10 Things not to say to someone from Pakistan

Road in Pakistan. Not photoshopped
Highway in Pakistan. Not photoshopped

I grew up in Pakistan. In my travels across the world, I have encountered many a misconception about my home-country. We’re everyone’s favourite friendly neighbourhood failed state if Fox News is to believed, and I was amazed at how shocked people were that an actual living, breathing product of the dark side of the moon was stood there talking to them. Here are some of the weirdest things people have said when they learn where I come from.

1)   Wow! Your English is really good?

This is the commonest comment anyone from Pakistan will hear the first time they have a conversation with someone. People are astonished that anyone from Pakistan, let alone a woman, can speak, read and write completely fluent English. The world expects us to either be the frothy-mouthed zealots or mini mart owners they see on TV.

English schooling systems are the main setup in Pakistan where almost the entire curriculum is taught in English and this has created generations of Pakistanis who navigate English with complete ease.

I’ll level with you, my first language is English, but I have Pakistani friends whose English is so dazzlingly competent that they make my musings sound like the workings of an epileptic monkey at a typewriter.

2)   Do you guys have TV/the internet/cell phones over there?

Even I ended up guilty of this one when I went over on a trip last year after a 6 year gap and left my smartphone behind thinking there was no point taking it.

Cue all of my cousins constantly uploading selfies on Facebook and updating their Twitter accounts like there’s no tomorrow. Meanwhile I felt like a total idiot with my trusty old regular cell phone that didn’t even have a camera. And I’m not even talking the big cities either. This was in my good old dusty village.

So yes, shocking as it may seem, we do have TV, cell phones and the internet over there. We have roads too, as well as high rise buildings and highways.

3)    Pakistani girls are so innocent.

I hate to burst your bubble but this one isn’t true either. What with all the TV, magazines, fluent English and books, life in the West isn’t a total shock. As for innocent, we get Cosmo there too, you know, and just because there is officially no dating doesn’t mean there aren’t ways around that. Go to any Pakistani university and you’ll find a dating culture to rival anything in the West.

And we have some pretty kick-ass sex education in places you’d least expect it.

4)   Did you come over in a boat?

When I’d tell people I had actually flown to the UK, their next question was what it felt like to fly for the first time, at which point I’d gently break it to them that I’ve been flying since I was little. That’s not because I’m ridiculously rich. It’s because Pakistan is quite a big country and flying, especially these days, is quite affordable and often the most trouble-free option for travel.

5)   You’re from Pakistan? I love palak paneer!

A Pakistani friend who studied in America shared this one with me. When did palak paneer become Pakistan’s official culinary mascot? That’s like meeting someone from the UK and saying “I love jellied eels!” Firstly, you’d have to be out of your mind to love jellied eels, and secondly it’s not a dish that actually features in regular daily British dining.

Pakistani cuisine is hugely diverse because the country is so diverse. Go find your local Pakistani restaurant, it probably has a name like Lahore This or Karachi Something or the Other and try a few things there. I recommend haleem and nihari as starting points.

6)   Did you parents disown you for marrying of your own choice?

I married outside of my culture, and my parents didn’t simultaneously combust into balls of fiery wrath. You’d be surprised how many of my peers back in Pakistan are now marrying of their own choice with the support of their parents.

7)   Did you ever see Osama Bin Ladin?

When you come from a crackpot nuclear nation and hot-bed of terrorism, you get asked this more often than you’d realize. The answer is no. We have a huge home-grown terrorism problem in Pakistan, that’s true, but Taliban heads don’t go on whistle-stop tours of the country like some sort of jihad loving Mick Jagger.

8)   Did you used to live in a mud hut/shanty town?

No. I used to live in an actual house made of bricks and cement. A lot of people in Pakistan do, and if you happen to know the upper Middle classes, their houses are absolutely palatial. In fact, a lot of people moving from Pakistan to the UK take one look at that country’s row upon row of cramped, badly lit cookie cutter houses and wail “How can these poor people live like this!”

9)   How come you don’t wear that dot on your forehead?

That little dot is called a bindi and you’re thinking of India, pal. Pakistani girls do wear these at weddings and parties, but for their decorative value rather than any association with chakras or the sacred third eye.

10)I’d love to visit Pakistan, but I’m too scared.

Let me be honest here. You should be scared. Because trying to get a visa from the Pakistani embassy is such a Kafkaesque nightmare that even I left the building screaming “I’m not doing this again!” after trying to arrange paperwork for my foreign husband and child.

The line of questioning involved such valuable information towards my application as whether my husband had converted to Islam or not, and what sort of religious environment my child was exposed to at home, the answer to which is of course “None of your God damned business”.They made it so hard and complicated that you’d think Pakistan was the world’s premier holiday destination and therefore only the truly dedicated should be allowed to go.

Then once we got there, because we had foreigners in our party, my family got daily phone calls from the local police to make sure said foreigners were still in our possession and weren’t being given an impromptu tour of Waziristan courtesy of our good friends in the Taliban.

