7.02.2008

India:The Downside of Celebrity


One of the oddest things about being a western tourist in India is the paparazzi. We were often photographed, sometimes asked (families would crowd around us and we'd smile dutifully at the camera), sometimes not. Occasionally they'd do it openly, but sometimes there would be a decoy, where someone would stand near us as the "subject" but they were really taking a photo of us. Then there were the people with the camera phones. This trio, probably a father and son and the son's friend (or two sons, I suppose), walked towards us, with the father walking in front, providing cover for the son to take a photo as they passed. Cheryl and I spotted this and decided we'd had enough and we were going to take their photos instead. At that point, they stopped pretending and just stood there with thier phones up, taking photos. I kept my camera in front of my face, taking photos until they got bored and walked away.
(This didn't happen in Ladakh, only when we were south of the mountains.)

Very weird. And irritating, if you happen to be a private person...

17 comments:

MWT said...

Did all the shopkeepers also try to charge you thrice the price? Americans are filthy rich, you know, and ripe for taking advantage of when they can't read any of the signs. ;)

Nathan said...

This makes it sound like tourists are so rare that they're worth photographing. Is that the case? Was seeing white faces that much of an event?

vince said...

Naw, it's just that Anne is so famous because of her blog, and is a beautiful young woman as well.

Anne C. said...

Yes, they did, especially since bargaining and the "hard sell" are the main sale methods there. We started visiting fixed price shops run by the government, just to get some relief.

Tourists do seem pretty rare there. Part of it is that we are so used to diversity here (despite some continuing inequities) that it seemed odd to us to photograph someone just because they look different. The other part is that the Indians are so curious and have a different definition of personal boundaries. They take the "nosy neighbor" archetype to a whole new level. We were often questioned about who we were and where we were from and where we were going. It wasn't generally framed as a introduction to getting to know us better, it was more that they needed to know the story.

Anne C. said...

Oh, and Vince: I'll borrow a line from Jon Stewart when his audience gets a little out of hand...
"Settle down..." ;)

Jeri said...

That would be strange. Tourists are used to being nearly invisible - and to feel like you're on display and the center of attention would indeed be really uncomfortable.

vince said...

Me, get out of hand? That would be my evil twin brother. He's always running around pretending to be me :-).

MWT said...

Hmmm. That "we're used to diversity here" thing doesn't apply to as much of the US as you might think.

I grew up non-white in a state that was 99% white, so my experience was probably quite a bit different from some of yours. While nobody actually photographed me, everyone knew who I was and had my name memorized first in any given crowd. There was also one time I was on a class roadtrip through South Dakota in the early 90s, and we stopped at a smalltown McDonald's - and everyone in the place (100% white) was studiously not looking at me "at all".

Then in the mid-90s we visited LA. It was like a total culture shock. Suddenly I couldn't recognize my own family members by race alone! I had to look at their hairstyles and clothes and stuff, wait for them to turn around so I could see their faces. Also, strangers weren't walking around us like we were special.

Of course, two weeks later we went back to Indiana and it was culture shock again... ;)

I think the only times I've ever been truly invisible was when I was visiting Taiwan (before I open my mouth, at least). It was interesting to see it from the other side whenever a white person went past.

Anne C. said...

I understand what you're saying, MWT, and I'm sure there are many non-whites who would agree with you. However, I do feel like it's two different things to have people notice that you are different and therefore remember you or treat you "special" and what I am describing, which is to have large groups of people literally stop what they are doing to openly stare at you. It really makes you feel like a circus animal. Then there are the sexual overtones (which I won't go into here). I haven't experienced what it's like to be studiously not looked at, but I feel that for me, it would be not as bad.

If you're being stared at and photographed in the US, it's generally not because of your skin color, and that's what I meant by being used to diversity.

(This is, of course, not touching upon the experiences of some minorities in the US who have been physically threatened by members of the white majority. I'm sure that happens even today, with regularity. I am speaking only of daily interactions for a majority of Americans.)

MWT said...

Well, I think a lot of that is due to cultural norms. Over here we have it bashed into our heads that it's rude to stare at people, so the studious-not-staring is equivalent.

I'd be interested in hearing how you fare in Taipei, if you ever decide to go there. ;)

Anne C. said...

That is one of the reasons why it was so disconcerting. Cultural difference that appears to be rudeness.

Although, I will point out that my friend Cheryl, who was in India for a year, asked her Indian school friends why people treated her as they did. They didn't know what she was talking about until she travelled with them on a school trip and they asked her "why are people so rude to you?" It's not inherent to Indian culture to behave in the way we experienced. It's just that we are white people and the typical Indian knows very little about white people except for what they see on Baywatch and Jerry Springer. Hence, they think we're all sexually promiscuous and totally screwed up in our relationships. (That was quite literally an explaination given to a friend of mine by an Indian guy he knew.) There are millions of Indians who, through their relatives in the States, know better, but that still leaves the rest of the country who don't know any better.

And when I get to Taipei, I'll let you know. ;)

belsum said...

I think another factor is that Sita was pale: ie, the Indian standard of beauty is the lightest skin possible. Did you not get groped at all your entire trip? If so, I'm stunned and amazed. I never was able to identify any of the ass-grabers because they could just fade back into the crowd, but it happened more than once.

That said, I think it's extremely important for all white people to travel in a "brown" foreign country at least once in their lives. It's an entirely different thing to be a visible minority.

Anne C. said...

Bel, I did not get groped, nor did Cheryl while I was with her (would have to check on her previous 10 months). I think it was for 2 reasons. One, we were a small group, with a very tall and fierce looking man with us (he physically chased away a guy who would not stop following us and staring at us when we stopped). Two, we spent half our time in the mountains. I think because there are few crowds there, the anonymous crowd mentality is not present. I have definitely heard from friends who had guys take liberties, like putting an arm around them or stroking them on the shoulder. Cheryl learned to use the standard palms-together greeting in order to avoid any appearance of acceptance of touching.

MWT said...

Vaguely related, but I just noticed that the latest request in the e's "Photo Below Mine Has" thread requests a pic that contains a cell phone. I immediately thought of those three guys. ;) Want to post it over there?

MWT said...

... and then if you do, I have a further suggestion. Post something to give Nathan his excuse to post that "a self-propelled clamshell crane picking up snow from two gondola railroad cars to dump next to the bridge and a big honkin' snowblower by the side of the road shooting snow 100 yds or so because Iron Will shot during a winter where there was no snow in Northern Minnesota" picture he wants to put up. ;)

Anne C. said...

Done. Now someone needs to notify Nathan.

PS -- Thanks for the tip!

MWT said...

Yay! :)