Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Happiness is so American

My grandmom and I were watching Wheel of Fortune together tonight and I came to this realization.... People in Bangladesh express their sorrow very openly and are repressed about happiness. And people in America are very repressed about their sadness, yet demonstrative about happiness.

After guessing the correct phrase this college student on W.O.F. started jumping, screaming and smiling ear to ear. She screamed for about 60 seconds while Pat Sajack tried to move on with the show. My grandmom commented on how she gets a kick out of watching people win on game shows and watching their expressions. And how "people in my country" would never do that. I thought about if for a while, and its so true! Well, there are exceptions of course, but for the most part its true.

Images of death came into my head. Like you know when they show scenes from Iraq and Sri Lanka and the women screaming and beating their chests with hands raised to the sky in the "why Lord" position? Thats how people express themselves in Bangladesh.... no holding back pain.

And then more images of death came to mind. American images. Specifically, New Jersey images. I recently saw Garden State, and remembered Largeman's mom's funeral scene, and how everyone was quiet and somber and you could only hear the singer (did anyone else find the funeral scene humorous?) In Bangladeshi funerals, you can't hear anything! It's hard to think its so god damn loud.

In contrast, the "parties" I went to in South Asia were mad tame. First, I thought it was just a "well, its my parents generation" thing, but I saw it in young people too. I took my camera to a party and panned the room with my lens. People were talking and laughing and as soon as they became aware that a camera was on them, they closed their mouths and tried to look serious. I could never tell if people were having a good time. But here, when Americans are aware of a camera they ham it up even more, and try to act like they are having the time of their lives and wait for the camera to capture it.

Even an ex-French professor commented on this. She said how she noticed in America, when you ask someone "How are you doing?" They get all loud, confident and smiley and say "Great! how are you!?" But in France, people don't translate that as being optimistic and positive, they think its weird.... like "what are you so happy about?" Sometimes its even interpreted as being arrogant. Anyways, so she was saying that in France if you ask someone "How are you doing?" They will shrug their shoulders and quietly respond "Comme si comme sa" (so-so). So basically the French are sad by default and Americans are happy by default.

I know I made sweeping generalizations in this post. So if you disagree (or agree), please comment.


At 12:08 PM, Blogger rockstarandtheniff said...

since you said please, i shall comment. i dont know bangladesh, but i'll generalize.

you're forgetting 9/11 and people crying in the street, hardened firemen and cops breaking down. even though it's a movie, watch the scene in mystic river where sean penn realizes his daughter is dead. a father anywhere would react the same way. it's a dramatization based on reality. pain's universal and doesn't have borders.

by contrast in india, you're forgetting puja's and weddings. nobody has more fun in the world than an auntie or a drunk southeast uncle at a wedding. indian people are loud.

what do the french know anyways? this is a country that bans headscarves.

with respect,

At 12:55 AM, Blogger Fly said...

Sadly, I just got back from a funeral today. Over the weekend my boy Ravi Amin ended his life. He was quite possibly one of the happiest people I had ever met, and yes, as an Indian Ravi was both loud and very capable of partying with the best of them. The funeral today was not much of a party. Before I had even taken a step into the sanctuary my eyes burned with the continuous flow of tears. I was surrounded by pictures of Ravi and Jersey's which adorned his name across the back, "RAVI, #68"

I'm not one to cry, but to see a a fourteen year old girl and her father burry an older brother and son, well it was too much. Everyone who attended felt the loss, both American and South Asian. Truth is I think human emotion is something faced differently among individuals. I don't personally believe culture controls one's reaction to death. But I do believe culture controls a populations experience. As Americans many of us have been protected against a greater part of the world's sadness. For that, we are all very lucky.

The account of 9/11, although, tragic was an historic event, but it took an event of such magnitude for many Americans to really morn. Not to play down 9/11, but much of that tragedy faces South Asians and particularly Old World Bangladeshis on a constant level.

After the funeral today I went to a lecture at RU given by my dad about the 1971 Genocide of Bangladesh. His entire surviving generation lived through and suffered the calculated murder and rape of over 3 million innoscent men and women. I say surviving because many of his closest friends and family never made it past the first barage of gun fire. There were more rapes committed by Pakistani forces in 1971 than in any part of recorded history. They literally had Pakistani rape camps, where the raped women and girls ranging from 7 to 87. I can't imagine living with such pain.

Its easy to generalize and its easy to argue generalizations down, but I do believe Bangladeshis by history and economic supression have faced more hardship and sorrow than the average human being could handle. The truth is if our community did not express their grief and their sadness the lives of many of our elders would be intollerable. And with that I want to say:

I lost a brother and friend today. He was 24 years old. I normally have trouble shedding tears, but today I let the tears fall to my lap. I cried. I felt anger and bitterness, but I have to keep his thoughts alive, and remember what Ravi used to say, "Don't worry, Life is Good" Its through our sadness and our loss that we realise the value of what we have and who we share that with. Life is good. Sometimes we need to feel pain to remember what's really worth fighting for...celebrating for. Tonite I pray for all those who have traveled into God's hands. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home