Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Desi Youth in the US, Yaar!

As South Asians living in the US, we have all heard the terms ABCDs and FOBs being tossed around loosely. Both carry a fairly negative connotation; however, things today are not the way they used to be. We know the world is constantly changing. We get it! But is it time to revisit the three most common, South Asian stereotypes of 2012?

• ABCDs – American Born Confused Desi

• FOBs – Fresh off the Boat

• &

• Introducing…..FOYs – Fresh off the Yacht

Why yes!

The ABCD – American Born Confused Desi
We all know them. Of course they swear up and down that they are not confused. And ok, sure we believe them! But they can’t deny that they are American born and they are desis. They grow up speaking terrible Urdu/Hindi but their American accents are a source of envy for both the FOBs and the FOYs. They often battle with whether to take an active interest in Stardust magazine/Bollywood (a brief, short-lived phase) or Teen Vogue/Hollywood (peer norms). Too foreign for their American peers and too Western for their extended desi families, they are bound to grow up slightly confused. At Diwalis and Eids, they bounce between lectures by elders of either “not assimilating to this western culture” or “be proud to be Amreekan beta, it is your right.” Their trips back to their parent’s homeland are few and rare. Most often those trips are in remote villages or inner city areas where cousins can barely speak English and pedestrian fans, runny stomachs and mosquitos welcome them with open arms.

In the States, they grow up as the only desis in their small-towns and thus try extremely hard to fit in. Hard working students, they do well in school and work part-time at local retail stores just like their American peers. So starved are they to be around other people of their ethnicity that once they get to college they are immediately drawn to other ABCDs. They sign up for the PSAs, the ISAs, the Bhangra groups, the desi fraternities or sororities and finally get a chance to date within their race. Weekends are now spent at desi parties with names like Nasha, Jawani , Rangeela and Bhangra Blowout. Their group of ABCD friends remain close for a while till politics and drama take over. I mean let’s be honest, small groups of desi people…will eventually always lead to drama! ABCD’s are known to look down upon and make fun of FOBs because FOBs represent everything they disliked about going back to South Asia. They make sure to remind FOBs of that fact too. They may – like it or not – act like they are better than the FOBs but feel the opposite way when it comes to another new breed of fresh transplants to the US: the FOYs. Why? Because FOY’s come from a whole different South Asia than the FOBs. They give ABCDs a stronger taste of their own medicine by serving as the first reminder to ABCDs that they too could be made fun of by someone who grew up in South Asia. If FOBS are everything about India and Pakistan they disliked, FOYs are everything about India and Pakistan they never knew existed and missed out on. ABCD boys and girls will secretly resent the fact that FOY’s are bigger snobs than them. FOY girls rarely ever give an ABCD boy the time of day while FOY boys are neither impressed nor culture-shocked by girls in jeans and skirts. Things that are usually novel for a FOB.

Their academic pursuits consist of your basic undergrad and then probably and most likely Medicine. Many will try to by-bass the MCATs by enrolling in medical schools in the Caribbean. They will then go on to make good money and bear children who will hopefully, someday eliminate the “C” from the “ABCD.”

You can usually spot them on the street wearing skimpy outfits or urban clothes. Girls will quite often be found wearing tight, black BeBe shirts and boys will try hard to look like Latin chulos or Jersey Shore douchebags. They do however love an excuse to wear desi attire be it at a college function or a community event where other single ABCDs will be present.

The FOB – Fresh off the Boat!

