For the majority of the western civilization, the world is divided into US vs. THEM, Them (for the west) being the developing economies also referred to as Less- developed Countries. Although it is interesting to note that more than 60% of the world can be categorized as developing with stark variations in culture, traditions, languages, life-style, food-habits and values, the so called “developed” nations fail to acknowledge them and tend to lock them all in a single box that is labelled as- poor, hungry, illiterate, barbaric, unhygienic, unhealthy and corrupt. Moreover, the exaggerations and cultural appropriations involved are beyond revolting. So, let us debunk some of the major myths surrounding the developing world and clear your appropriation-tinted world-view.
1. We desperately need them!!
The source of the superiority complex of the west, the biggest of all myths or should I say- the Maha Myth (I probably shouldn’t have said that!!). Sorry for putting this bluntly but your country is not here for charity. In fact, that is the last thing you guys do. The dependence between the developed and developing economies is mutual and more often than not, forged to meet selfish and greedy needs of the developed ones. We all know how costly it is to acquire labor in the west. Without our highly qualified and skilled workforce of engineers, call-center operators and managers (who are paid in rags, by the way) the expansion of your industries would come to a stand-still. Not just that, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South-Africa) countries were successful in avoiding the global recession of 2009, in spite of restricted monetary and technological aid from the developed countries during that period. Stable Growth rates (that too during the Great Recession) speaks louder than words, doesn’t it??
2. Women are docile, conservative and passive.
Contrary to the common belief, male chauvinism is not exclusive the developing world. It is one problem that resonates with women around the globe and almost every society in the world displays misogyny in varying degrees (remember The wolf of wall street?).
And as an educated young women living in a less-developed country, I can proudly say that we are free-spirited, independent minded, 21st century modern women. From taking bullets from a cranky Taliban for receiving education to refusing marriage to dowry-demanding losers, we all revolt and fight against patriarchy in our own different ways, throughout our life without ever giving up. If that’s not strength, then what is?
3. They have better hygiene standards!!
This reminds me of the scene in friends where Rachel and Chandler were seen eating a cheese cake off the floor (later joined by Joey too). I am sure you guys don’t do that in real life. Neither do we!!
Cleanliness is a very strict norm in many religions and cultures. Especially in India, cleanliness is associated with religion and is strictly adhered to. Some of the customs include not eating without taking a bath, daily puja (worship) routines that can’t be performed without cleaning the house and leaving footwear at doorsteps before entering the house. And not to forget, we were not the ones that invented deodorants.
4. Elephants, bullock-carts and horses-driven carriages!!
No we don’t ride elephants anymore. Thanks to the multitude of indigenous and foreign Car brands in India, we have decided to let go of our primitive ways. As a matter of fact, we have also developed the cheapest small car in the world for our convenience. Even the great Indian wedding’s protagonist- The groom, has to content himself with an Indica decorated with roses and tuberose these days.
And honestly, we don’t have many elephants left in our country owing to rapid industrialization and Urbanization (We have factories and cities, SURPRISE!!). Although, they do take part in unwelcome parades in the villages of Sunderban delta where they destroy homes and uproot trees (loss of habitat can seriously mess up anyone).
5. We are either illiterate or super nerd
Due to the large number of Asian doctors, engineers and scientists working in the developed countries, they conveniently assume we are either poor and illiterate or rich and geek. Works well for me, but again it is only half true.
The best way to dispel this image- Show them a mainstream Bollywood movie. They would understand that we, after all, are not all that smart. But jokes apart, like any country; we too have people practicing different occupations and avocations. There are painters, artists, journalists, models, fashion designers, dancers, singers, and even Sadhus who come down from Himalayas once in 14 years. Most developing regions are often very diverse and colorful.
6. Joint families and lots of kidsss!!
Well, the source of this myth is easily traceable- The flood of glittering sari clad mother-in-laws brimming with jewelry and their gigantic families on our TV channels. As for the stereotype that we breed a lot- with a population of over a billion, who are we kidding?
These myths were reality once. But now they are nothing more than….well… Myths. The move towards nuclear families and 2 children is about three decades old in India. Towards the end of the 20th century, family planning was introduced in majority of the developing world including India, China, Bangladesh, Myanmar etc. The communist government in China went one step ahead and adopted the oppressive One Child Policy (Although very recently they have provided a relaxation allowing parents to conceive two kids if either of them were single child themselves).
7. No company, just crowd!!
Many foreigners are quite reluctant to form friendships with the local residents. They believe we belong to a different world and therefore, might not find a common topic of conversation.
Well, if that’s what is bothering you, you couldn’t be more mistaken. Contrary to the common belief, the educated middle-class and the rich do have a good global exposure. They are well-read and cultivated and also, big takers of American sitcoms, literature and Hollywood blockbusters. As a matter of fact, most of the queries on sitcoms and movies like Friends, Big Bang theory; Inception etc. on Quora are answered by Indians and Chinese. They do understand and respect western sensibilities and would be more than happy to keep the visitors entertained.
8. Indians speak Hindu and Chinese….well…..Chinese!!
Westerners often obsess about learning the native language of the less-developed nations before they visit, assuming encounters with illiterate population having negligible or poor knowledge of English. However, this obsession is largely futile for two major reasons. Firstly, most of these societies are multi-lingual especially the ones that cover large geographical areas. In India alone there are more than 300 major languages and if the minor ones are included too, the number far exceeds 1500.
More importantly, English is a very popular language round the globe. A large portion of the middle-class Indians speak very fluent English and almost all of them write amazingly well (thanks to our patchy education system, but more on that later). It is very common to find hoardings with English content and even small shops display their titles, bills and menus in English (Butter tost and Bhejitable fry, remember!!). And while the local population is no Oscar Wilde, they do know enough to speak bits and pieces that makes sense and would be able to help you.
PS- The majority of population in India and China speaks Hindi and Mandarin respectively, but never mind!!
9. Remember slumdog millionaire!!
The sad truth is- Developing nations are a mixture of most striking opposites. You can experience the most contrasting elements co-existing in these places- richest and the poorest, liberal and the fanatic, heaven and hell!!
India boast of a modern infrastructure, lavish architecture, luxury hotels and spas and almost every product and service that you require to quench your consumerist thirst. She houses the costliest house in the world- Anitilia. Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur is nothing less than NYC in the sheer magnificence of its skyline. Brazil is home to 36 billionaires and 165, 000 millionaires. 9 out of the 300 richest men in the world are Indian. Need i say more?
10. Beware of folks!!
On little investigation, one could easily conclude that this myth simply reflects the present condition of the western society. Yes, I am talking about the discrimination against blacks, Latin Americas etc. Anything that is not white or familiar is regarded with distrust and considered dangerous and threatening.
So, your experiences in these alien lands will simply mirror what you bring in with you. Yes, there are pick-pockets, thieves or maybe even major offenders. But there are many more honest, warm and helping people. People who would burn extra fuel to find you and return that bag you accidentally left in their auto rickshaw, people who would return the extra buck that you paid them by mistake, people who would come forward and protect you from receiving indecent treatment. Honesty and humanity are not patents of the west.