How To : start a conversation (comparing NP and US)

I am experiencing a lot of new cultural and technological advancements in this part of the world. For new readers, I am in USA, for next few months. Exploring and learning new perspectives. One of the best thing so far has been the super speedy internet speed, and the worst in my list right now, is the super expensive mobile bills. Disclosure – I come from Nepal, where my average downloads speed was 40 KBps and one phone called cost Nrs.1.5 (that’s around 2 cents). Today I talk about how I am learning to start a conversation in USA, but before that, lets look at what I know from Nepal (a developing world in the east).

how to : start a conversation in Nepal

We have few good ice breakers in Kathmandu, and few that I prefer more than others. I have a list in here and I am definitely looking for more suggestions/comments. The best talk topic in Nepal for the last eight years or so has been about its internal politics. These range from the peace treaty, and interim constitutional assembly, to democratically elected communist government, to a judicial civil servant becoming the executive head of the country. Time and again, we talk about sports and almost all like to complain about insufficient water, electricity cuts, and the polluted populated city. But here are the top five starters. (All intention in trying to write it in one personal type i.e. no त, तिमी,  तपाईं, or हजुर)

  1. अनी अरु के छ त ? – so what else is happening?
  2. “चिया खाने?” or “चिया खायो?” – Want to have some tea? Had Tea?
  3. “मोटायो” or “दुब्लायो” – have you gained weight? or have you lost weight?
  4. तेस्को (person “x”)  बारेमा सुन्यो – have you heard about X? [here x = arbitrary person/place/or anything worth gossiping]
  5. Education? and/or Work? – These are the where? what? and how you doing?

For some strange cultural aspect Kathmandu, and majority in Nepal are very fond of talking about weight. Its either “you’ve gained” or “you’ve lost” weight. There also has been one incidence where two different people in a span of fifteen minutes, have first looked at me and said that I’d gained some weighed and then once more the second person comes in and says that I’d lost some weight. Its the ultimate ice breaker, with no consequences. For all said and done, one does not need to loose or gain weight, to receive this opening. You simply take it, and move on, no one will notice how much “love-handle” you’ve accumulated or shed. Its one sentence, and your answer is either –

  • YES I have been gaining some weight
  • NO, you think so
  • Is it, I never noticed it

Nepali community love to start a conversation with either a weight loss or weight gain.

Tea Time Talk

Nepal is almost a tea state. Majority prefer tea, me including. But somehow very few are tea connoisseur. Tea has become a staple diet and one of the best conversation starters in Nepal. Most of the time, its present in even the remotest area of Nepal, even those that has not been conquered by Coca-Cola or Pepsi; which is saying a lot. I have always wanted to write something about tea in Nepal, and hope to do something about it, soon. Well, back to tea, we associate tea with two things.

  • First – As the morning wake up drink. Yes, this is similar to the rest of the world. Some slight variation do exist, but the thing that irks me the most – is the amount of tea drank, and its concentration in the mixture. I will write about this next week.
  • Second – The guest tea. Even on a dead summer day, when the temperature of Kathmandu (both outside and inside) is around 39 degree Celsius (that’s more than 84 F), me and my mother (and a whole lot of other people) offer our home guest – dead option of tea.

“Tea is tea, no amount of cold water, can replace it, even in the dead summer noon” – “now would you like some tea”

how to : start a conversation in USA

Obviously, we do not talk about weight in here. Its a big “NO” and most of the population here prefers coffee. I did however, learn few starters appropriate in here

  1. अनी अरु के छ त ? – so what else is happening?
  2. Weather
  3. Regional/Local Sports
  4. Regional/Local Politics

My thoughts on Weather and Sports

Here, we love to talk about weather. Somehow, even though its just a starter, we can take it three or four sentences with weather. Its amazing how much I have learned about weather after coming to USA. Its depth in literature and its daily use. Its tremendous, and frankly, an easy curve to gain some insight on the culture here. Be sure to read your weather reports before you gloat about them. Plus, haven’t really experienced the winter here, so can’t talk with full confidence. “the winter is coming”

Second most important conversation starter is about local sports. Americans are big on local sports. Its a tradition, I am definitely felling in love with. This is actually one absolutely good thing to talk about, but first I have to have a stable place to stay, then decide a game of my choice, and then choose a team. Baseball, Basketball, and American Football are new to me, for now. I also witnessed a customer getting a heavy discount – because he followed NY Knicks, was wearing one of their merchandise clothing wear.

