During the last three years, I have introduced myself more times than I had ever done before. My introductions also changed a little. After telling my name, I was always expected to tell my nationality. When you are on the road, people want to know where you come from because that makes it easier for them to put you in a certain category. I have been put into categories for so long that I finally decided to form my own categories. This blog post is for every Pakistani who has travelled abroad or is planning to do so. Out of several different types of people I have met, I found the following seven the most interesting.
The ‘go-quiet’ type
So where are you from?
I am from Pakistan! (Big smiles)
From this point on, you cannot tell what the other person is thinking. They just started and ended a conversation by asking about your nationality. For all you know, they could have already assumed that you are Bin Laden’s long lost sister. Well, you have got to have a very low self-esteem to think of such a thing!
Over time, you will learn that you need to ask questions to kill the curiosity of not knowing what’s going on in their head. Now when you ask if they know where Pakistan is and they say Middle East, you are safe. You know what to expect next – Do you have to wear that black thing to cover your head? Are there many restrictions in your country? We watched a documentary on Egypt the other day and... … …
However, if they say it is next to India, you should know that they are big fans of India and to be loyal to their favorite country, they have got to dislike or be critical of Pakistan at least a little. This is where you try to establish that Pakistan is actually quite similar to India. However, if they say Pakistan is next to Afghanistan, be prepared to spend the rest of your evening talking about terrorism and kidnappings (that’s how most foreigners generally see it). It is bleak and it will not end well.
The ‘sympathetic’ type
So where are you from?
I am from Pakistan! (Big smiles)
But you don’t have an accent!
And you’re… I am sorry but your skin tone… you don’t look Pakistani
So these are the ones who think all Pakistanis come with a heavy accent and brown skin. Once you explain them how you have zero control over you accent (yes, it is a real thing!) and almost all the people from the north and several from the rest of the country are fair AND LOVELY (see what I did there?), their next move is to establish how you are so different from other Pakistanis. Their purpose is to mostly convince themselves that Pakistanis are who they always thought they were and you are an exception. This is particularly annoying because you might be the first Pakistani they have ever met but they still choose to hold onto the image they have created in their mind before meeting anyone from Pakistan. They would even sympathize with you because it is difficult to be so different in a country like Pakistan. What do you do in such a situation? Smile and change the topic!
‘Why Would You Go Back’ type
So where are you going after this?
I am heading to XYZ and then ABC but I want to be back home by blabla time
But you can easily adjust in any western society, why would you want to go back? I mean you deserve a better life.
This is a tricky one. We have two different categories in this one. There are those who think you are on the road because you are running from home. You are from Pakistan, why would you want to go back anyway? It makes sense, no? NO! It does not. Not all who wander are lost. See what I did there? Anyway, with these kind of people, you have to make an effort to explain them that you are away from home because you really wanted to know another culture and travel a bit, not because you just could not live in Pakistan anymore. You are traveling because it is a great way to discover the world and yourself.
However, you will also meet people who would try to convince you that going back to Pakistan at any point in your life could be your worst decision ever. They like you. They want you to grow. They want good things to happen to you but they just don’t see that happening in Pakistan. You have to give them credit for believing in you but you need to convince them that great things happen because of your attitude, not because of a certain place you live in. This is your time to give a big inspiring speech. They would love you even more.
The ‘comparing’ type
Yeah I saw how people blow themselves up over there. We have problems in our country but at least we won’t commit suicide to make sure that we kill others with us
Did he just say that? Did that just happen? Seriously?
Your kids shoot other kids at school. Your drug lords chop people up and feed them to their dogs. They even dissolve their bones in acid so there is no way to trace the dead bodies. Your citizens are fleeing home and your so-called secular societies to join terrorist groups in other countries. After beheading people, your gangsters hang their heads in public areas to send a message.
Somebody stop me NOW!
It’s okay!!! Just breathe.
I have never said any of the above things to anyone in reality but they were definitely my thoughts that stayed in my head while I sat in front of the comparing-type with a blank face. No expressions. None whatsoever!
You have got to understand that some people have the need to feel superior. They can be so patriotic that they will compare your country’s problems with theirs to prove how they are better than you. This kind is the kind that has never traveled anywhere, not even out of the tiny town where they were born. Let them be. They are hopeless.
‘YOUR Government!’ type
Hi. Nice to meet you! I come from Pakistan.
Oh! You guys don’t recognize my country
You just ran into the type of people who carry a grudge against your country for mostly a very valid reason. Either Pakistan never recognized their independence or it never supported them in a certain cause. Why should you be upset?
Well, because you as an individual never did anything to vote against or for their cause. You were just doing your own thing and you are on the road to do your own thing too. If you wanted to impact the foreign policy of Pakistan, you would have joined the public service.
‘We know it all and you are lying’ type
So you wear a hijab when you are in Pakistan.
No, actually the clothes I am wearing right now are from home. I wear the same thing.
But I know that you have to cover your head in Pakistan.
No, not really. It is mostly your personal choice.
Come on! In most parts of Pakistan, you have to cover your head otherwise the mullahs would punish you.
These are the ones who think they know more about your culture than you. They have never travelled to Asia, let alone Pakistan, but they have watched a bit too many documentaries and showed off a little too much among their friends that whatever they say now has to be the ultimate truth, even if it is about the country they have never been to. You can try all you want but they would find a way to make you doubt yourself. Imagine introducing yourself to someone like that:
Hi, I am Bushra.
No, you are Ruby.
Umm… no, my name is Bushra.
But I saw your profile on Facebook, it says your name is Ruby.
You must be confusing me with someone else. My name is Bushra.
Then your nickname must be Ruby. I am going to call you Ruby.
**Punches him in the nose and keeps doing it until he drops dead!**
My kind of people! The best type.
Yeah, I come from Pakistan
I have always wanted to hike up the Himalayas. Have you been there?
Marry him! No, I am kidding. First date him and then marry him. Okay. Let’s be serious. These are the people who would know a bit about Pakistan, both the good and the bad things. Nonetheless, they would always talk about the nice things first and then ease their way into asking about how things really are and if the media is exaggerating some stuff. Befriend these people. They actually understand that as an individual, you are probably just an observer who might be able to provide more knowledge about your country than any other source. They don’t think of you as an ambassador of Islam, a patriotic die-hard Pakistani or a runaway case desperately looking for a chance to settle abroad. They see you as an interesting person who wants to travel and know about different cultures. They see you as you. You are no more a Paki or a Muslim. You are you!