“Wrong” party attires make better stories

This is just a lighthearted post but do you remember showing up to a party dressed in the ‘wrong’ dress code? It shouldn’t be hard to recall. It’s one of those memories that remain pretty fresh in our minds.

If you know anything about India, you know that Indians are known for their colorful and often OTT dress sense.

When I moved to Atlanta, I was invited to a party at a friend’s house. At that time, they were ‘new’ friends and whenever I had been over to their house, they were very casually dressed. In fact I would feel overdressed whenever we met. So when they invited me to the new year’s eve party at their house and said it was a casual party, I decided to show up dressed casually.

My husband had to work that evening and I decided to try to connect with my new community. I put on my new ninja hoodie and jeans and showed up. You guessed right if you are thinking that was the wrong dress code for the evening.

Everyone at the party was dressed up. Since it was a house party, there weren’t many options of hiding this one out. Most of the people at the party were complete strangers that night but I knew I would meet most of them again. They also had a lot of questions about India. I tried to stay at the top of my conversation game to compensate for the incorrect attire. It is funny to look back on it now but it was an awkward evening.

When my husband lived in India, he had a similar incident (made for each other you see), except that he was overdressed in Indian attire at a wedding lunch party. Everyone else at the party, including the groom had shown up in a casual day suit or just a formal shirt and jeans and my husband showed up in an Indian kurta. Needless to say, every one at the wedding commented on his attire which made for a really funny story.

So when you live in a new culture, how do you decide what the right party attire is, especially, when you aren’t surrounded by friends who can advice you? I guess you can just make the best assumption. Next time I am planning to take the middle road – nothing too casual and not overly dressy. If it still makes for a funny story, just remember it for the laughs.


Share your stories with The Overseas Magazine. Email editor@theoverseasmagazine.com

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Flying to the US? Learn more about the latest electronics ban

Flying to the US with electronics just became a lot more inconvenient. Major airlines flying via countries in the Middle East and Africa will no longer allow electronics larger than a cellphone in a handbag. Passengers will be required to pack them with their checked luggage.

This step was taken by the US to avoid the risk of passenger planes being targeted by terrorist groups who might smuggle explosives in electronic devices.

Medical devices might be allowed on the plane after thorough screening.

Airlines impacted:

Egyptair, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Turkish Airlines.

Preparing for flights to the US:

  1. Check with your airline to determine how the electronics ban will effect you and pack accordingly.
  2. If you have medical devices, let your airline know in advance so that they can be prepared to screen them and allow them on the plane with you.
  3. Estimate longer layovers because of additional screenings. Pack some dry and permissible snacks and perhaps some reading material to make long layovers less painful.
  4. Prepare to be searched thoroughly, exercise patience and cooperate with officials.
  5. If you absolutely must carry electronics in your handbag, book tickets with airline who are currently unaffected by the ban.

 

Did the ban effect you? Write to us: editor@theoverseasmagazine.com

Read more about the ban here.


 

Reentering the US under Trump Administration

My husband and I had planned a trip to India for February 2017. We had booked tickets before all of Trump’s immigration and travel ban revisions were announced. Being a green card holder, the doubts in my mind were pretty strong – would I be allowed to enter? Would I have to endure a painfully long screening process? How would I stay patient through it all? We were skeptical about the timing of the trip but since we had non-refundable tickets, we decided to go ahead and risk it. 

This is how things turned out.

Our flight from Kolkata to Atlanta had a brief layover in Doha. We booked this flight because of it’s the shortest travel route at a rate that’s affordable.

We made it to Doha smoothly and went through security check as we got off the plane. It was a standard check – remove shoes and laptop and walk through the metal detector. Since all passengers needed to go through the check, it took a while to get through it. But we made it through the checks and walked to our gate.

At the gate, there was a queue for additional security checks meeting US standards. My husband and I were selected for a random secondary check while we waited in line. Like most people, I was not excited about the check since it meant that we would have to unpack everything and get treated like villains.

When it was our turn, we first went through the usual remove-shoes-laptop-metal detector check. We were then asked to wait for a secondary screening.

At the secondary screening, a no-nonsense officer checked all the contents of my bags. I was asked to turn my laptop on and she brushed it with a detector. She inquired about other electronics that I had. She then proceeded to use the detector to brush my palms, folds of clothing and shoes. In the busyness of the moment, she misplaced my boarding pass. In fact, she even forgot that she had not returned it to me and asked me for it. I thought to myself, this is it – trouble begins. Thankfully she decided to look for it among her things and found it after a brief search. I was relieved to finally have it back.

