design a desirable choice. I am not a slim fit kind of guy. When I was young, my mother often had to ask the sales assistant in department stores for “Husky” sized pants. Today, I no longer have to ask for “Husky”, but I am not asking for smalls that is certain. After a long game of charades, due to the ever present language-barrier, the sales assistant understood my request, pulled out a measuring tape and to my chagrin quantified my waist size. I doubt most of the looks on the metro are for my classic cut pants, but it is clear I am not a local.
This difference has its perks and benefits. People are incredibly helpful when I get lost, engage me in friendly discussions, and often try to offer me their seat. Conversely, I get charged far more for routine things, most notably taxis. Mostly, all of the interactions make me hyper aware of what I represent, The United States of America. Almost every interaction on the street beings with the question, “From where are you coming?” Inevitably, this leads to questions comparing India and America. Many of the questions are easily answerable and are gracefully set up to engender friendship. Some dig deeper. As an undergraduate college student, my interests are not always politically or civically oriented, though a certain certainly should be. I can throw in an opinion or two on major issues, but am a toddler without floaties in the deep end of a swimming pool discussing the housing market.
On the train ride back from Darjeeling, an Indian co-worker and good friend, Ankur, began to ask me questions about American foreign policy: “Why did America invade Iraq?” “Why does America have such an aggressive military policy?” “What was the public opinion of George W. Bush at the end of his second term?” Man, did I want some floaties. I answered the questions as best I could and got help from a few of my American companions traveling with me. I hope I gave useful and explanatory answers, but my gut tells me that had those questions been on a class final, my answers would not have been satisfactory. I can explain my personal choices on pant designs quite well, now the goal is to be able to explain the choices of my country as fluently.