The United States is an extremely diverse country. Working in healthcare, one will encounter numerous cultures and beliefs. As results of this, it is the healthcare providers job to educate one’s self on various cultures. The National Institutes of Health identifies cultural respect as an essential factor in reducing healthcare disparities and improving access to high-quality healthcare for a diverse group of patients. A lack in knowledge of multiple cultures or not being culturally competent can lead to decreased patient satisfaction, poor relationship between healthcare provider and patient, unintentionally offending the patient, and much more. Considering this, healthcare providers should constantly continue education regarding cultures, to provide well rounded care.
Since working in healthcare, I have encountered many different cultures. However, I feel that the Indian culture is one that I understand the least about. The purpose of this piece will be to discuss the Indian culture and to compare my own culture and beliefs to that of the Indian culture. I myself, am half Caucasian and half Vietnamese. I have grown up in a very traditional American household with some Vietnamese influences. I will be giving information on the Indian culture to provide incite for myself and the reader regarding the Indian values, standards and beliefs while comparing my own.
Indians are the group of people whom are nationals and/or citizens of India. “Indian” is what is used to describe the nationality of that specific population. However, “Indian” does not account for their ethnicity or language. There are three main ethnic groups of Indians. These three include Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, and Mongoloid and other minority groups. As far as languages spoken, there are a vast variety of languages. There are 22 main languages including: Bengali, Hindi, Maithili, Nepali, Sanskrit, Tamil, Urdu, Assamesse, Dogri, Kannada, Gujarati, Bodo, Manipuri (otherwise known as Meitei), Oriya, Marathi, Santali, Telugu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Malayalam, Konkani and Kashmiri. I was not aware of how many languages are spoken in India. Not only are there many different languages, but each of the languages have their own alphabet. Most of the alphabets are written left to right, rather than right to left as English is written. On an interesting note, the Indian languages of Hindi and Urdu are considered two different languages and have two different alphabets. However, their speakers can understand each other perfectly even though each has a different script.
Indians not only speak many languages but they also practice many different religions. The main religions include Buddhism, Christians, Hinduism, and Islam. The most dominant religion being Hinduism. Hinduism is a religion that believes in Gods and Goddesses. It is one of the most ancient religions around the world. Comparing the United States to India, both countries have very diverse languages and religions. On the other hand, the United States can be seen as a melting pot while India would be considered a salad bowl. I feel like my family dynamic is a great example of how to United States is a melting pot. A melting pot is a concept referring to a heterogeneous society becoming more homogeneous with the different elements “melting together” into a harmonious whole with a common culture. For example, my family combines traditions from both American culture and Vietnamese. I celebrate American Holidays as well as, Vietnamese, whereas, India would be considered more of a salad bowl. There are many languages and religions which differ greatly from each other. While these different languages and religions all fall into the Indian culture, they hold each of their own beliefs, values, and even alphabet without “melting” together into one.
Moving on, I feel the greatest difference between American culture and Indian culture would be societal themes. India is a Hierarchy society. Although India is a political democracy, notions of complete equality are seldom evident in daily life. Societal Hierarchy can be seen in caste systems which put people into different “ranks” or “statuses” based on wealth and power. This seems odd to me because I would not place importance or value on someone based upon their wealth or power. I feel that in the United States, for the most part, everyone is equal. Also, it appears whatever rank one is born or placed into cannot be changed through his or her life time. Jacobson states, “People are born into groups — families, clans, sub castes, castes, and religious communities — and feel a deep sense of inseparability from these groups.” Whereas, I was taught to be independent and follow my own beliefs. I was not raised to believe that I was “born into a group” and expected to stay within that group. Jacobson also goes on to state that, “Psychologically, family members typically experience intense emotional interdependence. Economic activities, too, are deeply imbedded in a social nexus. Almost everywhere a person goes, he can find a relative from whom he can expect moral and practical support.” In this aspect, I can relate to Indian family dynamics. I am extremely close to my family and would never move far from them. I depend on them greatly. While I depend on them mainly emotionally for support, I feel that I was encouraged to be very independent and to do things on my own. While the Indian culture, rely on their family so intensely, seldom do people carry out even the simplest tasks on their own.
Due to this nature, Indian households often include extended family. The joint family is most common and placed of most value. These are families often and most ideally consisting of multiple generations living, working, eating, and worshiping together. My family’s household does not include multiple generations or any extended family members. My aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. all live in separate households. However, I can see how multigenerational households would be ideal with how much emphasis is placed on family bonding within the Indian culture. As far as family authority and harmony, within the Indian culture the eldest male acts as the head of household. The youngest women within the family would hold the least authority. In my own beliefs and culture, I do not feel that I was taught that anyone holds any higher rank within our family. We of course, respect out elders but men do not hold any higher value than women.