My husband who is an US citizen had to go through the same checks.

We were found ‘clear’ and proceeded to board when another employee discovered that my husband’s boarding pass was not marked as ‘clear’. The agent who had conducted his secondary check escorted him for a third search of similar intensity and finally cleared us both for boarding.

On arriving in the US, the rest of the immigration process was similar to ones in the past – no additional hassles for citizens and green card holders. We submitted my immigration form and were asked to declare that we were not carrying any restricted items into the US.

In a way, the checks seemed to go smoother than ever. Perhaps it was because we were almost expecting to be subjected to lengthier processes and interviews. We proceeded to baggage claim to collect our luggage and walked out of the airport.

We are still monitoring news related to immigration and hope that the right decisions are made by the governing powers of USA.


Meals every Indian should try in the US

When you visit the US, you have to try these!

Barbecued meat! Whether you prefer chicken or pork, find a restaurant that serves barbecue platters. The mildly sweet and smoky melt-in-your-mouth options are a must have when you’re in the US!

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Mouthwatering barbecued meat. Give us a side of naan and we are set!

Burgers and hotdogs come in all sizes and varieties. The type of burgers and hotdogs you find in India don’t quite compare to the ones available in the US. Opt for beef if you eat beef or try the cheese burger. Amazingness! Hotdogs can vary in quality so maybe try just one.

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We need bigger mouths for that burger!

Soups and stews are both comfort food and an entire hot meal in a bowl. Try the  Brunswick stew, with it’s rich taste of tomatoes and meat, or try gumbo! Find out what the traditional soup is and enjoy it with a side of bread sticks or rice.

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Doesn’t that look wholesome? Yummy soup!

Although India offers a variety of bread options, when Indians hear bread, we usually think of the common sliced white bread but if you enjoy bread, you will love meals in the US! Bagels, buns, dinner rolls, biscuits, corn bread, baguette are a few among many other varieties. They all differ in texture and taste and if you can’t differentiate, it’s alright. It’s probably the same reason why Americans identify the variety of Indian flatbread as naan 🙂

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We love garlic bread!

Mexican food is extremely popular so enjoy the delicious tacos and burritos. In addition to that, you can find fusion food everywhere. Korean, Thai, Japanese – all offer fusion options and Indian taste buds will love them. American Chinese food is not as spicy as Indian Chinese food and Indian food is mostly limited to North Indian food options.

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Tacos are perfect for any meal.

If you want to try fast food, try Chick-fil-A! The fried chicken burgers will win over your heart and stomach instantly.

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Spicy Deluxe Sandwich offers the perfect amount of spice and flavors.

Finally to satisfy your sweet tooth, try the cheesecakes, donuts, pies, a wide range or cookies and muffins. There are tons of other options obviously but you can’t visit the US and not try these!

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Give them all to us!!! Donuts for days!

Have a great trip and enjoy your meals!


 

 

Green card process through fiancé (k1) visa

Once upon a time my husband and I were engaged :). Some of you know that I am an Indian and my husband is an American so after we got engaged and decided to live in the US, my green card process towered over us. We spoke to some friends who had gone through this process before and realized that it would be easier for us to get married in the US. It would be simpler to get our marriage recognized, which, in turn would expedite my green card process.

I bookmarked this page on my computer: uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-through-family and followed all the steps listed.

Other sites that were helpful:

The information on those links might seem like a whole lot but read on and you will see that it’s not that difficult to get through the process as long as you are paying attention.

March 2014:

My fiancé had returned to the US after our engagement and that served to our advantage because he was able to submit the initial intent of marriage and other supporting documents to the US immigration services in the US. You can find the list of documents on the USCIS webpage but two things seemed important:

  1. Proof of income/employment in the US – This included salary details and a letter from the employer. Therefore, proof that I wouldn’t waltz into the US and ask the government to support us.
  2. Proof of our relationship – This included some letters and photographs – thankfully we had plenty of both which were appropriate for sharing. We submitted photographs of just the two of us and a few we had clicked with friends.

August 2014:

There was just silence till August 2014. We had received an acknowledgement after sending the initial documents and I had a tracking number assigned to me.

In August, I received an email that that the initial plea was approved and I needed to submit additional documents supporting my intent to marry my fiancé and other documents that would establish me as someone credible. I spent the next several days filling out forms and gathering documents.

