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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Kanwal Rahman, July 15, 1999. Interview K-0817. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Americans and Bangladeshis place different values on independence and interdependence

While Rahman has made many American friends, she quickly learned that Americans have a different concept of friendship than she does. It sounds like Rahman might have expected more interdependence with her friends, but quickly learned that Americans value independence.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Kanwal Rahman, July 15, 1999. Interview K-0817. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I just felt I had no friends, and it took me about a year to adjust to this culture and to realize that very often friendship, the way we understand friendship in the Indian community is a little different from the concept of friendship understood by a lot of Americans. So, once I got over that, I found that I had a lot of American friends, so, just using that as an example, what have some of your experiences been? And have they, sort of, largely been positive, or negative, or mixed?
KANWAL RAHMAN:
Ahm. . . Well, I had a very hard time the first year too, only because I thought that, you know, the, the friends I met at graduate school, on a, on the whole they were very open, and they were all very open to me and, and I was invited to a lot of parties and, er. . .. Like happy hour and hanging out. But maybe because I was new in the country and I wanted to retain myself in my culture and I, was staunch about that, so I didn't do that much. But now I have friends, I would say, from all walks of life, from bus drivers to cafeteria workers to sometimes, even people, who ask money in the streets—.
RAJIKA BHANDARI:
Yeah.
KANWAL RAHMAN:
I pass them every day. I've lived in Chapel Hill for eight years. I more or less see the same people. Friends are friends as long as you take them on their basis, on their face values, but yes—I have learnt to not, not to expect the kind of depth I had as friends—. Of course when you are younger your feeling of friendship and ideas of, er. . .. Closeness and bonding with people are much more stronger. Because of the busy-ness of life as you grow older, you realize that friendship, you have to take as they are on the face value and not expect or demand more—. [pause] I don't really have a hard time with, er. . . making friends or, but I do feel that I have, still have to explain a lot about myself. Even close friends of mine and I still feel that there, are certain things that makes me feel I am, one of them but I'm still an outsider.
RAJIKA BHANDARI:
Yeah. Yeah. Sure.
KANWAL RAHMAN:
That is, er. . . that's the feeling, and I have worked in, like, you know, places like retail and all, where all the associates are very friendly, and , we have great times. Sometimes we even go out now, you know, when we have time to watch the movies with this friend or that friend, but, er. . .
RAJIKA BHANDARI:
There's always that one final barrier?
KANWAL RAHMAN:
That one final barrier and, it hasn't—. I don't know, it isn't, anything to do with race or people, it's the, I think it's the American—, American-ness. With African—. I have very good African American friends and I have very good, er. . ... ahm. . .. White American friends and, for both of them I have felt that I am close only to a certain extent, but of course, my expectations of very closeness is different from the expectations of, of a, per se, an American person.
RAJIKA BHANDARI:
Exactly! And I think that's, sort of, what I was saying earlier, and that's the same thing that I struggled a lot with that, er. . . I was very frustrated initially, because I expected that they would expect the same out of a friendship that I would, and so once I got to the point where I realized that that wouldn't be the case, I was actually able to make some good friends.
KANWAL RAHMAN:
Okay.
RAJIKA BHANDARI:
Yeah. But that's still, that's still a concern, but then I had to tell myself this is a different world, it's a different culture, and I just have to accept that.
KANWAL RAHMAN:
True.
RAJIKA BHANDARI:
Yeah.
KANWAL RAHMAN:
It's a more self, er. . . more independent culture and I guess independence is taught from the very childhood, which we are not taught, but thrown into. Even at the ripe age of twenty five or twenty six, we come to graduate school, so—.
RAJIKA BHANDARI:
Yeah.
KANWAL RAHMAN:
Then you have to learn to do it all over again on your own. There's no teaching.
RAJIKA BHANDARI:
In fact, that's really interesting you mention independence because very often when I've tried to, in my mind, analyze the differences between the Indian culture—even the South-Asian culture at large—and the American culture, one thing is that I feel that in the US, what's considered a major handicap—a personal handicap—is actually an asset in our cultures and that dependence is strongly encouraged in all South-Asian cultures. That it's a social value and it's encouraged and in the US, in contrast, it's something that's discouraged and looked down upon.
KANWAL RAHMAN:
Yes.
RAJIKA BHANDARI:
And that's across all generations, so I mean, that presents, to me at least presents a very interesting conflict.