How do we get started?

For me and my wife (Aditi), these days begin with – “Hi, I am (or we are) from Nepal”. We then take our talk, time dependent, to the variety of Nepali knowledge that we can think of, and relevant to the person in front us. After talking to few, in the last two months, we have now begun to develop a pattern for our openings. Its not final, but we are definitely on the right track. We basically talk about the geo-political and medical health in Nepal, trying to skim on recent political developments, and emphasize more on what can be done more, rather than our (Nepali as general) failures in the past.

NEXT WEEK – I suppose I can write about tea 🙂


Bribery 101 – how (not) to improve Nepali Kleptocracy

The morning breakfast discussion today was about Syria and how the Assad regime is killing people in the name of rebel politics. We all agreed on strongly condemning  the use of Nerve gas, but were divided on foreign intervention to a country in Civil War. Through some interesting topics that included crazy North Korean leader, to Geese chasing dogs, and Orange Chicken Eggs, we then turned to bribery. This got interesting on one fact on how developed nations when compared to developing ones (like Nepal) have legalized way of bribing, and how “pre” and “post” bribing makes a difference.

World Map
image – perception of corruption

Regular Nepali Bribing – the post bribing affairIn Nepal and most of the South Asia (personal generalized notion), we have a form of bribing which is crude and rudimentary.  Though there is a strong culture of political campaign bribing as a form of pre bribing; most of the bribing is done only after the one is in post/power. “The One” here denotes the individuals/organization or corporation who are at the receiving end of bribery. For better understanding let us give these cohort some names.

  • giver (lets call them – “G”)  =  any individual/organization or corporation who are giving bribes, and/or who want certain specific things get done.
  • taker (lets call them – “T”)= any individual/organization or corporation who are taking bribes, and/or whi have the power to get something done.

Two pre bribing examples in Nepal

  • Business and Cooperate House bribing the Tax Collecting Institutes [only after there is a problem]
  • Employees, managers, or salespeople of a business may offer money or gifts to a potential client in exchange for business.

In both these cases, bribing is the affair among the one who can make a difference, and the one who wants to get the difference. Developed Bribing – the pre bribing affair The knowledge of “pre-bribibg” is very new to me, and as such, I may not have the grasp of the idea presented here. Any comments/examples and suggestions are highly welcome. The pre bribing efforts are bigger compared to post bribing, in a sense that there is high stake game here among both the parties. Bribing here is more akin to the political campaign, before “T”s are in position/power to make a difference. This came as a very interesting thought to me, as “T”s have not yet reached to a position that can make a difference. Bribing now, is in no means a bribe, but a mere help for future assurance. The amount of money (or any replacement of it) is in larger proportion and with a more rigid stance for future obligations between both the “G”s and “T”s.

The comparison

# feature post bribing pre bribing
1 money involved less very high
2 momentum of bribe less more
3 assurance security for “T”s immediate late
4 stakes for both “G”s and “T”s low high
5 benefits short-term long-term
6 area involved mostly in developing world, involving smaller population and unstable governments.- plus political campaigns mostly in developed world with large cash reserves and stable governments.

The Fundamentals of Bribing

  1. Shakedown
  2. Negotiation
  3. Deal

(Bad) examples of bribing in Nepal (for my age)

  • Bribing the traffic police within the city – to get away with driving under alcohol
  • Bribing the traffic police / regular police on the highway – to get away with .. (so many things, except may be killing)
  • Bribing to get Drivers License – last I checked it was Nrs.14,000 for a combo license for bikes and four wheels (small). Don’t know what it is today. Disclosure – I got my license in all legal and legitimate method.
  • Bribing at government offices

3 Rules – of (not) Bribing

This is the part of this blog post which has some basic good words in it. More like a preventive features on how not to bribe. Back in Nepal, there is a lot of bribing day-in-and-out. I am not proud of it, but I have on occasions bribed few “T”s to get my things done. Bribing can however be thwarted by few right measures. Following three rules are taken from the internet, and I think they are wonderful. [1]

  1. Know the laws. The more information you have the better position you are in to resist the fear that can lead to a bribe.
  2. Never give a bribe to someone just to gain a free or exclusive benefit. You end up contributing to the ruin of that which you came to see in the first place.
  3. Don’t put yourself in a compromising situation to begin with.