One of the documents required was a proof of no criminal history. The easiest way to do this was to ask the passport office in Kolkata to release my criminal history since they maintain that information for issued passports. This step required an appointment set up at the passport office, which wasn’t hard to do. You can check your passport office’s website about how to go about this.

After mailing those documents, we waited to hear from USCIS again.

September 2014:

We heard back around mid-September! I was directed to the final step of the process, which involved a health screening and in-person interview. Inconveniently for me, neither of these processes were done in Kolkata. I called USCIS and requested an appointment in Mumbai.

According to the USCIS representative I spoke to, who are all really polite and patient, by the way, if I had a clear health record – meaning if I wasn’t the carrier of any deadly diseases that would be a threat to the US, I would have the in-person interview within the week! Since I was able to stay with relatives there, I decided to spend a week during the first week of October in Mumbai, hoping to get everything done and return to Kolkata with my visa approval.

For the interview in Mumbai, I needed some originals from my fiancé which he had to mail through FedEx to make sure they made it on time. So I opted for the second week of October for the visa interview just to give us enough time to get all the documents perfect the first time. Our goal was to go through the process without having to repeat any steps.

October 2014:

Health checks take a few hours to finish and you will receive an email with instructions about those. Save that email because the health center in Mumbai asked me to forward the email to them before they could schedule the test.

I went for my health test alone and wished I had company because the waiting between different steps were boring. I was asked to return another day to collect all the test results and was warned not to open or tamper with the envelop in any way. I would have to carry it with me to the US and present the sealed envelope to the Immigration officer at the airport. (Side note: I did not have to submit anything at the US airport. The fiancé/k1 visa on my passport was all that was needed).

Before the health test, I was advised to get visa photos done before going to the in-person interview. There were several stores that offered visa photo service near the health test location. Visa photos have some strict specifications. You could also get photos clicked and printed at the consulate but the prices and hassle would be outrageous. So get the right photos done even before the health test so that you can submit the same one during the health test.

I was excited to have cleared the health test, even though I wasn’t really expecting anything different. We had made it this far! I felt ready for the consulate interview. Consulates always have rules about restricted and permitted items and it important you comply if you want to get inside otherwise you might have to reschedule your appointment.

The in-person interview at the consulate was painless. Someone at the first counter checked my paperwork and I was directed to another counter for my interview. I was asked a few details about my fiancé and his family. Basic questions about the number of siblings he has, if I had ever met his family, his date of birth, how we met, if we have a wedding date set, if my family would be able to attend. Then the person asked me for my fiancé’s phone number. I did not have it memorized so I told her that. She smiled and went ahead with the approval. But just so you don’t feel as foolish as I did, learn your partner’s number and address.

I received my fiancée visa approval right away and I was told that my passport bearing the visa would be mailed to the consulate in Kolkata. It was ready for pick up within a week!

December 2014:

We fixed the wedding date and I booked my tickets so that we would be married within 90 days of my arrival in the US!

I arrived in the US a week and a half before the wedding date. I had my visa and the sealed medical documents with me. I went through immigration without being pestered with questions. My fiancé and I picked up our wedding license the day before the wedding and being together really made the long visa process worth it!

When my family arrived in the US closer to the wedding date, they were asked two questions: anyone carrying pickles? haha…and purpose of the visit.

They breezed through the immigration process.

[One advice that I received was to get married in court right after entering the US in case the wedding ceremony and party could not be arranged within the 90 days period. That way we could proceed with the green card process and I would not risk the possibility of getting deported. The wedding party could be planned anytime later. Thankfully, my fiancé and I didn’t need to go through this step and our wedding day was a-m-a-z-i-n-g!]

January 2015:

We received our marriage certificate after about 2 weeks of being married and we were able to send all the documents required for my green card processing!

We applied for two other authorizations at the same time – one was Advance Parole, which allowed me to leave and enter the US while I waited for my green card. USCIS is strict about this and may not allow you to reenter the US without that prior approval. The other authorization was related to employment.

I also applied for my Social Security Card, added my name to our cellphone and utility bills and applied for my local ID. I was issued a temporary ID and applied for my driver’s license.

March 2015:

I received my Advance Parole authorization.

April 2015:

We heard back from USCIS – we were eligible for an interview waiver before my green card was issued. In April, I also traveled back to India to visit family and reentered the US smoothly.

June 2015:

I received my employment approval in June.