These are your hard-working International students. Not from the big cities of India and Pakistan but the smaller cities and remote villages. They arrive on campus with impressive scholarships based on their perfect GRE and SAT scores. Each one a bigger genius and math wizard than the other. Although they can barely construct a grammatically correct sentence in English, they could revise and improve all the textbooks in their graduate school curriculum. In fact, if given the chance, they could (in their thick accents and broken English) even teach their professor a thing or two about Fermat’s Last Theorem. FOBs can solve algebra equations in their sleep and a 4.0 GPA is as commonplace in their circle as the smell of curry embedded in the furniture of their shared housing arrangements. Because they feel uncomfortable and homesick in the dorms they immediately flock to other FOBs to arrange shared, off-campus housing where they can watch Bollywood films and cook curries together on a Saturday night. It’s not like they don’t want to go to desi parties. In fact it is just this fascination for such parties that lands every FOB at a desi club at least once in their life. But after being intimidated by ABCDs, they quickly decide that this scene may not be for them. FOB boys will still pigheadedly try to talk to an ABCD girl.

Although most FOBs are on an academic scholarship, time which is not spent studying is then spent at their work-study jobs or trying to help each other by finding more cash jobs at desi restaurants or taxi companies. They rarely get financial support from their families and thus their lives often revolve around their scholarships, stipends and paid-in-cash-jobs. Another reason why their social life is never as burgeoning as the ABCDs and the FOYs.

FOBs are usually there to pursue either an Engineering or an IT degree. They find their coursework extremely easy and are almost amused when their American colleagues complain about their biostatistics course being the most difficult class of their life. Most often, these students will go on to earn a few Masters and then a PhD or two in Bio-technical-chemical-somethingsomething. FOB boys will eventually find romance when their arranged marriage with a gorgeous girl back home comes through. That is when they will bring their bride to the States. A country where they had always felt like an outsider but will now enjoy a new and esteemed role of being a guide for someone who is even fresher off the boat.

They are often seen attired in checkered, half sleeve dress shirts (tucked in for boys, tucked out for girls), tight jeans and the whitest of white sneakers, which they refer to as joggers. They may search for the best sales when it comes to clothes but will not think twice before spending money on a pair of sneakers. Also the first item that a FOB purchases the minute he steps off PIA, Indian Air or Bhoja Air. On some days, they may even don other faux pas like fanny packs and brown belts with black jeans. Long hair is usually a sign of pride for both FOB boys and girls as is a moustache. And yes, that too, for both boys and girls.

The FOY – Fresh off the Yacht!

This is the most recent (maybe just a decade old) addition to the world of desis abroad and they may have replaced ABCDs in the top spot of desi snobbery. Thanks to the legally or illegally acquired wealth by fathers back home, they enjoy a lifestyle that comes with it. A lifestyle that only youth in Laguna Beach or Beverly Hills can relate to. The advent of FOYs is so recent that they have sprung up mostly after the progressive boom (both social and technological) that South Asia has witnessed since the 90s. Most FOY’s have spent their teenage years in metropolitan cities like Bombay, Delhi, Karachi and Islamabad being waited on by servant-quarters full of domestic help or being chauffeured to private schools where being wealthy is so trite that It is almost boring. They don’t come from the villages and small towns which the ABCDs associate India and Pakistan with. In fact, it would be surprising if a FOY has ever stepped a willing foot in a village themselves.

Raised with privilege and golden spoons in their mouths, none of them have ever had to work in their lives. Besides a work-study formality in college; jobs are just something they are to think about after graduation. Summer and winter break plans? While their ABCD peers are returning home to work at their local mall and FOBs are begging the dean for summer campus employment because they cant afford to go home for the next seven years; FOYs are already waving a two thousand dollar ticket purchased by Baba to return home and do absolutely nothing. There may be an internship for a few hours at an uncle’s bank or a summer horse-riding class at their country club, but other than that, most of their summer and winter breaks are spent sleeping in, meals served in bed, smoking in the finest cafes next to local celebrities, enjoying high teas at country clubs, dance parties with A-level friends and attending concerts and/or fashion shows. Mama Baba will often complain that they don’t get to spend much time with their FOY kids because they are too busy being spoilt by luxury and reliving what they can no longer have in the States. The solution then quite often ends up being a week-long family trip to Europe. FOYs act like they are better than both FOBS and ABCDs. The former is something they would NEVER want to be confused with….and the latter seem to people that lived a very unglamorous life.

