Archive for the Clothes Category

Compare and Contrast: When White People Adopt ‘Asian’ Mannerisms

Posted in Clothes, Cross-Cultural Issues on August 24, 2010 by theajnabee

I have two video clips for you today, readers, both of which involve white women adopting ‘Asian’ mannerisms. One is a skit from Goodness Gracious Me, the other is a product of a rather disturbing Japanese internet craze. I will explain:

Firstly here is the skit about the ‘white wife’ from Goodness Gracious Me. I’ve blogged about this before but this is just so damn hilarious that it merits a second appearance on The Ajnabee. A desi guy marries a white woman who then pretends to be a more-Asian-than-Asian Punjabi housewife in an attempt to fit in. (If I ever, EVER become this person, I will give out my address and you can come over and beat me with long sticks).

The second clip is of a 14 year old girl from the Isle of Man who styles herself as ‘Beckii Cruel’. She has become a superstar in Japan after posting clips of herself on Youtube dressed up like an anime character, dancing to Japanese pop songs. Beckii Cruel (real name Rebecca Flint) takes on manga-like mannerisms and speech patterns, and apparently drives Japanese men wild with her combination of long limbs, oval face and large eyes. To a British person she looks like just another fresh-faced teenager, but is thought to be popular in Japan because her features resemble those of a manga character. The mixture of infantile mannerisms and precocious sexuality is more than a little disturbing.

According to this article in the Daily Mail Beckii’s parents are proud that their daughter has made it big in Japan. I’d be more worried about kind of men out there who might be watching those videos if I were them.

So here we have a white woman who fetishes Southasian culture, and a white teen who has, by way of taking on Japanese anime mannerisms, become fetishized.

And the point of this post? Well, I’m not sure really. Just that weird things happen when white people (actually: read white females) adopt the dress and mannerisms of another culture so wholeheartedly.


Clothes Shopping, Tarai Style

Posted in Clothes, Uncategorized on January 14, 2010 by theajnabee

I decided today that it was time for a new salwaar kameez, the baggy-pants-and-long-shirt ensemble that women in India and Nepal often wear. I’ve got over my hang-ups about white girls looking weird in South Asian gear, but have not quite got up the courage to venture into saris yet as I have nightmares about putting them on wrong and ‘unravelling’ in public, but maybe this is something I will try in 2010.

You can buy salwaar suits off the shelf but the better – and more fun- thing to do is to go to choose the fabric yourself, and then head to the tailors to get it made up exactly how you want.

Buying Fabric in Biratnagar

Decisions, decisions...

I’m now firm friends with my tailor, Mohammed, after having had a couple of salwaar suits put together – and endless rips and tears in my western clothes repaired after they’ve taken a bashing on field trips, or at the hands of the dhobi.

Mohammed is the proud owner of Taj Tailors, a small tailoring workshop in a sidestreet in Biratnagar. Before opening the business, Mohammed had worked as a tailor for several years in Saudi Arabia. For many Nepali migrant workers doing blue-collar jobs, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States often turn out to be a hell-hole where they are underpaid, exploited and generally viewed as second class citizens. But when I ask Mohammed what he thought about Saudi Arabia, he smiles contentedly; he was happy to have the opportunity to be ‘in a good Islamic country, with other Muslims’ and to do the Hajj pilgrimage, which Muslims are obliged to make if they have the means. Muslims are a tiny minority in Nepal, and live mostly in the Tarai, near to the Indian border.

Mohammed and his friends always seem to be happy -and at times amused- when I try out a couple of Urdu phrases on them. Because I can speak a bit of Urdu (badly), and my name, Sophia, can also be a Muslim name (and sounds quite similar to ‘Safiyah’ too – another Muslim girl’s name which I think means ‘purity’), Mohammed and co. initially thought that I was Muslim too, and their eyes lit up hopefully ‘kya up Musulman hain?!’ .

They looked a bit disappointed when I told them that I wasn’t. Practically every time I go to the tailors, someone will protest ‘lekin Safiyah Musulman naam hai!‘ (‘but Safiyah is a Muslim name!)

Other topics of conversation are limited to what my Hindi/Urdu and their English can stretch to, but generally cover things like English weather, how many Muslim people there are in London and the frequency of strikes and roadblocks in Nepal.

Even when you go for some ‘retail therapy’ in the Tarai you end up discussing religion and politics. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Clothing Matters: White Girls and South Asian Dress

Posted in Clothes on January 11, 2010 by theajnabee

Yesterday afternoon I made a trip to the tailor’s to pick up a newly made salwaar kameez. For me, the anticipation of getting clothes back from the tailor is something like that I used to feel when picking up photos that I’d had developed from an analogue camera; you never know quite what the end results are going to be. This was the first time that I’d got a salwaar suit tailor-made, so I was especially curious to see how it had turned out. However, one perennial question was on my mind throughout: do white girls look inherently ridiculous in South Asian clothes?

Daniyal Muenuddeen came up with great description of foreigners looking like ‘either Christmas trees or amazons’ when they wear Pakistani clothes in his recent collection of short stories In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (which, by the way, is a must-read)

It’s fair to say that foreigners in South Asia are guilty of some fairly heinous sartorial crimes when they try to wear the ‘local gear’. Wearing saris and salwar kameeze is something of an art and needs to be got right, otherwise the effect will be at best bizarre, and at worst, offensive. I’ve seen other western girls on the backpacker trail a couple of times wearing sari petticoats (without a sari), which is a bit like going out in public dressed only in your underwear. I also recently saw someone in Nepal wearing a salwaar suit made out of fabric that was printed with… wait for it…the American flag.  For my own part, I’ve steered clear of Indian or Nepali clothes until now. Although, during pre-university days in Tamil Nadu I had a loud shirt printed with a picture of Ganesha which I was rather fond of, and believed that wearing it was a daring act of rebellion against my Catholic roots. In retrospect, it was just a terrible look.

Apart from aesthetics, there are other questions. Such as, do South Asians think that you’re ‘making fun’ of their culture, or ‘trying to become Asian’ if you wear salwaar kameez or a sari? What signals are we putting out to people around us when us foreigner dress up in ‘their’ clothes’? Do we look like we’re trying too hard to fit in, or to demonstrate how much we have ‘absorbed’ South Asian culture (See this amazing parody of Brits who ‘take on’ Indian culture from British sketch show Goodness Gracious Me below)?

I personally doubt that wearing salwaar kameez causes any ‘offense’ as long as it’s worn correctly. Salwaar kameez basically a practical form of dress if you’re traveling in rural areas, or urban areas where people are more conservative. It also looks smarter, not to mention more elegant, than western outdoor gear.

My new green Punjabi suit has yet to get its first public airing, and I sincerely hope that it won’t make me look like either a Christmas Tree or an amazon. And as for trying to be Asian… come on, as if this gori was ever gonna fool anyone!