Losing Potential

Recently, I spoke to an immigrant from Brazil. He had a lot to say about moving and working in America. This bit touched a nerve and stuck with me:

“My first six months in this country were the worst six months in my entire career. I felt like a fraud. It feels like nobody wants you to succeed. They want to prove that just because you had success in other places, it doesn’t mean you will have success here. There is a pride here that America is a different game altogether. The way you talk and explain your ideas matters a lot. Unless we as an industry understand how to be more welcoming to foreigners, we will always lose six months to a year of their potential. The American market is so used to having people with good English and ready to work that they are not used to having to make a little effort to understand what people are trying to say. I tried to explain things in the first six months that people weren’t willing to try to understand. Partly, I couldn’t communicate [perfectly], but they didn’t listen, either.”

I have been in America for long enough to have been through the same and seen others go through the same. When I came here, I worked how I knew best but I understood long after, that in ways I had lost six months to a year of my potential while at school, trying to understand what works in America. I’m glad I had school to figure it all out, but it still makes me sad. My English was good to work, yet there was a lot I didn’t know and understand.

One of my professors probably didn’t appreciate me as a student in the class because I never asked for a meeting and I never updated about my assignments until they were done and submitted. The problem was that we were never expected to do that in India. We only always submitted assignments and that was the end of it. The fact that a different work relationship was expected of me was never communicated to me, and when I understood it, it was a bit late.

Another professor sat me down and explained to me why things I found astounding about people and society in this country were not uncommon at all. What I considered to be a “finding” wasn’t going to raise any eyebrows. What should and shouldn’t surprise me, where I should and shouldn’t waste my time asking questions was something that took me time to understand.

I can’t talk enough about the culture of networking here that remains a huge puzzle for me. The whole idea of meeting some stranger over coffee so that they would know of your existence and probably give you a job in the near future or some time down the lane sounded callous. The idea that I needed contacts in a newsroom and that my application was not good enough to stand on its own was something that I found humiliating because the Indian culture taught me it meant I was incompetent. I had to unlearn that and replace it with another lesson about America. The process of networking is based on an understanding that hiring someone through a recommendation or personal acquaintance means the new hire is more likely to be reliable and an asset to the team. It’s better than taking a chance on someone completely new, who nobody knows and you only guessed they’re good by interviewing them and looking at the work they curated for you.

The biggest hurdle is the visa issue. A lot of places which are right for you and which you’re right for won’t have you because of the paperwork you come with. Not going into why, how and the complexities, the bottom line is it is a setback. You may think you’re making real and concrete progress at work and in your career but you may be asked to look for a new job because of your visa status or you may be deprived of certain jobs because of it. It’s like starting from scratch every single time.

While I’m having a great time in this country and I’m happy it’s worked out, there have been big compromises. It’s also true that I felt like I had lost my step professionally. At times, I also felt like maybe I was wrong and I didn’t have what it takes to be a journalist. “You can’t do this here,” is something I heard many times.  Maybe it’s also a New York thing but it’s true that America prides itself on being a different game altogether.

Honestly, it is.

What helps is going to school to soften the damage of the fall. It helps to talk to people. Don’t always go to them for work. If you’re anything like me, it’ll feel bad and you won’t get anything from it. The cold emails would feel weird but you’ll be surprised how open people are to listening how you’re doing at school, what projects you’re working on, the questions you’re struggling with. If you’re not at school, they would love to know about you, give you any advice or tips that they’ve found to be useful. If you think certain set of people can’t help you or understand where you’re coming from, then find the people who can. It might be a smaller set, but you know who to look at when you do.

Will it prevent you from losing that time to show potential? I don’t know. There are only ways I can imagine that I could have done differently. Maybe that’s the key. I’d like to be optimistic.


Food Can Feel Suspicious

In 2014, I expanded my completely vegetarian diet preferences to include chicken. So far, that’s been the extent of it. I do not like fish and I do not eat any other kinds of meat.

