We’re on our annual visit to my hometown. As we walked out of the airport we were met by our driver, who has been with us for a long time. He greeted us with a loud Namaste! and followed it up with a, “Mashaallah, bachhe kitne bade ho gaye hain.” (My Goodness, how the children have grown). To my complete surprise and his (even greater) shock the twins promptly bent down and touched his feet. (If you didn’t know this, in India that’s a way to show respect to elders). Of course it would have been perfectly fine had it not embarrassed the poor fellow out of his wits.
It’s strange, this transformation the children undergo here each year. Back home they need to be prodded before they deliver their dutiful ‘Hello Uncle’ and ‘Good Evening Aunty’ but here the namastes come pretty quickly and they don’t think twice before diving at everyone’s feet.
I’m not complaining. I’d much rather they overdo the courtesies than forget them completely.
When we were children…
..growing up in joint family meant our house was always full of visitors. There were friends – across generations. And there were relatives – a constant stream of them – aunts, uncles, cousins. Some would come for a visit, some would stay back for a day or two while others would stay on for months or even years till they completed their treatment at the city hospital, finished a course or a training programme or, sometimes, till they found a job.
Slowly but very surely we picked up basic social etiquette
Not only were we supposed to appear with that mandatory glass of water as soon as someone arrived, we were also supposed to ask ‘Uncle’ if he wanted tea, coffee or a cold drink and then serve it too.
Our dad would say, “Don’t just dump the glass of water and run off. Sit for a while and talk.” It was terribly awkward and we had no clue what to say. But the good girls that we were, we would make the effort, however stilted. We’d answer questions, often inane ones – What class are you in? How are your studies going? and so on.
My sister and I would sit with polite smiles on our faces, making secret eye contact, asking each other if we’d sat long enough, if it was okay to leave. Over time we figured it out. We knew how formal each set of visitors was, who should be offered tea and what biscuits would go with whose coffee.
Our parents wouldn’t think twice before pulling us up if they didn’t see us doing our namastes or getting up to see off a guest to the door. They thought nothing of embarrassing us in public.
Things are different for the twins.
We barely have any formal visitors. Nobody stands on formality of any kind. As a result when we do have one the children have no clue what to do. Either they disappear after a ‘hello’ or they go about their business as usual.
I was reading this post from Rachna here and it only confirmed what I felt – that they seemed rude, unconcerned and stand offish through their acts of omission. A lot was forgiven till they were young. As they’re growing up they need to learn the courtesies beyond thank you, sorry and please.
We’ve been working on it. And I have some simple rules for them:
- Stand up and switch off the television when a guest arrives.
- Wish them.
- Get them a glass of water.
- If you know them, sit and talk for a while.
- See them off when they leave.
- Oh and one last one – No fighting before the guests.
Seriously! Every little thing needs to be articulated.
They’re getting there but it is a struggle because the opportunities to practice are so very few.
However, making a guest feel welcome goes beyond rules
It is about being warm and friendly and welcoming even to someone they might not know too well. And there really are no guidelines for that. I am hoping that at some point, their instinct will take over and as their shyness fades they’ll pick up the right way to do it. Meanwhile, the basic rules will have to do.