August 2015:

I received my temporary green card by mail.

My green card and government IDs have expiration dates and are valid for two years. We will need to apply for renewals in 2017 and I look forward to sharing more about those processes when they are completed.


 

 

Driving basics: India and the US

It’s Friday morning and you are driving down the city. Traffic is light and you take a left turn into a fairly empty street.  Suddenly everything changes. Your car accelerates from 35 mph to 80 mph in a matter of seconds. You find yourself inside your favorite race car. The streets turn into race tracks.

You race to merge into the right lane. But the other speeding cars won’t let you. With every failed attempt, your urgency increases. You must merge before the road leads you to a different destination. You keep trying and make it just in time as the car ahead of you accelerates. You are still losing time. There are too many cars in this race. You have to get to the finish line without getting disqualified.

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Image credit: Pixabay

You step on the accelerator and inch closer to the car ahead of you. The car behind you changes lanes and tries to overtake you. You let him. You need to follow a different route and stay on track. And whatever happens, don’t get into an accident.

On the right side of the track, you see police cars and ambulances tending to the most recent crash. You shake your head – silly bad drivers, you think. Just then, the car in front of you slams their brakes with no warning. You find yourself dangerously close. Oh no! You frantically slam the brakes. You feel your heart skip a beat. You hear tires screeching and tense up for a collision. Just then the car ahead of you changes lanes allowing you to speed ahead. Everyone is still alive.

This is how I feel when we drive down US highways. It’s terrifying and the adrenaline rush is hard to ignore.

Driving in India is an entirely different game. Indian roads are considered to be so busy and chaotic that people say if you can drive in India, you can drive anywhere in the world. I kinda disagree. It definitely teaches you amazing tricks like honking your way forward, being fearless when there are no signs, parking in tiny spaces, driving through flooded streets – but it doesn’t prepare you for speeding cars following lanes.

When I started driving in the US, my biggest challenge was staying within lanes. Maybe it’s just me but lanes seemed more restrictive and narrower the faster I drove. I had a hard time avoiding curbs that, in my opinion, don’t need to jut into streets that much anyway. I was more stressed during those first few weeks of driving than I have been in my entire life. The effort that went into driving the vehicle seemed so pointless that I decided not to drive in the US at all. After about a year of struggles, I think driving in the US is actually quite easy and painless. As long as I stay clear of highways.

When I lived in Kolkata, as part of my job, I had the privilege of hosting visitors from different parts of the world. Whenever we would drive around the city, most visitors would pause all conversation, grab onto their seats and turn pale. After most car rides, the remarks would be the same – I was sure we were going to die or how is it possible to drive through those narrow lanes or I don’t have the courage to drive anything here. I wish I could tell them how I understand what they felt. No one really warns you about the terrors of driving when you move overseas. You learn to deal with it as time goes by. You learn to drive on the other side of the road.

Driving in the Atlanta (and a few other US cities) Driving in Kolkata (and a few other Indian cities)
You learn to read all the road signs without bumping into the car ahead of you or going off the road. You learn to drive intuitively without most road signs.
You learn to stop honking and get used to quiet speeding traffic. You learn to honk – to get your way, to vent frustration on that slow moving vehicle, to warn oncoming vehicles and people at minor intersections.
You learn to drive within restrictive lanes. You learn to squeeze in between cars without scratching your car.
You learn to appreciate and follow the big red STOP sign. You learn to drive alert and prepare for surprises.
You learn to appreciate parking spaces. You learn to park in tiny spaces.
You learn to drive within speed limits. Speed limits are higher than you can ever achieve. You learn to expect speed bumps and competing for space with 1000 other vehicles. 
You (hopefully never have to get into an accident and) learn how to deal with insurance. You learn to ignore accidents as long as the damage is within acceptable limits and no one is hurt. Insurance is not disturbed unless the local mechanic advises you to contact an authorized service center.
You learn to drive on the right side of the road with all the controls on the left side. You learn to drive on the left side of the road with all the controls on the right side.
You wait for pedestrians to cross the road safely, even when they are ridiculously slow. You learn to maneuver around pedestrians in situations similar to obstacle races.
You hate rush hour traffic! You hate rush hour traffic!

Drive safe today! And be extra alert on that highway!


Share your overseas driving experiences by writing to editor@theoverseasmagazine.com

 

Ordering food in the US and how it’s done in India

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.

In India:

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)

Absolutely! 

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.

Glass sizes

 

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.