The title of this posting was the headline of an article in an Indian publication. Indians have a reputation for being frugal or thrifty …. though some would describe them as being cheap.
Perhaps some of the explanation is because of the absence of any social safety net in India which causes people to feel the need to save and invest money for the proverbial rainy day. I know my father was quite disapproving of my more profligate days when I was single and a lot younger when saving money was a low priority. He, on the other hand, graduated from college about the time of the Great Depression and went through a difficult time finding a job in India. It left an indelible mark on him and having go to Kenya for gainful employment because there were not opportunities for him in India made him even more aware of the need to save money.
An article in the New York Times captured the essence of frugality among Indians. An excerpt:
“India is to frugality as Bethlehem is to Jesus. But in recent years, the megacorporations of the West, not content to foment irresponsibility at home, sent pinstriped missionaries here to nudge genetically predisposed savers to spend.
Citibank sprinkled a borrowing-wary nation with small loans for motorcycles: Live a little! Visa peddled plastic to lovers of gold: Let your hair down!
Millions of Indians converted, but millions of others ignored them – and, for the West, luckily so. As rich countries enter a new era of scarcity, the best practices of the gurus of frugality can serve as a textbook for frugality’s new pupils.
The first tip of the Indian frugalist is to wear your money. One rarely misplaces funds when they are kept in gold and hooked through your nose or strung around your neck. Some Indian women wear saris woven with gold thread. The danger of nudity discourages whimsical spending.
The truly frugal segment friends and associates into two camps: those who merit their money and those who don’t.
Cellphone calls may cost a cent a minute in India, but why call people who only rate a text? Why text when you can make a “missed call”? Millions of Indians dial and quickly hang up, hoping for the other person to call back and foot the bill.
Your upholstery is not for everyone. Sofas fray and stain; there is, in the final analysis, a cost per posterior. So cover your sofa with bed sheets and remove them for only the best behinds.
So, too, with crockery: Buy a set of expensive plates and keep it in a case where your friends can see them while they eat from the cheap plates you actually set before them.
When eating out, order soups fractionally: a certain number of soups split by a certain number of people. Start with “one into two,” the realm of Indian beginners, then graduate in time to “three into five” and “six into seven.”
For entrees, count the diners at the table, subtract one and order that many dishes – which, for a table of four, saves 25 percent over the one-person-one-dish norm.”
There are lots of jokes about Indians and some other Asian and Middle Eastern cultures who are also viewed as being thrifty. In fact, Indian and other Asian children who are brought up in the West often make jokes about their parents frugality! But Indians usually take pride in their frugality and view it as being an indication of their shrewdness.
Russell Peters, a well known Canadian comedian of Anglo Indian origin, brings out the frugality as well as other traits, of Indians very effectively. He is also quite perceptive about other ethnic groups and races. He says:
Indian people, we are proud of our cheapness. You are never gonna insult us by calling us cheap. Thats the best part, you know. You walk up to an Indian guy “You guys are cheap” .. “Thank you for noticing, thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you” “That guy just called you cheap” “No, no, no. He pronounced it cheap. But what he was saying was – smart. Very smart he was”.
I will be looking at an Armani shirt or a high end designer and flip the tag and I see made in India, I’m stuck with a real dilemma. I’m like ‘Shit, do I buy this shirt or do I call my uncle. I wonder if he knows where this factory is.’
But being frugal or cheap is not something that is exclusively a characteristic of Indians. Peters is able to illustrate this effectively with this excerpt from a show where he take aim at not just Indians but the Chinese and Jews. He is often able to capture some truths with humor:
However, the idea for this particular blog posting emanated after I followed a particular thread on an American forum that had the title: “I once knew someone so cheap……….” and posters gave examples of people they knew who did things that were frugal or outright cheap!
Some of the postings convinced me that although Indians and Asians may be viewed as cheap, these traits extend to people of other races and nationalities. The examples cited ranged from people who would steal towels and ketchup from hotels and restaurants to those who were just stingy, cheap or frugal. Some notable examples:
“Only ran the hot water between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. because electricity cost less. Her kids all had to get up at like 6 a.m. on weekends so they could take hot showers (couldn’t do so in the evenings since that was the time for laundry and dishwashing).
My aunt never orders a drink at a restaurant–she asks for lemons and then uses the sugar packets to make lemonade.
Another aunt stocks up on plastic and napkins at fast food places so she doesn’t have to buy them for home. We went to a Peking Duck restaurant with them once and she asked for the duck carcas in a to go bag so she could make stock.
one of the biggest fights I’ve had with my mother-in-law was because she took a moldy cantaloupe out of the trash, served it to my kids and told my husband how wasteful I was.
Oprah did an episode in cheapness once. The winner was a guy who bought two-ply toilet paper and unwound it to make two separate rolls!!
My sister, who is otherwise a normal person, used to reuse kleenex- she’d blow her nose, then put it back in the box. One time her friend blew her nose on a wet, recently used one. I guess I lucked out when I got the dried out, crusty tissue.
After I was my hands I use a paper towel to dry them. I leave it to dry and use it again but never more than twice.
The one that I felt was the most striking example of being cheap was this one:
“My father asked his cardiologist to set his pacemaker back a few beats per minute so the battery would last longer. Seriously… my mother just about died of embarrassment. She called me as said “its official, your father is truly the cheapest man on the planet”
The pacemaker one reminded me of an episode of Fawlty Towers when a older female guest would not use her hearing aid because she wanted to save on the battery. A short excerpt that does not do justice to the brilliance of that episode:
Anyway, the examples cited on that forum demonstrates that although Indians may have a reputation for frugality, it is certainly not limited only to Indians.