Most Americans I talk to feel that I was raised here, because I don’t have the “Indian accent”. I don’t know about that, but what I do know is that cultural differences can show up in the least unexpected places. I’m reminded of an incident that happened in my second year in grad school.
We were working on a paper, and my advisor asked me write a section giving an overview of our implementation. In particular, he wanted me to come up with some good visuals to depict what was going on. So I fired up Inkscape and drew a figure. My figure had a few big prominent markers. Now I’m not too creative when it comes to color schemes. In other words, when I think of “color”, I start from Red, Blue and Green (RGB). Not surprisingly then, I drew my markers in red and blue. Prominent and easily distinguishable.
Now, it so happened that my markers were circular in shape. This was primarily because circles are really easy to draw in Inkscape, and one of the first shapes you see on the toolbar, and also because I didn’t pay too much attention to the shape of the markers. Naturally then, in the corresponding text describing the figure, I had the phrases “red balls” and “blue balls” sprinked all over the place.
I happily sent out the first draft to the faculty on the paper. In our next meeting, everyone came in looking very funny and laughing over something and I had no idea what they were laughing about. I felt so left out, like there was some secret joke that I had missed out on. Well, it turns out that “blue balls” has an entirely different connotation that I had never heard of back in India. Now, imagine a formal academic paper on virtualization talking in terms of red and blue balls. No wonder everyone found it so funny.
Lesson of the story: choose your colors, and your shapes, very very carefully :)