One significant difference between men and women in Indian Culture would be the veiling of women, or otherwise known as “purdah”. Indian women follow strict rules of covering their body and wearing modest clothing. “These practices emphasize respect relationships, limit unapproved encounters, and enhance family lines of authority”. While women usually dress extremely modest and non-revealing, men usually wear Nehru jacket. A Nehru jacket is a well-tailored, high-collared, button-down style named after Jawaharlal Nehru, a former prime minister of India. While men and women seem to dress very differently, both wear jewelry. This jewelry may include everything from toe rings to necklaces, and they adorn their foreheads with decorative bindi or dots, in red or black. In addition to bindi or dots, many Indians decorate their hands and feet with henna tattoos. Healthcare depends a lot on one’s socioeconomic status. In the Indian society, socioeconomical status depends mainly on the caste system, occupation, education, possessions, family, and gender. The caste systems define the privileges of an individual in Indian society. However, gender plays an even larger role in one’s socioeconomic status. Indian woman’s main purpose is to take care of the household, children, and her husband. Seldom do woman work. Great importance is placed on women’s workload and they are often subservient to their husband. From a healthcare point of view on this topic, Indian women often try to hide when they are ill. Pitlane Magazine states, “A woman’s sole purpose in life is to devote her life to her husband and children. Due to the social views of women through society, an ill woman is less inclined to admit to ill health and seek treatment.” Indian woman are so pressured to raise the children and support the household they often feel that it is necessary to hide their illnesses. I do not feel that gender defines the typical American’s socioeconomic status. I feel that it is based more on job title and wealth. Going back to the healthcare aspect of this topic, I feel that Americans may not seek healthcare because of the cost rather than their status in the household. There are many Indian etiquettes and customs that are like American customs and then there are some that are very different. For example, one that is very different is eating without utensils. It is Indian etiquette to eat with one’s hands. They also consider one’s left hand to be “unclean” and right hand to be “clean”. This makes it only appropriate to eat with one’s right hand. Another custom that is different, is that it would be considered rude to arrive on time. Indians believe it is good manners to arrive 15-20 minutes late. Whereas, I would normally consider being on time being 10-15 minutes early. Indian food includes rice as a staple piece. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner look very different from what I am used to. A typical Indian breakfast includes a small light vegetable dish with a chapattis or flat bread. Lunch may include rice, lentils, curry, and salad. Dinner is usually heavier, including multiple vegetable curries, chicken dishes, lentils, rice, pickles, and yogurt. These meals are very different from what I am used to. Even being half Vietnamese, we would not normally eat rice for multiple meals during the day. Many Indians are vegetarian because they try to minimize hurting other life forms. Cows are also seen as sacred for they are honored for their gentle nature.
Moving onto communication, Indians prefer to keep to themselves with minimal physical contact. They prefer to stay within an arm’s length of another. Eye contact that is direct for long periods of time can be considered harsh or rude. Indians will often tilt their head side to side while speaking or shake their head to show that they are agreeing or understanding the conversation taking place. I think personal space often is not as valued in other cultures, people often over step their boundaries with physical contact. I also do not feel as though eye contact is of any controversy within my own beliefs and culture. Of course, staring is rude. But direct eye contact to me would be considered proper and most appropriate during conversations to show attention and listening. Regarding disagreements, Indians prefer to avoid confrontation. They rarely say “no”, they instead will say “maybe” or “I’ll see”. This is also very different in comparison to my own beliefs, confrontation and risks of disagreement are not something that must be avoided in my own beliefs. I grew up knowing many superstitions. For example, never walk under a ladder, breaking a mirror was bad luck, the number 13 is unlucky while 7 is lucky. Indians have their own set of superstitions, as well. These include, sweeping the house at night is bad luck, an owl on top of a house will mean disaster is coming, seeing a peacock will bring good luck, or food should not be cooked in a place where someone has passed. These are just a few Indian superstitions. Prejudices are everywhere. From inside the community, Indian-on-Indian and intra-Muslim prejudice abound. Your name is your legacy. Fakie goes on the give incite on how your name can define what languages you can speak, how well you are able to speak it, how others view you, your wealth, and as far as a measure of beauty. I could not imagine living in a world where my last name was so important as to define my life. I was unaware that whom one marries into within the Indian community can predict their future and lifestyle.
Overall, major Indian beliefs and attitudes include emphasis on group harmony, modesty, dignity, patience, generosity, and listening, and permissiveness. Indians often focus on the need of the group rather than the individual. Loud attention seeking behavior is frowned upon, while modesty should remain. Bragging or talking of an achievement would even be considered immodest. Dignity in Indian culture is especially emphasized as treating children with the same respect as adults. While children are given the same respect as adults, they are taught to remain still and quiet. Having patience to wait quietly is a good quality to Indians. The Indian child is taught to be seen not heard. I think these are all qualities that are universal and seen as positive throughout most all cultures and beliefs.
All in all, the Indian culture is very eccentric, traditional, unique, and distinctive. While many beliefs are different than my own there are some that are alike. Healthcare is a field which will introduce one to many different people with many different beliefs and values. Learning about another culture more in depth allows one to respect and understand that culture so much more. We live in an ever-growing diverse world that is full of beautifully unique cultures. Gaining knowledge on other cultures not only allows a healthcare provider to provide more competent care, but also allows he or she to gain a better appreciation and respect for it, as well.