Why do people laugh at me?

#1 Oct 10th, 2009, 15:11
Join Date:
Jul 2009
Manchester, UK
  • lozza_84 is offline
I've been in India for several weeks now and there is one issue that is blighting my stay and making me not want to visit India again. I'm white, female, with blonde hair. The constant staring is uncomfortable but I've learned to deal with it. What I can't accept is the way people laugh at me for no apparent reason.

A few examples. I'm walking down the street and a group of men outside a shop shout 'hello madam'. I do the polite thing and respond with 'hello' but keep walking as I don't want their attention. As I'm walking off they errupt into laughter like giggling schoolgirls. I go to an internet cafe and ask to use a computer for an hour. The girl there informs me they have connection problem and there is no internet. I thank her and say I will come back later. As I'm walking out the shop, the girl and her co-workers start laughing.

And this isn't just happening with people on the street etc. I am doing voluntary work in a school and the teachers I work with are guilty of the same thing. I can be doing something as banal as eating lunch or putting on my shoes and they will whisper to each other and start to laugh. I know for sure they're laughing about me as I hear the word 'English' or 'England'. They're not exactly discreet.

At first I thought maybe I was being paranoid but it happens constantly and I can't take it anymore. I've tried to challenge people on it and ask why they laugh but then unsurprisingly they lose the ability to speak English and just play dumb. I don't know what I'm doing wrong, I am dressing appropriately (mostly wearing salwar kameez, although the laughing still occurrs when I wear western clothes) and I'm not acting in any conspicuous way.

It's really a shame because most Indians I meet are friendly and respectful, but I find this behaviour extremely offensive and it makes the individuals guilty of it appear stupid and pathetic. So really, can some please enlighten me as to what the laughing is all about? Because I'd love to be let in on the joke.
#2 Oct 10th, 2009, 15:20
Join Date:
Sep 2004
  • Digital Drifter is offline
must be mental, those chaps. all special needs people probably.

really cant say unless there is a specific mannerism or twitch of yours that is making them think it's funny. Or you're physically different from the average Indian chap around? like height, weight or something like that. or you go about with a forrest gump look?

Kidding, m'am. The quickest way to sort it out is get another Indian whom you trust to help you decipher that when it happens. Maybe he can pretend to join the fun and figure out what's happening.

Finally, it might be that you may be the centre of attraction because you're a stunner in looks? Let's be positive here, shall we?
#3 Oct 10th, 2009, 15:37
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May 2007
New Delhi, India
  • shashank.aggarwal is offline
In short, I feel that they are not very comfortable with you. So as soon as they see your back, they crack a joke or something to ease the tension.
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#4 Oct 10th, 2009, 16:03
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Jan 2005
  • machadinha is offline
Originally Posted by lozza_84 View Post I know for sure they're laughing about me as I hear the word 'English' or 'England'. They're not exactly discreet.
Don't know where in India you are; sounds like a classic case though of people maybe having trouble to put you into any niches they know of, so they may be forever puzzled as to how to fit you in.

I remember situations (usually in quite rural or otherwise undervisited by tourists settings) where people would be standing around staring at you, going (in what few words I could make out) "Those are Indian cigarettes he's smoking! What, not Marlboro? No, Indian. How odd!" Etc. (The oft-heard "Angresi" in this can signify just any Westerner btw, not necessarily English.) Or commenting how you put on your shoes or whatever, indeed; even if that's just how they do it themselves (whether you do it the same or differently, it remains quite wondrous to some it seems).

Can get on your nerves no doubt when staying somewhere for a little longer, but I do think most of it is innocent, or just reflective of a certain somewhat simple mindset perhaps.

Another thing that struck me on my last trip, and staying in most places for say a short week indeed, was how like villagers or small-town people anywhere, Indians can have this great knack for gossip. So you'll go through this typical cycle where after a few days and when they realize you're not just floating in and out, you'll be more accepted in a way, but then they'll be quick to attach some "image" to you as well, with your little quirks perceived or real and whatnot. I suppose if you then stay for much longer again, this cycle will continue into new levels of acceptance and so on.

But having lived in small'ish places in the past, I know such images once established can be very hard to get rid of yes, and it does tend to get on my nerves, and as a visitor at least it signifies for me a good time to leave. Or otherwise to just shrug one's shoulders I guess.

(In India, the whole thing may well be exacerbated because being able to put you into readily recognizable social and cultural categories, while probably largely a subconscious process, is very important to many people, and is often how they will assess one another, esp. a stranger. With you as a foreigner again, they just lack that option. I think many people will quite literally not know what to make of you.)

Anyway and as usual, remember notions of privacy and a private life there are just often really different, and so will be notions of what is considered rude or intrusive. Again, I don't think it's normally meant in a very mean or harmful way. Just the fun of moving to a different culture I guess; I'm sure some immigrants where I live would have some stories to tell, of what they consider to be quirky or rude.
#5 Oct 10th, 2009, 16:31
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Oct 2004
Chennai, India
  • Nick-H is offline
I think "giggling schoolgirls" is just about spot on for guys in doorways who have just had the thrill of speaking to a blond, western, woman! Ignore their hellos; don't feed their fantasies.

As to the rest, we need to know where you are, how you dress...
Life gets aadhar every day.
#6 Oct 10th, 2009, 17:23
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Nov 2008
Gurgaon, India
  • labrol is offline
I agree with Shashank, Machadinha and Nick.
Trying to say the same in a different way.

The giggling girls in a computer shop have just had an interaction with you as if a TV camera and a microphone was thrust suddenly in their face and they got simply overwhelmed, yet managed it somehow. As soon as your back is turned, they relieve the anxiety and excitement of a few seconds before. Stay with them longer or come again later, the giggling will stop repeating. So it is more about themselves than about you. They want to be your friends but do not know how.