Going Back – corruption hypothesis..

I wrote something about corruption back in January 2013. Here is the link to the article. This article is the follow up for it. Once again, the formula is

corruption = greed + opportunity

so how do we (not) improve?

simple, switch the type of bribery from “post” to “pre” and you get a larger scale bribery. Its not there in Nepal, not yet.

Read More

  1. My Own Article – my corruption hypothesis – from Nepal [blog post]
  2. When to Bribe? How to Bribe? Do you bribe? [Todd’s Wandering] [blog post]
  3. Bribery [Wikipedia] [web link]
  4. Study Finds 40% of South Asians Have Paid a Bribe in the Past Year [report]

Nepali in USA (a pseudo thought bubble)

My work right now also involves me in meeting Nepali in USA, and then talking/learning about ideas on how to improve the holistic health approach in Nepal. This involves me talking about good examples of health projects in Nepal, and also about my own (Nidan). I talk about environment project, deforestation, occupational health and the main course of Maternal and Child Health. There are different genre of Nepali speaking population and great deal of information gets shared, both to and fro. But this post is not about what I talk, but to whom(?).

What (they) said back home

“Certainly not rumors, but more of an exaggerated facts” were my initial thoughts when I heard about the two classes of Nepali in developed countries. The educated – working group and the non-educated labor group. For a quick disclosure – Nepali migration to this part of the world only increased from late 90s. So as a whole, there are very few numbers in this all.

I was warned by friends and families alike, by not to get into Nepali groups of “Beer-n-Gungis”

Let me explain – FIRST GROUP –  These are not hard facts, but portray a general feature exploration. These are the groups of people who work all week, mostly labor works. Most the work is either in retail shops, gas stations, and beauty parlor/saloon. I do not have any facts or number, but these are the jobs that you hear back home. Kind of makes me think that most are not used to heavy lifting and machine or construction work.  These work may be legal or illegal, but most fall into the grey zone of unknown. Pretty good work ethics, and silent/sober Asian feel which includes soft spoken voice, and not so heavy English (Hindi) Accent. There is a definite Nepali English Accent, which is slightly different then our Southern neighbors, which is also, in my opinion, a bit better (I guess nationality creeps in). Its not thick as Hindi Accent, but it has its own perks of ups and down.

Then they come home, and do nothing. Then comes the weekend, and they do nothing. Their sole purpose of existence is to make a decent living and enjoy this developed nation – literally. May be a little too hard on critics, but these are the population cohort, who, more or less have nothing to gain or loose. Every evening, and most weekends are usually time spend with Beer and Cards (“marriage” anyone). One very distinct feature is the heavy use of white sleeveless shirts (the gungis) and briefs for men. They are very fond of Chicken and even greater a fan of Bacon/Pork meat.

SECOND GROUP – These are the educated bunch. They definitely live a better life. They are the ones who usually graduated in USA, and have families and make their children study like those akin to Chinese and Indian parents. Depending upon the years of stay in here,

  1. 5+ years – unmarried – still studying, is in relationship or about to get married
  2. 7+ year – usually married – has a stable job or doing his/her PHD
  3. 10+ year – usually has 2 kids (i don’t know, but most Nepali in USA, that I know of have two children), a beautiful home, and stable income
  4. 15+ years – Their kid is very good in studies, Family still intact. (The divorce percentage is still very low)

Obviously there are few exception, but this is the general idea I have, from around 20 Nepali origin families I know in USA.But now, with some first hand exposure, here is what I think, I know now. There ought to be one more group – which definitely comes before these two groups.

THIRD GROUP – the students – Yes ! finally the group where I belong to. There were around 9000 Nepali students in USA for the year 2011/12. These are mostly non-medicals students, and have come mostly for undergraduate education. We are the population that might, some day, be Nepal’s executive class of thinkers and policy makers. We represent Nepal’s future. Disclosure –  I do not know what my thought process a year from now will be, but for now, I am certain going back to Nepal, and working my way up to the executive level.