In 2015, I came to America and the first burger I ever ordered in America was a cheeseburger. The first bite neither tasted like a veggie nor like a chicken patty. I was confused. Did I get the wrong burger? My friends told me what I didn’t know. A cheeseburger in America is a beef burger. As an Indian, it blew my mind. A cheeseburger, aka veggie patty with extra cheese, that I’d grown up loving and eating in India completely changed meaning and offering on the other side of the world.

It made me suspicious of food.

Unlearn and learn.

A rule of thumb I’ve made for myself is that when a burger does not mention what kind of patty it will have, assume it’s beef. When you order chips, expect potato chips. Not the fries you devoured leaving the fish aside when you went to Oxford Cha Bar with friends. When you order a salad, it’s not cucumber, tomato and onion on the side, it’s a whole, very filling, bowl of uncooked leaves and other veggies mixed together with a dressing on it. A pickle will not be lemon or mango marinated in spices and brine and oils. Instead, it will be a cucumber marinated in vinegar with no other flavors or spices. When you order coffee or tea, know that it won’t come with milk and sugar unless you specify it in the order. When Dunkin Donuts says it’s a chicken wrap, ask if there’s any other meat in it because as I found, bacon went with it. Breakfast and brunch menus are always full of eggs and bacon without fail. Chicken options are fewer in number than you’d think.

It’s not like going to a new country and trying new dishes you’ve never tried before. It’s like ordering a fries in a country you think is similar to yours and being served boiled potatoes.

Not knowing food even when you think you do is probably the worst. The one thing you thought you can count on and be confident about. Turns out, you really know nothing.

If you think you can ask someone “Is this vegetarian?” and when they say yes, you can be sure, you’re wrong. I once went to a mall in New Jersey and a family ahead of me was trying to order a vegetarian pizza pie. They asked the server if the pizza they were pointing to was vegetarian and she said yes even though it was clear it had chicken on it. I injected and pointed that out and the server said “Yes, it has chicken. It’s vegetarian.” The family and I exchanged glances and laughed.

The good side to this? Now, I can usually identify all kinds of meat just looking at the dish without having to eat anything. I have developed new ways of asking if a meal is vegetarian. It usually starts with “does it have any meat in it?”. If I’m ordering something with chicken, I ask “it just has chicken and no other meat, right?”

I can’t have eggs so I usually avoid breakfasts and brunches. Those menus look depressing and usually there is one choice in the whole buffet for me. Sometimes I just call the waiter and ask them to recommend something to me, which has no meat and eggs. They struggle but usually come up with one edible option, which I’m happy to go with.

Another thing I’ve learnt in my experience in New York, every one just knows how to use chopsticks. They are so good, they can eat just about everything with it. I was that person in every dinner party asking for a fork to stick into food. I was finally forced to embarrass myself when we went to a place where there was no other cutlery option outside of chopsticks. Safe to say there was a lot of messy eating, leftover crushed food that I would usually find best to be picked with a spoon. A couple visits later I am happy to report I can eat the last bits and crumbs of mashed potatoes with chopsticks.

It’s slow and steady work to get acquainted with food and eating habits all over again but I’m happy with how far I’ve gotten.


Americans Maketh Their Own Bed

Recently, I moved apartments and decided to take an unfurnished place and buy my own furniture.

First observation: I could have bought furniture at physical stores and tested them out, see how they feel and imagine what they would look like in my room. But this digitized first-world country makes it too easy to buy furniture for way cheaper on Amazon.

But buying all the stuff is a big deal for me for a lot of reasons:

  1. I have never before bought furniture by myself.
  2. I’m old enough to buy a bed and a mattress and a chest of drawers and other furnishings around the house.
  3. This means I’m responsible for choosing what’s right for me and while I have chosen schools, jobs, cities and countries countries for myself, choosing the right bed and mattress has been the most nerve racking thing. Mostly, because every ad and editorial I saw told me that I spend one-third of my life on it, so I better make the right decision. Talk about pressure.
  4. This also means that I’ve finally found my step and place in life (kinda) and I can stop living out of suitcases, always ready to leave at moment’s notice. Buying furniture is like making a commitment that I can afford to keep my life together and it’s not limited to regularly feeding myself.

