The World in My Uber

Uber driving is often a cross-cultural experience.

I make frequent trips to and from a shoddy parking lot near Military Circle where the China bus arrives and departs every night. The China bus is a $20 ride to and from New York City.

A few nights ago I picked up an entire Chinese family there. A mother and toddler, her sister, and the grandparents, I assume. After stuffing my trunk with luggage, they all crammed cheerfully into my Corolla. Only the young mother spoke good English. I wanted to ask questions about their homeland, but they were too engrossed in Cantonese conversation to pay me much attention. They were a happy, thankful bunch, however, which was particularly impressive after what had to be an arduous bus trip.

That same night, I drove college students from Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Turkey, and Macedonia.  It was in four unrelated trips, but all of these young people were here with the same organization. It’s a work-and-travel program that brings students from Eastern Europe to work summer jobs at the beach and surrounding areas. They work as lifeguards, amusement park workers, parking lot attendants, hotel maids, and ice cream scoopers. Before heading home, they spend a few weeks touring U.S. cities.

I like driving these young people with their thick accents. They all have good things to say about America, but they always seem just a bit disappointed with their experience. As if they expected more freedom and prosperity than they got.

In the course of three days I drove two young Indian women, both with big, beautiful eyes. I picked them up on different days from the same office building near the airport. They both work in data processing.

Anaya wore a sari and carried a small travel bag. I took her to a bus station in Hampton. Her accent was thick and her vocabulary limited, even though she’d been in the states for over a year. It was a Friday and she was going to Washington D.C. to be with her husband and three-year-old son. They live there; she lives here.

She doesn’t like the arrangement, but her husband insists on it. Her job is a good one and her attempts to get hired in D.C. haven’t worked out. Her husband is a civil engineer with a solid salary. It’s important that they establish themselves financially. So she buses up to her little family every weekend.

We talked about cultural differences. Education is more important in India, she says. Students are expected to work much harder than they are here. It is the key to making a good living–something Indians don’t take for granted.

She and her family are Hindu, but with her limited vocabulary she wasn’t able to tell me much about her religious life. Her marriage was arranged by her parents–something she appreciated. Her father is very loving and chose a husband carefully and well.

Two days later, I picked up Prisha. She wore bluejeans and a blouse. Unlike Anaya, her English was excellent, but with a soft, lilting intonation. She was from a large city and grew up speaking both English and Hindi. Prisha was new to Hampton Roads and twenty-four years old.

I asked her if she’d been able to do anything fun since she arrived. She mentioned some restaurants that she liked, but when I recommended some others, she explained that it was difficult to find good food since she was a strict vegan. She is also Hindu.

She said it would be easy for her to break her dietary restrictions since she was so far from home, so, teasing, I offered to buy her a cheeseburger. She made a face and said, “Oh, no, thank you.” She could be tempted, I think, but not by a cheeseburger.

I told her I was curious about Hinduism. She explained that Hindus worship many gods, not just one, which I already knew. She was impressed that I could name Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and the elephant-head god, Ganesh. Hindus do not gather to worship as often as Christians, but they take various festivals very seriously, she told me.

When I asked her if she was married, she said, “No. I have another year or two before my mother selects a husband for me.”

Her father had passed away some years ago, so her mother was responsible for the marriage arranging. I asked if she had any input in the process.

“What do you mean?’

“Like, what if you don’t like the guy or think he’s ugly?”

She laughed. “My mother wouldn’t choose someone who is ugly. She loves me. And times are changing. It is not as strict as it used to be. But I will marry a Hindu. An Indian. And not just any Indian. He must be educated and from my part of India as well.”

That sounds pretty strict to me, but Prisha seemed content with the whole arrangement. I told her my daughter was engaged to be married in a few months.

“How old is your daughter?” she asked.

“Twenty-two.”

“Oh, that is too young. She should wait until she is twenty-four or five.”

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