A question that foreigners get asked everywhere is: what are some things that are different here? As an Indian living in the US, I have answered this question quite a few times. It is not an easy question to answer because really the differences are many but several of those are simply based on our personal perceptions. So let’s start with a simple difference.
Restaurant mannerisms between the two countries are quite different. Firstly, it is more common to find waitresses in the US and waiters in India. I’m not sure why that is but waitresses are rare in India, at least at the restaurants that I have been to.
Ordering food is remarkably different in these two countries too. Generally customers need to answer several more questions in the US than they need to in India. In fact sometimes you would wish they’d asked a few questions in India about some dishes. But most of the time the fewer the questions, the better it is.
Here’s an example:
Scenario: You want to order a bowl of soup but you have a few questions about it.
What kind of soup is this?
It’s soup with a creamy base with freshly cut vegetables.
Is it good? (Silly question but customers ask this frequently as though the answer will ever be in the negative)
In the US:
It’s soup with a creamy base, or you could order it with less cream or with milk, and it takes about a 30 minutes or so to prepare but it comes with a choice of fresh vegetables and meat if you would prefer. The chef told us this morning that a rare kind of potato was available in the market this morning, which is so exciting, so you’ll might get that in your soup. So would how creamy would you like it?
Thick sounds great.
Okay. Which vegetables would you prefer – blah blah blah or blah (names some vegetables)? Would you like it spicy hot or spicy medium? Would you like to add any meat to it? We have …(names five different options)!
And if it’s the South, you will be called “honey” for the duration of your meal – no, not by your companions but by the restaurant staff.
Ordering food comes with a complimentary decision-making session in the US. Ordering food in India comes with a complimentary trust-the-chef session.
The other big difference is the joy of free drink refills in the US, which is not a concept in India yet. Also, below are glass sizes in India compared to sizes in the US.
When two or more people go out to eat in India, it’s not unusual for them to order family style. That way you get to enjoy more variety of food as if it was your own. In the US, we order individual plates even though the quantity of food is more than enough for people to share. Again this might just be true for the circles and restaurants I’ve been to.
Tips to waiters in India usually depends on the generosity of the customer instead of the length of the conversation with the customer. In fact, a waiter would get a higher tip for the amount of complimentary food served and the lesser amount of ‘interruptions’ caused during the meal. Whereas in the US, the ‘interruptions’ could potentially lead to more tips.
It is common belief that people in the US prefer privacy and value their personal space while people in India (and the East in general) thrive on community and are ridiculed for their lack of any sense of personal space. I wonder what causes this switch in behavior at restaurants.
The first time I ordered a burrito in the US, I was bombarded with fifteen questions much to my dislike. I was not ready for that decision-making lesson and for some reason even though it was simply food, the choices seemed overwhelming. Funny, right? On the other hand, a friend of mine from the US was visiting India for the first time and was frustrated at a coffee shop in India because she received a default drink listed on the menu without having any opportunity to choose the flavors, size and strength of her coffee.
Different perceptions are based on where we live. ‘Normal’ differs everywhere and that’s the beauty of diversity.