Now, if this isn’t grand enough to you, I hope this next rude shock I received will drill it in for you.

When you buy a bed in America, you have to build it too. What you receive is a seemingly innocuous but heavy package, and when you open it, there’s boards and legs and screws and tools. On top of it lies an instructions manual. Good luck.

Actually, I’ve known this for a while so I knew I was getting into, but going through the process was still a shock.


The elaborate instruction manual for the drawer chest. There were more parts than shown on these two pages btw.



This bed seemed so much easier than the drawer chest.



My first question was why?! I couldn’t wrap my head around why a first world, developed country would offer you parts and send you on a not-fun, very complicated and very overwhelming DIY adventure. Then my American friend said something with a snark, which made some sense. “Capitalism: Make money with whatever skill set you can offer that other people don’t have or can’t be bothered with.”

While it makes sense, it just bothered me because one it makes me think hard about the labour exploitation and underpaid people in my own country. But also because things are supposed to be easier and more convenient here. Life is a breeze in America, or so they say. “They” being the immigrants who go back to the motherland and paint a beautiful picture of green meadows and happy faces in America.

There are a lot of things convenient about America. Especially as a woman, the ease with which I can choose to go out at night, meet strangers and take public transport without second guessing myself is amazing.

But for all the first world that this country is… oh god, is life as a person hard here.

You can get it assembled by someone but then you pay more for it. Doesn’t seem too bad for just a bed. But you’re also paying for delivery. And add to that a dresser or any other furniture you could think of. It’s not a job that can be finished in an hour. It all adds up.

So, for a week, I went home from work and built furniture, piece by piece. It was too much. I hated the process. Last night, my hands were so sore with cuts and tightening the screws that I almost gave up and thought I’d take it up the next day. But I was starting to get so pissed off that I wasn’t sure if I’d take it up the next day. So I finished it somehow. At 1 am. I slept with sore and red hands that would hurt even when I put some cream on them. But I knew I won’t have to spend another day on this shit.

And this has been a revelation and awareness experience for me in more than one ways.

I’ve always been very proud of having helped my grandfather and father around the house for fixing or building things, lifting heavy stuff around with them, helping them out and generally, just knowing a spanner from a hammer. But this experience took that pride to a whole new level.

It also gave me some perspective. This was new and overwhelming for me and a completely different experience from what my parents went through when they were setting up their lives as people out of college, with a first job and little money. Maybe buying furniture was easy for them. But it makes me think of all the ways they must have gone through uncomfortable experiences, perhaps even after I was born, and I was completely unaware of it. Maybe I still am.

I guess in some way or the other we all go through big experiences that are a part of being an adult out of college and setting up life, whether or not you’re in America. This seems crazy to me but probably totally normal to those who grew up here and ever saw furniture being bought as a kid. They might have other experiences.

I’m probably rambling but case in point: Americans make their own bed and it’s turned my world upside down. But the thing I’ve said since I finished this project was that I came to America to study at Columbia to do something I would have never done in India. After building all this furniture, I can say that it finally happened. The degree has been put to good use.

House Parties: To Crash or Not to Crash

I recently moved apartments and now I have a new roommate. She and I just talked about having a house party and it took me back to the first time I ever went to a house party and every party I have been to ever since. I think house parties might be my favourite kind of social events.

Everyone knows someone, it’s more intimate and more relaxed but buzzed at the same time. The culture is so open and usually, so is the door.



I also learnt how to play beer pong at one of these things. It was an important part of American social events at universities as I understood it from TV shows and movies.

The first time I went to a party, I didn’t know how casual or dressy it would be. I already decided that my friend who was visiting me at the time would go with me, invited or not. She had me convinced that I needed to dress it up because it’s New York, so I did. Never again. I wasn’t overdressed but turned out, house parties during college are pretty casual. You’re good as long as you bring alcohol and/or something to eat.

Somewhere along the way, I realized it was ok to get friends to house parties.

So long after graduation, my friend invited me to a house party. As I had learnt it was ok, I brought three friends along. It was New Year’s eve and the house belonged to a complete stranger. It didn’t sound bad at all until we got there and it was clear that my friend wasn’t around. She was partying at a bar nearby. I ushered the new year in there with my three friends and a bunch of strangers. We also stayed there past midnight, until we realized that at some point during the party, the host had left the building.