“I mean why would I go to a desi party or to some cheaspter Bhangra session. I’m sorry I only hang out with desis when I go home to Isloo. I would rather just go to a GT at a rooftop bar and have cocktails!”

FOYs also detest the dorms. Not because they feel out of place but mostly because they are not used to having to share anything in their life. They will often sleep through breakfast but Mama baba will ensure that a four-year meal plan is completely paid for because the thought of their spoilt child starving in college, devastates them. FOYs may acknowledge other FOYs but apart from a week or two during orientation, they try to save their socializing with each other only when they go home for breaks and realize that their fathers are also friends or frenemies. When they do run into each other on campus their conversations go something like

“Yaar are you going to stop in Paris on your way home this summer?”
“No yaar, Baba wants to do a week in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for the shopping festival…”
“Ok…well let me know if you throw a party at your farmhouse. I should be back in Isloo by then…”

FOYs are not intimidated by ABCDs because unlike FOBs; partying, drinking, smoking and dating are things they have already engaged in back home and at a much more glamorous level. In fact, they often end up intimidating the ABCDs. Also unlike FOBs, FOYS are not conscious of their English thanks to English-Medium schools. Their accents remain obdurately thick – a fact they hate because it’s the one thing they cant change - but even with the thick accent and possible grammatical gaffes, the one thing FOYs have in abundance is CONFIDENCE. To be honest, FOYs probably have more confidence than ABCDs and FOBs combined. Unlike FOBS, this is not the first time they have stepped into a foreign country, in fact most have already travelled the world by their 16th birthday thanks to Papa’s international work conferences.
FOYs usually dress in expensive designer clothes which they shop voraciously for. Shopping is the biggest attraction for them in the United States and FOY men seem to be just as wrapped up as FOY women about hair, designer clothes and expensive shoes. Men often dress classy and conservative while women dress classy and skimpy. However if there are other FOYs, FOBs and ABCDs in the room, a conscious effort is made to cover exposed skin by draping the customary shawl. Because come on yaar, gossip and judging each other is the one thing all three of these categories have in common!
Their academic pursuits consist of Business, Finance and liberal arts. Actually it doesn’t really matter what they study because their future’s trajectories are usually already carved out by Mama and Papa's connections and an inheritance. Some will stay on in the US and marry a Caucasian. Others move back home to the comforts of luxury living after having gotten four years of unsupervised partying out of their system. The partying continues more lavishly in their hometowns but once back on their yacht, FOYS will still complain of their country’s failed system while yearning for the carefree lives they once led in college.

So there you have it! Pee Ess….I acknowledge that these may all be politically incorrect stereotypes.

I also realize that many of you are highly offended by such generalized statement.
Some of you are vehemently forming a rebuttal with proof that you do not…absolutely DO NOT, fall under any of these categories.

But you gotta admit, you did catch yourself nodding along to some of the things mentioned in this piece, didn’t you?



  1. Hey Padash, the last image is a scene from the Pakistani movie Slackistan, isn't it?

    You're one lucky FOY though who has an eye for detail and is very good at putting stuff in words, ain't you? ;)

  2. Yes it is. Did you see the film? Did you like it? and thanks for the kind words.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. eriously, the dressing sense of the ABCD makes me feel why they are called confused. And where do they come from, some Buffalo, El Paso and Niksunya, where on earth are those? Why can't your parents stay in NY, SF, LA or at least Houston?? And look at the English, when you are studying premed, please don't speak Yankee street English. And Dodgers, Lakers, what are those?? Why don't you guys follow some decent sports club like Man Utd or Barcelona? Half the ABCD aren't dateable material, And worst of all, the parents of these people go back to Indian villages for marriage shopping, because they won't get anyone by themselves, and no big city girl from India will fall for these dehatis.