I stopped by the local convenience store after dropping my daughters off at school. I poured myself a cup of coffee, picked up the newspaper and decided to order an egg sandwich from the deli counter. While my sandwich was being prepared, I chatted with the Indian family that owns the store. I regularly stop at this store, but I usually only exchange pleasantries with the family patriarch who mans the cash register. This day however, I conversed with his wife.
Me: Hey, I see by the name on your health certificate that your family name is Patel. I work with a woman from India and her name is Patel and her family also owns a convenience store. Come to think of it... almost all the Indian people I know are named Patel.
Indian woman: Yes sir. In our region of India, everyone’s last name is Patel.
Me: That must be confusing?
Raja, the woman’s 24-year old son, now took over the conversation.
Raja: Not really sir.
Me: Well if everyone’s last name is Patel, how do you tell each other’s families apart?
Raja: Sir…we just know.
I should have given up the inquisition here...but I was intrigued.
Me: How do you know?
Raja: Sir…it is just part of our culture. We just know these things. Everyone knows who is related to whom.
Raja then went off on a tangent that didn’t seem related to our conversation.
Raja: Sir… yesterday we had a 16-year old girl hiding out behind our store. She was a runaway. We had to hold this girl in our store till the police and her parents arrived. Now, such a thing might not seem like a big deal to you, but it is very foreign to our culture. No offense… but something like this would never have happened in India.
You see…cultures differ.
I finally got his point.
Me: All I meant to say, is that it must get a little confusing when everyone has the same last name. I didn’t mean to offend you, your family or your culture. I was just saying that it has to get confusing. That’s all.
Raja: Well sir…I did send my friend an Email recently. He had to write me back because he had four different friends named Raja Patel. He didn’t know which Raja Patel had written the Email.”
Me: Ha! So it DOES get confusing!
Raja: Yeh!…a little, sometimes.