Cut to the last house party I went to, for which I invited three friends. One was celebrating her last night in the city, one was visiting the city, and the other was just hanging with us. We had spent a nice, whole day out and I didn’t want it to end. So made sense that I invited them. But then they invited their own two friends and those friends invited their own two friends. And before I knew it, I was at the party with ten friends and I only knew four of them. I don’t think the host minded and it went pretty smoothly, but I don’t think I’m going to do that again.

So as it stands currently, I no more invite people to parties I go to.

PSA: Depending on who is hosting, what kind of party it is and such factors, house parties are a lot of fun, totally ok if you crash. Unless, it’s not.


One of my favourite parties have been at my own place, thrown by my roommate. It was just five or six people. As one Italian friend entered, she pointed him to the kitchen and ordered that he made some pasta for us, after which we could all just sit together, talk, play Cards Against Humanity and have so much fun.

That was not a party anyone could crash. Mostly because we lived in the most New York apartment ever and there was no space for a plus one.

So what do you do when you’re not super old and want to throw a house party? Make a Facebook event, invite friends on it depending on the size of the party you want, add description to subtly tell them to not bring friends if you’re not about that, and then have some chips and dips and beer to start things off. It’s always BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze) and put some music on. There you have your party.

Here are some gems from a Halloween party I went to while I was still in college.

Open to Interpretations

In a little short of three years, I’ve realized that in the cultural changes, a lot of things are said and conveyed differently, and many things I say translate to convey something completely different from what I mean to convey. Or they don’t translate to anything at all. A lot of times, my sarcasm doesn’t fare well for me. That’s sad especially because sarcasm is probably the only kind of humor I have, and if that fails me, god help me.

Like most other countries, America has its own historical pain points and in most parts of the country there is a recognition and understanding of those problems and an earnest willingness to rectify the wrongdoings and injustice of the past. I’m privileged to be living in New York City, which is one of those places where people are hyper aware of that.

Coming from a different culture though, I am still learning what does or does not work. Sometimes, on the most granular levels, which may not involve the historic-political sensibility.

Take 1: Weight and health

In India, I learnt that the term “putting on weight” is used in a good sense. If you’ve become overweight, people usually find it rude to ever say it on your face. But when they discuss this development with others, they will flat out say, “Did you see xyz? He’s gotten fat(ter).” There’s no mincing words.

If you don’t particularly look fat, but have definitely gained more flesh (literally translated), people would call you healthy. Not fat, not thin, but with a fair amount of flesh on you: healthy.

But if someone says you’ve put on weight and you were scrawny, that’s a real good thing. For example, I will quote from my favorite movie, “Queen”. Rani, the protagonist, talks about her fiancé early in the movie, literally translated as follows:
“Since Vijay [the name of the fiancé]  has returned from London, he has put on some weight. He has gotten so handsome!”

See what I mean?

Now, I have a friend, who was scrawny when I met him but a while back, he put on some weight. He looks great! And I told him that and he was so completely offended. I tried to clarify but it just ended up with him asking me to stop talking, and we changed subjects.

The compliment was so not well received.

Take 2: Age

When you’re young but older than just 16, it’s not something I perceive to be a bad thing. It’s not so bad to use the word old.


Recently, someone remarked at a woman’s picture and said how she looked like she was 12. So I responded to that comment saying, the woman definitely does not look like that in real life. She looks different and much older. What I received was many loud gasps. “Aditi!”

And that’s how I knew that even if you really just mean to say 28 and not 12, it still doesn’t work to call someone old or older.

The instances can continue but bottom line is that a lot of times, things I say don’t translate well. While it can all be attributed to cultural differences, you don’t have a lot of time to lend that explanation to support all you say and do. So sometimes, I just roll with it. I’m sure with time, I’ll know it all.

Thinking About The American Consumer Culture

Having grown up in India, I am used to a new holiday, a new festival and a new special day/auspicious occasion coming up every other day. We celebrate, eat sweets, observe fasts and conduct ceremonies and perform rituals all the time.

