fickle: (asian pride)
Fickle ([personal profile] fickle) wrote2009-01-16 03:29 pm

Public Service Announcement: STOP SAYING NAMASTE.

Today, I had yet another guy try to pick me up with the opening salvo of "Namaste".

The fact that we were in a crowded shopping mall is probably what saved him from being viciously savaged by an angry Sri Lankan girl who is absolutely sick of having people greet her with that.

If you see a white person, any white person, are you going to assume they're German and start a conversation with "Guten Tag"? Or French and say "Bonjour!" to them? No. So why see nothing except my skin color and think that I'll appreciate 'Namaste' as being your token proof of 'knowing my culture'?

Namaste is a Sanskrit term, used most commonly by Hindus and Nepalese for as a greeting. Sanskrit is a root language, like Latin.

How many of you go around greeting all white people with a Latin phrase or word?

India's huge. India has a lot more than just Hindus in it. So even if someone is from India, there's no reason to assume that 'Namaste' is the right greeting to use -- Muslims, for example, have their own greeting, which goes along the lines of 'salaam alaykum'.

I am Sri Lankan. Sri Lanka is an entirely different country to India, and we have very few Hindus. The majority of the country is Buddhist, and I have never ever heard anyone in Sri Lanka use 'Namaste'. Sri Lankans say "Ayubowan" (pronounced 'eye-oh-bo-wung', with wung rhyming with lung)

Cultural appropriation is one of those complicated things I haven't sorted out my feelings about, but I know exactly what I feel when people try to apply other people's culture to me, assuming based off nothing more than my looks that I am belong with that group.

So here's something that I can't believe I have to state explicitly: Not all brown-skinned people are Indian Hindus or from Nepal. Though I doubt that people associate 'namaste' with Nepal. However, if you're greeting them with Namaste, you're implying you believe they belong to that particular social caste/class and will therefore understand it, and give you brownie points for having tried to speak their language.

Here's a quick geography lesson for you. Asia is a huge continent. Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka all fall under what I'm talking about when I say South Asian. East Asian, for me, is usually China, Taiwan, Japan, Tibet, North Korea and South Korea. And South East Asian is Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore. Russia's a whole different story. That's a lot of countries already and I know I'm missing some.

Unless you actually know where someone is from, don't assume they're from whichever country is most in the news. Playing the odds is a great way to offend people and quite frankly, it's unnecessary. A friend of mine said: "It's like greeting everyone you've been told isn't a black American with 'What's up mon' as if all other Blacks are automatically Jamaican. Or automatically African."

Next time you see an East Asian or South East Asian person and want to spew "kawaii desu arigato!!!!" at them, or think you've spotted an Indian whom you can show off to with "Namaste!", don't. Just don't.

Go start up a movement to promote Klingon being taught in public schools instead. Or Vulcan. Or Bajoran. Or Romulan. Whatever floats your boat.

Just please, please, PLEASE stop it with the cultural misappropriation.

~Fickle, who is still brown but still not Indian.

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