Facebook in India: Who doesn’t want to know everyone’s business?
It takes a little getting used to living in a place where everyone thinks they have a right to know all of your business. About a month after I arrived in Mumbai, I was at a dinner party, and my friend mentioned to the crowd that I had gained weight since I got to India. Everyone directed their eyes at me, looked me up and down and then decided this was a grand conversation topic, worthy of further exploration. They took turns asking me about my diet, my exercise regimen, and of course, how much I weighed. In pounds and kilos. Before-India (BI) and After-India (AI). By the end, the host was directing his housekeeper to fetch the scale, so we could all see exactly how much the newly arrived American had gained after a month of eating Indian curries.
Tunku Varadarajan has a great piece in the Daily Beast arguing that Facebook is becoming so popular in India because Indians are so damn nosy. Facebook, which just announced it will open its first Asia office in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, has seen its users in India grow from 1.6 million in early 2008 to over 8 million. Varadarajan quotes Columbia University digital media professor Sree Sreenivasan who says social media was made for Indians.
“They take to it naturally and with great passion. It allows them to do two things they love: Tell everyone what they are doing; and stick their noses into other people’s business.”
When I get lost in a rickshaw or taxi, the driver pulls to the side of the road and asks the nearest pedestrian or cigarette-wallah if he knows the address. Everyone in the vicinity then walks over to the taxi to discuss where this lost foreigner is going and how they have never heard of the place. One person asks to see the address written down. I hand over my notebook, and the group gathers around it, reading the address — from start to finish — out loud. “Rolex Hotel … Maulana Azad Road … Nagpada Junction … Mumbai Central East … Mumbai … India.”
Then whoever is clutching my notebook inadvertently starts reading out loud whatever else is written on the page, including the name of whom I am going to meet, his title, and background information on who my interview subject is. Sometimes, the person casually turns my notebook over so they can read my notes on the previous page.
Luckily, my chicken scratch is close to illegible.
My housekeeper, Chandbi, asks me on a semi-regular basis how much I am spending on rent (answer: too much), phone bill, electricity, Indian figs, latest sundress.
Once you get used to it, you realize there are great benefits to everyone feeling entitled to know everyone else’s business.
It means I get to as well.
I tend to also be a nosy person (I call it being “curious”) and often get teased when I live in other cities for asking people I just met so many questions. Not here. In Mumbai, it’s totally normal.
I can now casually ask anyone and everyone questions that would be a bit inappropriate in other settings. Sometimes, I pretend that I have shame by blaming my direct style on living in India.
“Wow, you have an awesome job. How much do you make?” I’ll ask, and then scapegoat the country. “I love that I can ask — since we live in India.”
Give me a couple more months here, and I’ll be pulling out the scale when friends come for a visit, too.
Follow me on Twitter: @Hanna_India