So coming to America and watching the country celebrate holidays is not new. What’s new is the barrage of Hallmark paraphernalia to go with it. And Hallmark is only symbolic of everything else that is a part of the package.

It can be hard to explain this given that Diwali season means whole markets come up temporarily to sell sweets and firecrackers or Holi season means colors to play and colors for the rangoli on the frontstep of your door. But that’s in correspondence with Christmas and the gift industry that booms at the time.

The barrage I refer to is the ugly sweater day, for example. Unless your grandmother knitted a bad sweater for you that still fits, you probably buy the ugly sweater to wear to work or to parties with friends to fit in with the theme. For Halloween, you probably buy your costume that you can’t even repeat the next year because you have to keep it fresh, innovative and impress with your originality.

The consumption behavior here is astounding and so is the disposable factor to the same things.

Not just that. Living in New York City means being at a stone’s throw away from a restaurant, a grocery, a deli or a coffee shop. It’s great but it also turns you into a total consumer. Because they make it so easy to just buy your next meal instead of cooking it. They also make it easy to just order takeout. Seamless will have your food delivered by the time you get home from work, relax and are ready to eat.

More on food, we can’t miss talking about obesity. Those who can’t afford healthy meals go to McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts or such. The entire concept is affordability there and so people eat a lot of fast food there and risk their health. But it’s obviously hard to choose health over food that’s the most accessible and affordable.

Even the superbowl for that matter, which is a huge sports event for American football fans, is as popular for the sports as it is for the advertisements. Each advertisement costs an insane amount of money, more than it would probably cost on another day. I’m not sure what the idea behind this expenditure is. Sure, you probably get more eyeballs on your brand, which is the idea behind an ad, yes, but personally, it just point me to the bottom line that the commercials appeal to the consumer culture in America and it doesn’t dim down when juxtaposed against a huge sports event.

In India, cricket is pretty much a religion of its own. Yet, there is no talk of commercials during the breaks while the world cup is on TV. It’s still an unnecessary interruption to viewers. They still don’t pay much attention to it and there isn’t an internet conversation around top ten ads from the world cup akin to the usual run of events during or after the Superbowl in America.

The consumer culture also manifests in a lot of ways. The biggest example is how people talk about particular brands they love to consume. Like I often watch my friends have at least a ten-minute long conversation on where they get the best pizza slice. It’s a huge contrast from Indians saying “I went to xyz place and it was really good. I really like the food. You should try it out.” Not to say Indians aren’t catching up in their own way to consumerism but it’s nowhere at this level, and it’s less about consumerism and more about increasing purchasing power.

So what does this all mean to me? On a daily basis, I choose between need and want. And “need” always wins. If I want something but don’t need it, then I don’t invest in it. There’s a lot less clutter in my life because of this. But it also means I can lose out on participating in cultural conversations around a new thing that popped up, due to lack of opinion, interest or need to experience whatever the new fad is.

I completely skipped out on the iPhone buzz. Twice. I didn’t think about updating my phone with a new iPhone update. Or even the unicorn cappuccino or whatever that was. I never tried it, never cared for it and certainly didn’t have much of an opinion on it.

What I do to help myself out of this? It can be hard. You read about these things but partaking in these experiences is what makes you the consumer and hence, up to date with a culture of its own. Sometimes, I just say  I don’t care. Other times, my Twitter feed helps me out and I can be aware of what’s going on or gauge opinions enough to talk about it.





There’s an app for that

Moving to the United States has been interesting in many regards, but one area that jumps out is technology. By that, I don’t mean technological devices. It’s the easy availability of internet and the sheer dependence on it.

Take this, for example. I was sitting at the lunch table at work, chatting with some of my colleagues. We were talking about how lame and tiring it is to be an adult and how tedious it is to go grocery shopping, cooking and then planning for lunch the next day and such.

Then came the moment that captures me every time. One by one, everyone named an app that solves their problems for them. Seamless to deliver takeout from a number of restaurants, Meal Pass that gives you lunch meals for dirt cheap (according to NYC standards of course), Instacart to deliver your groceries for you.

