Indians in the eyes of Brits

By Hiramoni Sarma

I have been away from my hometown, Guwahati, since 1998 and after living in New Delhi for 7 years, I moved to the UK in 2007 with my husband and 9-month old daughter. We arrived at London on 27 December; cold, dark and gloomy. Everything was just too quiet after going straight from Delhi’s hustle bustle. Slowly I got used to the ways of UK, got into a job and started to make local friends.

Surprisingly, English people (or most commonly referred as Brits) seemed to know more about India and Indians than I thought they would. That’s probably because Indian culture and food are more prevalent in England than English culture in India. Often my friends in India want to know what Brits think of India and Indians and to be able to offer a satisfactory response, I started to look for those answers through conversations, books, news and general observation.

From my experience it started to feel that English people don’t have any sort of special perception about India or Indians. They think of us as any other tion and tiolities. Some of my British friends are slightly apologetic of the British-lndia history. However, most of them think that 69 years is a long time to leave it behind and move forward.

Indians are viewed as friendly with a strong sense of family, a work ethic and possibly a little more money or business oriented. Most people I know who visited India had a great time during their holiday

for the hospitality and friendship they experienced. One single fact about India everyone is aware of is its dangerous roads and traffic. Funnily, India has become an example of bad driving, crazy traffic, hours of jam and the beeping and honking culture. Brits find it fasciting to see random cows on busy Indian roads and that’s probably one of the reasons why you see English people taking pictures of cows during their holidays in India.

In the recent years, rather than viewing India as a poor country, many have started to view the country as an emerging economy. It’s not a secret to most that India is becoming an IT hub and people here acknowledge the fact that India’s IT sector is huge. That also makes them think that most Indians are IT programmers; those who aren’t, probably work in call centres.

India is seen as a complicated democracy and there is an awareness of the deep-rooted corruption within Indian government. Indian caste system is not unknown to British society and it is rather to their amusement how caste systems make and break relationships. Most of my friends look perplexed with the arranged marriage concept although they broadly see it as a part of the Indian traditiol culture.

Most Brits seem to know about big fat Indian weddings and in fact, this is a great topic as an ice breaker for them when they meet an Indian. I am constantly asked by my English friends how many guests were invited to my wedding. Most of them go silent for few seconds in absorbing the fact that I had nearly 1,000 guests on my big day. Well, it is surprising because wedding ceremonies in English culture are usually very private and only the near and dear ones are invited. As far as I understand, Bollywood movies have done a great job in promoting Indian weddings as a most colourful, vibrant event that goes on for days and the result is that every Brit wants to attend an Indian wedding once in their lifetime!

There is a general perception that every Indian lives only on spicy food. By the way, Indian food is a big rage here in the UK. Indian food is called ‘Curry’ in the UK. My English friends joke at times referring

to Curry as the new tiol British Dish. That would be the case if one was to judge based on popularity. English tea is a part of its culture and many tea drinkers know about Assam tea. Lot of times, Assam tea is a great reference point for me when telling about my hometown to an English friend... the place which is the origin of Assam tea!

When it comes to sports, people know that Indian cricket is at the top of the chart and cricketing enthusiasts appreciate our yesteryear’s champions such as Sachin and Dravid.

Most Brits know that Gandhi was from India. Not many of them are sure what he did and the history, but he is seen as a motivatiol guru. His quotes are seen in people’s homes and office walls.

Because of the exotic factor, Indian girls are considered to be beautiful, and as much as being fair is a blessing in India, I have always got compliments from my English friends for my dusky skin complexion. Its permanently tanned skin as I say it.

Now does that give you an idea what Indians are like for English people? Next time, you meet a Brit, invite him or her for some samosas and pakoras and the Brit will be your friend for life!

(Hiramoni Sarma is heading the marketing division of a FTSE100 company based in the UK. Email her on

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