However, this student group has seen a gradual decrease in application for the last two years, as US Embassy back home tightened its Visa process in recent years, which ultimately led to this student group opting more for other developing nations like Australia and West Europe (including England).  For the record, there were around (I guess) 40+ Visa applicant when I applied for US Visa this year on that favorable day in early June, this year.

The Eyeball

One small note – Nepal is almost a fail state – and the whole economy of the country runs through remittance through Nepali migrant labor workers from Middle East and South East Asia. Those so called educated Nepali (including me, maybe) who are in developed world have very (extremely) little share in Nepal’s economy. Nepali in developed world usually do not send in remittance, and/or have very direct/indirect role in Nepal’s economy and development. This is sad. 😦

Not to sound eager and patriotic, but I hope I am able to do something about it. For the readers, I am definitely not in love with Nepal, I just think I need to do some good work for my birth place and family/friends.

Some More Facts

How many Nepali speaking citizens in USA?

A 2010 Census report on Asian Origin Americans reveals that there are around 59,490 Nepali speaking individual in USA with legal citizenship.[9] Significant communities of Nepalese Americans exist in large metropolitan areas such as New York City, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Gainesville, Florida, Portland, Oregon, and Saint Paul, Minnesota.[5]

Nepal and USA

What about legal residence?

A quick web search reveals the number to be around 110,616 through Wikipedia.  But this does not say legal residence or citizens. Lets break it down first to Diversity Visa Program. Applicants registered for the DV-2013 program were selected at random from 7,941,400 qualified entries (12,577,463 with derivatives) received during the 30-day application period. Nope, I did not enter this year, but those who did, 4,370 Nepali getting this opportunity, which included my one distant cousin,  and one very awesome friend from high school years. This number was 3,258 in 2012.

Students? anyone

In the 2011/12 academic year, 9,621 students from Nepal were studying in the United States (down 6.6% from the previous year). Nepal is the eleventh leading place of origin for students coming to the United States. 53.3% are undergraduates, and 29.3% are graduate students.[2,3]

Bhutanese (Nepali) Refugee – in USA

In 1988, the government of Bhutan conducted its first real census exercise. The basis for census citizenship classifications was the 1958 “cut off” year, the year that the local Nepali population had first received Bhutanese citizenship. Those who could not provide proof of residency prior to 1958 were adjudged to be illegal immigrants. Majority fled to India, and significant number arrived to Nepal, as well. During the last 20 years or so, number of refugees in Nepal (more than 69,000 of an original total of 108,000 refugees) have found a durable solution in third countries, thanks to the support of support of resettlement States and Government of Nepal. These resettlement program were started in 2007, and among the eight working under the UNHCR, USA has accepted the largest number of refugees. [4]

I mention the Bhutanese refugee here, as they’d lived in Nepal for almost 20 years, and most have similar Nepali culture/traditions. Legally they have a convoluted presence, however, culturally they are every bit Nepali, and speak Nepali as well.

[quick questions] –  So how many Nepali (from Nepal) got a refugee status (in USA)?

In 2011, there were some 56k admitted to USA as refugee. About approximately three percent were of Nepali origin (seeking refugee/asylum). This is give or take 500 as numbers. Well there are three variation of these refugee status – Affirmative Asylees, Defensive Asylees, and Follow-to-Join Asylees – the scope of which is beyond me, at the moment. For more information, refer to the report by Daniel C. Martin and James E. Yankay from May 2012. [4]

References – 

  1. Nepal DHS 2011 [pdf link]
  2. Open Doors® 2012 – Report on International Educational Exchange [pdf link]

  3. Open Doors Data – Fact Sheets by Country – 2012 – Nepal [pdf link]
  4. Daniel C. Martin and James E. Yankay. Refugees and Asylees: 2011 [May 2012]
  5. Nepalese American – Wikipedia [web link]

  6. Demographics of Nepal – Wikipedia [web link]
  7. Nepal Census – 2011 – [pdf link]
  8. 2013 UNHCR regional operations profile – South Asia Working environment [web link]

  9. The Asian Population : 2010 Census Briefs[web link]

  10. Nepalese Americans – Countries and Their Culture [web link]

NEXT POST – Next Wednesday 🙂