3 tips to help you connect with youngsters in India
“Premal Uncle is a f*ng jerk. Why did you stay with him every time you visited Mumbai ? Everyone thought you were a jerk too! And come on man, what’s up with the khaki shorts all the time? You really think it’s too f*ng warm to wear jeans like the rest of us ?”.
Yes, it took a year after Neo’s move to India before his younger cousins began telling him how they really felt. And the more they used the F-word, the more he realized he was getting into a real friendship.
Neo’s young cousins are not just fun to hang out with – they’re smart, soon-to-be-successful people – and forming close friendships with them has been one of the joys of Neo’s life in India (and his only refuge at any family event).
(Speaking of joys, here’s one of Neo’s other big joys in life – his maid getting him the “perfect breakfast” – “keggs organic” single-egg omelet sunny-side-up but flipped over once so it’s not “runny”, with no salt but a sprinkling of pepper, 2 brown bread slices toasted lightly, freshly made non-fat lassi with the cream/froth removed and with a pinch of sugar substitute, seasonal fruits cut into neat cubes so its easy to eat, 2 GNC Mega-Men’s multi-vitamins, the “Economic Times” newspaper. Filter coffee an hour later on holidays.)
So anyhow, if you are “old” like Neo (yes, being 34 in India feels like being 46 in the US), the first step to connecting with the youth in India is to figure out what they want from their relationships with older people.
So here’s just a few things that Neo has learned along the way:
1. Be descriptive, not prescriptive: Youngsters vastly prefer older people to be descriptive (i.e. help them understand what is happening in the complex world around them) rather than being prescriptive (i.e. telling them what they ought to do, most of which they already know).
“When he was in college, Neo started playing in a band on Saturday nights instead of just sitting around drinking with his dumb friends. Literally, you just hold 2 sticks in your hand and sit at a drum kit and wait for the women to show up. And then one day it’s like hello, Mrs. Neo!”.
are more likely to work, unlike prescriptions like:
“Stop drinking away your parents’ hard-earned money! You want to get thrown out of college ? Yes, Steve Jobs was a college dropout but so is the watchman at your house! So get a little serious in life!”
2. Stop freaking out: It also helps if you show you can stay calm, be an adult and treat youngsters like the adults they are.
“I can see how your new boyfriend is totally hot. I just wish he wasn’t 12 years older to you. Why don’t you take a few more months to decide before you move in with him ? And give your parents some time to adjust to the new reality.”
works much better than something Cousin Preeti might say:
“OMG you’re gay!! I thought you liked that Sindhi neighbor’s daughter! Is this why our great-grandfather slogged for Rs. 20 a day for 50 years ? (hyperventilate) Don’t talk to this guy ever again!! And stop talking to that stupid Neo too! This is all his fault you know! Bloody Americans! Now get me my asthma inhaler!”
3. Be honest: Youngsters are smart, so Neo learned quickly to stop BS’ing them and asking them vague questions like “where do you want to be in five years?”. If something does freak you out, and you have to say your mind, just say it.
So, don’t be condescending like this:
“Well, you’re going through a difficult phase in life. And I’m sure you just did this because you wanted your friends to think you’re cool.”
Just try and be honest and direct:
“You were a f*ng moron to gamble your computer course tuition money in the stock market! Now let me make some calls to try and get you an internship somewhere so you can learn some new stuff and maybe earn back some of that money.”
Conclusion: Be honest, be real and be respectful when you interact with youngsters, and you can actually be a part of their lives, rather than becoming a part of their problems. And they will reward you with their company, their insights and most of all, their friendship.
And finally, here’s a song that might help you get into the groove:
Do you have any more tips on how to bridge the age-divide ?
PS: The corollary, i.e. treating older relatives as kids works well too. Try doing the Indian head waggle frequently and praising them as if they were little children (“wow I love the way you said that, that’s such a wonderful insight”). Especially whenever an elderly person says one of those vaguely profound-sounding, but meaningless statements like “India’s strength is in it’s values”.