10 Quirks of a Non Resident Indian (NRI) in the Middle East


As featured on NRI-Cafe-Logo

So first things first, NRI or Non Resident Indian is a citizen of India who holds an Indian passport and has temporarily emigrated to another country for six months or more. I’ve been one all my life. And be it through sudden bouts of self-realization or friends of different nationalities pointing it out, I’ve realised that we have a few quirks, especially those of us living in the Middle East. I’ve listed down 10 of mine.

  1. ‘Yes I speak fluent English. No it’s not just cos I live outside of India.’

I find myself constantly explaining to people that it isn’t a thing of miracles that I speak fluent English. And it isn’t only because I’ve lived outside of India for long. We all speak English pretty well. We were colonized by the English!

It comes as a surprise to most how common English actually is on our country. I mean, think about it, you can pull off speaking to the auto guy in English in most parts of India. Most of our media is in English. All our devices, software and interfaces are set in English. Heck, even Bollywood speaks in English outside of the movies.

2. Code Language Impossible.

You can never really use an Indian language to speak in confidence in public. Chances are, someone in a 50-meter radius knows the language. The number of scandalous conversations I’ve overheard because someone thought I didn’t understand the language is hilarious.

3. You keep having to dodge back-handed compliments.

You often receive back-handed compliments like “you aren’t typical Indian. You’re different”. When I get this, I immediately thank them profusely for bestowing me with the honour of being the coolest un-Indian Indian ever. I try to explain that I am not an exception to the rule. There is no rule. Because there are a billion of us! So how do you begin to generalise?

4. You take on the responsibility of being the deputy ambassador of your country.

You’ve given yourself the responsibility of having to represent your entire nation wherever you go. You’ve also delegated this responsibility to every other Indian you know. It could be because we are subconsciously trying to fight the stereotypes that are out there, though how a country of more than a billion people can be categorised into a few stereotypes is beyond me.

5. Once on Indian soil, you have to let out the inner rowdy in you that you’ve been keeping under wraps.

When you’re living in the Middle East, you keep yourself in check. You dress, speak and behave decently and you don’t litter. You get out of an Indian airport and you want to get it all out of your system. So you start with a few expletives in your language, let a tissue fall to the ground instead of the trashcan…oops! Then you put on your Fab India kurta and rudely cut in line. You get to India and also promptly forget all your driving etiquette. You have this overwhelming urge to overtake that cycle and tailgate that cow. When people in the M.E call the driving here bad, we know how much worse it can get.

6. Wearing ethnic clothes is an event by itself.

So you call up your friends and come up with a reason why you need a desi party, just so you get an opportunity to wear Indian clothes. Diwali fills my heart with joy just because I can wear a sari and dance to ‘dhak dhak’ at a desi party. But you aren’t satisfied if you and all your Indian friends are dressed in ethnic wear. You then have to make your friends of other nationalities dress in Indian clothes too. But they love it!

7. Travelling isn’t something you’d like to do, but something you have to do. And your passport is your most important possession.

We don’t just travel because we want to, we have to travel to meet our families and friends who are not just in India but spread all over the world. And travelling to India is not always a vacation, but a chore. Every uncle, aunty and second cousin once-removed has to be paid a visit with Tang and Nido milk powder in hand. Let’s not forget all the weddings we have to attend. But those we love! As an expat, it’s all about your passport. It decides how often you can go home, it’s the first thing any establishment asks for to get anything done, and in some cases, it even decides what kind of job you get or how much you get paid. If there is an earth quake (and there have been a few minor ones in the M.E) the first thing you take is your passport.

8. The exchange rate is your friend.

It doesn’t matter how little you earn. You get to multiply it and make it a bigger number! And there is no income tax! And if you are born here, like me, you don’t know what’s income tax!

9. We will always crave Indian food.

Even if there are a million Indian restaurants around, which there probably are, we will still crave ‘Indian Food’ because no restaurant will make it the exact way its prepared in each of our specific neighbourhoods in India.

10. We aren’t too impressed when we see a fellow Indian. We aren’t exactly a rarity.

When you see friends of other nationalities get all excited when they see someone from their own country, you don’t quite get it. It’s not exactly a surprise when you spot an Indian in any part of the world. Something’s not right if you don’t spot one.

Have I missed any? Let me know in the comments below.


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