That’s not the end of it. There’s Venmo to transfer money between you and your friends without ever using cash. I swear there will be a whole generation of people growing up now who will never know what wire transfers through banks are. Then there’s Splitwise to split bills with your roomies. Slack is more commonplace but I was blown away that it existed.

Whatever you need, there’s an app for that.

Pretty cool, right? Someone to do your groceries for you, someone to get you food when you don’t feel like stepping out, someone to get you lunch from a new place outside every day. No cash, no bank transfers, lesser details.

But there is also a part of it that eats at me. I like the option of that convenience, but as it’s written in Shantaram — Is it necessary?

You don’t have to make an effort to do these things because nobody likes to do these things. It’s tedious and time consuming but it frees you up to do what? Spend more time at work? Not healthy, please get a life. Spend more time with friends? Spend more time on the phone or Netflix?

I’m not passing a judgment on the apps or the lifestyle or the people who choose to use it. It’s more about understanding this new world of apps. We do have the infrastructure to use all of this in India as well but not all of the apps make it big there.

So the question is are these apps something we need in this country or are we just happy to have it?

I am an equal participant in this world of apps. A friend who took out the map of subway routes to figure out where he was going. I was quick to point out that he could just download the subway app. Even Google maps would do, honestly.

All things said and done, this world of internet and services through apps glares at me every now and then. Thanks to the advanced lifestyle in a first-world country, I’m exposed to it. Internet makes it easy. But I’m compelled to think that my life was pretty much ok when I didn’t have these options, and I would still be ok if some of the apps just disappeared. I definitely don’t necessarily need them all.

Even so, I’m happy that for almost whatever I need, there’s an app for that.


They Got Me Blank Staring

When I wrote about feeling confused about what’s bougie and basic in America, I heard from a friend who said that despite the explainer on these terms, she didn’t quite get it.

I don’t blame her. Living in America helps understand the lingo a little bit, but it still doesn’t make sense very often.

There have been many times when I don’t get the lingo that people use. Sometimes I give them a blank face and sometimes I nod like I got that even when I really didn’t.

Here’s some expressions and words that I draw a blank on or maybe understand.

Bougie: American equivalent of a South Delhi girl, the pompous, pretentious kinds. Pretentious is how I understand it. Like that kid in school who thought he was cooler because he wore real, branded merchandise while everyone else was fine with the rip off from a flea market or a Gap or Big Bazaar purchase.

Basic: American equivalent of a South Delhi girl, but without too much money. Mainstream is how I understand it. Like that girl who wears Uggs, swears by Taylor Swift and went to the first ever Starbucks in CP just for a Facebook check-in so she could join the bandwagon (everyone else was doing it too and she didn’t want to miss out on the big thing).

OG: Original gangsta… ??? Boss person ???

Wildin: ??????

Throwing Shade: Kind of like saying you gave someone a serious burn. But Americans would say you threw some real shade there.

Waspy: A legit word they use for white dude. Waspy is actually WASP-y and it stands for White Anglo Saxon Protestant-y.  Apparently, it’s not code and everyone knows it. And I just heard it a couple months ago.




Is Stress A Real New York Problem?

There’s a lot of talking around the New York minute, the city that never sleeps, the excitement and all that jazz. Pun intended.


But over the last year, I found people who said they would never want to live here. Then, slowly I became more aware of arguments and stories about the stress people go through in the city. “Escaping the city” or “getting a break from the city” are common topics among people who live here.

However, I was a woman in love.

Until today, I maintain that the New York life hasn’t tired me. What’s gotten to me is the professional stress. This city is burgeoning with talent, overachievers, award winners and people who seem to be pulling off a lot of projects at the same time. I’m not denying that they might be just as stressed, but I’m stressed without all those projects going on for me. I guess watching them this closely is enough to put me to compare myself to them, put myself under pressure, and take on the stress without really doing the work.

You can drive yourself crazy just looking at all that creativity around you. Especially when they have just as many hours and minutes and seconds in the day as you do.

