I am considered a FOB.
For those not familiar, FOB stands for “fresh off the boat”, essentially an immigrant. But it goes a little further these days. It’s now used to also describe anyone who might exhibit behavior typically expected of immigrants. Speaking with a accent, certain eating habits, being into music or entertainment popular back home, or even speaking in your native tongue.
Unsurprisingly, I get called a FOB a lot. As a Pakistani who didn’t grow up in the States, it makes sense that that would happen. And I don’t mind it.
What I do mind, though, is being called a FOB as an insult. See, a lot of Western-born or “well acclimated” South Asians feel the need to point out that my behavior is not the norm for those who live here. And that it is “so FOB-y”. And it’s never meant as a compliment.
The word FOB is now a taunt. A judgement. It’s meant to say: “Stop acting like you’re in the motherland. People here don’t act or speak like that. It’s funny, the way you act. You’re embarrassing yourself. And it’s totally uncool.”
I don’t know at what point having a cultural identity became uncool. And when the West became the standard of cool. But apparently, I’ve never really fit the bill.
Perfect example – I enjoy Pakistani dramas. (It’s how Pakistani tv shows are referred to.) I enjoy the melodrama, the overwrought emotional scenes, the random dramatic twist, accompanied by overly dramatic music. And yes, mostly, I love them because they are in Urdu. But some people have called me out for that being super FOB-y. And yet, an entire run of one Pakistani drama does not have the over the top drama and unbelievable plot twists as one episode of Gossip Girl does. The difference between the two? One is about Manhattan’s social elite with glitz, glamour, and most notably, an English script; the other a bunch of Pakistanis dealing with some domestic issue while speaking in Urdu. Yet, it’s the teen drama with an omniscient narrator who stalks a bunch of spoiled rich kids on the Upper East Side that seems to be the more acceptable show to admit you enjoy watching rather than a Pakistani drama with characters who look and speak like I do.
And if you think I’m exaggerating. That such a small detail of my life wouldn’t actually prompt such name-calling, well, maybe I should fill you in on the other things that have provoked the same response: Admitting that I have chai and toast for breakfast. Speaking in Urdu in the middle of conversations. Not understanding American idioms. Enunciating the ‘t’ in words like “literally” and “often”. Admitting I drink a glass of hot milk before I go to sleep. Not having ice with any of my drinks. Listening to Pakistani music. Eating rice with my hands. Watching cricket and enjoying it.
So, to sum it up, the way I speak, the way I act, what I eat, how I eat, what I listen to, what I enjoy, all of it is unacceptable and worth mocking. Who I am is unacceptable. Because who I am is a FOB.
And if that’s the case, then I’m happy to call myself one. Because as a FOB, I don’t seem to have as a narrow definition of the world as those who label me do. I am not confined to understand the world and the billions of people in it by one set of standards or one set of rules. Because as a FOB, I get to understand people just as they are. And most importantly, appreciate them for it.
So, go ahead, call me a FOB the next time I do something “super FOB-y”. I won’t mind. Because who doesn’t love a good compliment?