The boys in the shop, just smile to yourselves. They have been deprived of the ability to talk to just about any woman without being placed in a relationship of Bhaiya(Brother), Chacha(Uncle) or Beta(Son). You can look at them and yet not respond or simply ignore.

The same people respond differently when you are their guest or friend. So it is all about the awkwardness of the situation within them and nothing to do with you. Have fun and do visit again and again.
Alone I walked. Strangers joined in. We became a caravan.
#7 Oct 10th, 2009, 17:29
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Feb 2009
  • mogembo is offline
Try to think of it this way -- "They might not be laughing AT you but BECAUSE of you". You pin-pointed 3 situations :
1) Guys in doorways -- Nick told you the answer perfectly well.
2) Girls at internet cafe -- Might be thrilled to see a blonde foreigner in her space and was just excited.
3) Women in school -- Might be your way of eating is different from theirs and they seem to be having fun exploring/observing how a new species work.

It might be possible that the indian clothes you are wearing dont fit you well or you might not be sitting/walking like the local people etc. etc.
All in all, as macha explained so deeply, most of it is harmless banter amongst people, its not personal to you. The best way, that I could think of is to engage these people (not the men in doorway, of course) but the people that you are surrounded with, in the daily work. Talk to them, tell them a joke. Get your colleagues some souvenir or cook something for them. They might become comfortable enough to tell you whats wrong, if anything but I am sure it will stop the sniggering.

Take care and dont get mad. All the best.
#8 Oct 10th, 2009, 18:02
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Jan 2005
Pune, india
  • gobbledegeek is offline
I dont believe they are mocking you just laughing at the thrill of encountering you.

#9 Oct 10th, 2009, 18:13
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Aug 2009
In the now
  • omtapas is offline
"I've been in India for several weeks now and there is one issue that is blighting my stay and making me not want to visit India again"

What about asking yourself who or what feels offended within you. If your self esteem is depend of the opinion of others, then if others laugh you will feel judged, because you have identified with been a body so have judged your self.
With the awareness of been the Self and your body been just a vehicle to the realization of it, comes detachment and presence.

Not to visit India again because of that?!

Many places I go, they (who ever) laugh at me; what ever the reason doesn't matter. Sometimes I am asked 10 times from which country I come from in few minutes or what ever else; it is just the way they are.

Don't give your power away.

And you can also ask them why they laugh and probably you will realize that it is not nasty at all...
#10 Oct 10th, 2009, 18:24
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Sep 2005
  • capt_mahajan is offline
The OP's profile says location is 'Kundapura', which google and wiki tell me is a small place in Karnataka, pop 29000 or so. (and literacy rate 92% )

I suspect they haven't seen (m)any foreigners there. So agree with shashank, gobbledegeek and others.

They are not trying to be derogratory, rude or offensive. More a nervous giggle, I think, unless male attention has been unacceptable in other ways.
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#11 Oct 10th, 2009, 18:44
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Mar 2007
  • Aishah is offline
Here's my take on this. First of all, you have to ignore it and not even bother thinking about 'why are they laughing'? Just get on about your business.

I have been laughed at, or nearby, many, many times, but it doesn't bother me. It's laughter at the unknown, the strange looks etc. You will find the people generally with whom you deal directly and where a mutual understanding is achieved will not be laughing at you.

One hint might be, when a group of men call out 'Hello', for you to ignore it. Let them laugh as you pass by, don't bother checking their reactions. A lot of this is one fellow goading another to call out to the 'foreigner' and then as you react they will break up into nervous laughing.

You must get on with your own life here, and not bother with this trivial stuff.
Every cloud has a silver lining!
#12 Oct 10th, 2009, 18:46
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Oct 2004
Chennai, India
  • Nick-H is offline
Captain did the google . I'd still advise not to cut any slack to the guys, but I too think it is novelty value. In which case, better to enjoy!

A laugh is not always unfriendly. A college friend and I once noted the behaviour of farmers meeting at our local annual agricultural show. It was quite a slow business, between the initial sighting and any conversation taking place, including a phase where they would stand about fifteen feet from each other, point at each other, and laugh heartily. A laugh can be the extension of a smile.

Have to admit that I love it if girls giggle when I go into a shop, assuming that their attention, as the Captain says, has not been unacceptable in other ways.... and, so far, none of them have thrown bricks at me, so that's all right then
#13 Oct 10th, 2009, 18:54
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May 2008
Australia...for the time being
  • Shivani Skydancer is offline

It happened to me very frequently... I'm also a blonde, with fair complexion and tall. It did get annoying at times, especially the first few weeks, but I got over it.

As you say, it's not only guys that do it, but children and women as well. I learnt not to respond to the guys, because one does not want to encourage lewd behaviour, but when it's kids or females calling out helloooo and giggling, then it is almost a compliment. I've made them happy, cheered them up simply by my presence!

Take it easy and don't let it spoil the experience of India :-)
#14 Oct 10th, 2009, 18:57
Join Date:
Apr 2009
  • jituyadav is offline
Aishah has provided the bottom-line, there is nothing more to it. And making fun of you in literal sense is something that is not happening in majority of cases, rest assured.
If you find my posts confrontationist, please bear, I am an old frustrated guy who has nothing better to do than sit on rocking chair and curse the world whole day
#15 Oct 10th, 2009, 19:29
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Jul 2009
New Delhi
  • Aupmanyav is offline
Originally Posted by lozza_84 View Post I've been in India for several weeks now and there is one issue that is blighting my stay and making me not want to visit India again.
You are a novelty in India. I would go with Mogambo and Shivani to say that you engage them (not men in the street, so to say). On a personal level they would forget how you look and who you are. Then it would be one to one.

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