Yet, people in this city are able to hold on to their full time jobs, make it to the gym, feed themselves, write that book, organize events to push their visibility, win awards AND also keep their friends.

How do they do that? It beats me.

Here I am, working my job, coming home, feeding myself and crashing on the bed like I haven’t slept in 24 hours.

Then I’m reminded that thing people say: There’s just more hours in the life of a New Yorker. So I guess, while I use those hours to sleep, others take advantage of those extra hours that this city can give them because it’s on 24/7.

The debate, put in a relentless do-er’s words, is between pushing myself or staying comfortable. That sounds shameful, and I end up beating myself over picking comfort for all this while.

But then I realize it’s much more complicated than that. Everyone is different. What you call pushing yourself might mean producing work at the expense of taking care of yourself. Some people can manage a good balance, some people can’t, but some people can make that choice.

But I have chosen comfort. That’s complicated, too. I’m on the other side of the world from where I grew up, from where all my people are and where all my zones of comfort and familiarity are. I have a bunch to register, process and imbibe in my life. In fact, I have a lot to unlearn and relearn about life and that takes a lot of time.

The skill you use to survive are not the same skills you need to thrive.

And while I’ve survived some tough times, it will be a while before I can equip myself with the right skills and the right attitude to thrive. So if that means I’m taking a second to gather my breath, that’s ok. There are days when I’m very hard on myself for not making the progress I expect from myself. But then other days, I tell myself to stop and take care of myself.

So is this what New York city is all about? I don’t know. This is what my life is about and I’ll live it one day at a time. However fast that may be….









































Navigating “Bougie” and “Basic”

While I’m off in this city learning new things and making new friends in this city, two things have happened. Very early in my time here, I learnt about the existence of the terms “bougie” and “basic“. From my little understanding of things at the time, I am not either of those. And till date, I believed that.

Until this second thing happened this week, which was that my new friend indirectly called me basic and very directly called me bougie. All because I mentioned that I like latte. (For those with the follow up question, no, the conversation was not about pumpkin spice latte.)


Latte is the closest thing to Indian coffee, which is what I grew up on.

My mind went into overdrive. I googled both terms to nail down the exact definitions, but what I found were these BuzzFeed quizzes that help you determine if you’re bougie or basic at all. At 16, I learnt that BuzzFeed really knew their pop culture stuff, so I their results for me were really reassuring.

I know this sounds like I obsessed over it, but I’m usually behind on my urban dictionary skills, so it was an educational experience.

What I realized is that some of my habits — things I think, say, like or do — that I’ve grown up with in India (like having my tea with milk and sugar) are going to translate as basic and bougie in another culture. For instance, I cannot drink black coffee, for the life of me. If I’m paying for something, it shouldn’t feel like I’m forcing it on myself and torturing my body. Yes, I do like Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. But then again, I can’t remember the last time I went to a Starbucks because I like my neighborhood coffee shop too much.

Interlude: When in New York, try local cafes. Much better coffee and much greater neighborhood vibes.

I’m sure there’s a lot more many things but for the purpose of this post, let’s stick to my coffee preference. All this makes me wonder if I should change. As people talk about traveling and living in new places, they romanticize blending into a culture, adapting, changing and enriching yourself. But over the years, I’ve also constantly become aware of the value of identity. I want to enrich myself with new experiences but not necessarily change my likes and dislikes to match the value and culture set of a new place.

Being different doesn’t seem like too bad, all of a sudden.

So here’s a personal rule about travel and living . As always, try everything, new and old, same and different. But be comfortable with your own likes and dislikes, regardless you stick to what you know or open up to something new you’re really into. Culture change is a major, major factor in every aspect of your life in a new place. It can be overwhelming and confusing at times. You’ll oscillate between feeling like you’re inside and like you’re the outsider all the time, and your likes and dislikes will do only so much to change that.

Everything about you need not align with the new.

After all, if they did, wouldn’t that kinda make you basic on a whole other level? (That’s right, I did my research.)

Coffee from a coffee shop called Smile.

Coffee from a coffee shop called Smile. As always with milk and this one is with some spice and maple syrup.