But seriously, if you can get past the hellish ordeal of actually securing yourself a visa, tourists in Pakistan are such a rarity that they are treated like royalty. If you keep a low key and observe the customs, you’ll experience a beautiful country as yet untouched by mass tourism.

UPDATE: I’ve changed the pic to one which I own since this post is soon to be featured in Freshly Pressed!

202 comments

  1. Loved this post .. I am from Saudi Arabia but its interesting since I also do go through most of this things in my work or traveling.

    The point of did you ever see Osama really made me laugh

  2. Oh lord! this ‘do you know english? and do you have tv/internet?’ drives me up the wall…I know what you mean pal…i so so so hear ya!!!!!
    congratulations on being freshly pressed,

  3. We (in Saudi Arabia) get asked those kinda Qs alot too. I think the media is playing a huge role in spreading misconceptions & ppl would buy whatever the media sells. I had a great read!

  4. My daughter’s class mate asked her the same question” do you have flat screens in Pakistan? And her reply was so quick ” do you think we live in the middle of nowhere” (
    we live in toronto by the way)

  5. Have been asked most of these but the one that till this day beat anything that I have been asked was this. An American guy, in a party, after some small talk, asked me: Where are you from? I said, Pakistan. He replied: Well good. I have never dated any Arab girl! I just died and am dead till this day.

  6. This is so true! Excellent article. I was once asked if children in Pakistan wore diapers. Another insightful gem was, “Isn’t Pakistan somewhere along the Gaza Strip?”
    While talking to an art enthusiast I asked her if she had seen some of the art from our part of the world and she told me that she had never had a chance to see anything from the “Middle East”!

  7. Ha!ha! this is hilarious but stereotypical. I have a Pakistani friend and she is an angel. I am going to say all of these things to here to get her reaction, I a m sure she won’t mind 😉

  8. Great article. I immigrated from Pakistan to Canada, and I still get some of these, especially “Wow, your English is good!” or anything related to intellect for that matter. Followed!

  9. As a U.S. Navy sailor I visited Pakistan in the late 80’s, I found it a unique and interesting place. People can have some very weird preconceived ideas about places they have never visited but I enjoyed getting to see a little bit of Pakistan.

  10. RE 6…in Europe families once had much more involvement in who their children married too…and then there’s the fundamentalist Christians of the USA…come on western does not necessarily mean “free”.

  11. Numbers 7 & 9 cracked me up! Who asks you if you happen to know a terrorist leader?! I mean even if you did… it’s not like you’re not going to admit it!!! People need to remember to plug in their brain before attempting to use it 🙂

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  13. Your list is hilarious. 🙂 I am Canadian and live in the United States, and have been asked by more than one person wether or not we “have roads up there”. My usual answer is no, we get around by dog sled. Ask a stupid question… 😉

  14. Great post! So funny 🙂 regarding number 10 – a friend of mine, formerly from the USSR (she moved to Canada as a child shortly after the USSR was dismantled) had similar issues trying to get a visa for herself and her non-russian husband to go to Russia. Apparently Russia is convinced that every person of russian background is desperately trying to illegally immigrate back to Russia 😛

  15. A couple of years ago in Lahore, we (teachers in a conference) got asked by a lady from the US if we had internet or whether we used it. You had to see her face when all hands (more than three hundreds of them) went up.

  16. A well written post and I must say that a lot of passion has found its way out through your thoughts. being an Indian I can relate to the steretypes you are trying to dispel…good attempt and good to be a little indignant when it comes ones country and more so identity.read some of the other comments and saw a lot of people debunk the post as an elitist view.well, I guess all that the author has done is to address some preposterous thoughts harboured about a part of the world close to us.agreed that there are many more issues to be grappled with but then will it hurt to deal with the 10 listed on the post?
    Looking forward to more on this.
    follow me on buttrview. wordpress. com
    Will be great to interact on issues close to us in India through your perspective.

  17. Very good blog…my first assumption is that the majority of these questions were posed by…North Americans perhaps…possibly somewhere South of say…Canada? While I live in Canada, I grew up in the UK and travel for business, lecturing around the world – trust me, people of Pakistani and Indian descent are not unique when it comes to stupid questions being asked of them concerning their homeland! Oh, just an FYI (minor correction)…there is no such word in the English language, as “commonest”….most common would be the correct use of the language. Great job though!

  18. I have travelled to more than 40 countries but never came across such questions about travelling through boat or living in mud houses …seems like you have been meeting NERDS !!!

  19. i’d call you a burger, but BBCD works better I think. MAJORITY of pakistan’s schooling system is in english? really? have you set foot outside karachi, lahore, islamabad? we dont have a majority SCHOOLING system to begin with, forget which language it is in. most of these questions are indeed very pertinent for the MAJORITY of our country. but since we’re so apathetic, we just think everyone else in pakistan enjoys the same kind of lifestyle that we have. people like you make me sick.

  20. I wish I could say I’m surprised. There have been so many shameful responses post 9/11 here in the US, I can only imagine how difficult it can be for someone fielding those kinds of ridiculous questions here. It’s especially interesting to hear about the ones related to women since a lot of concern here for women’s rights in Muslim countries veers quickly into paternalism, racism and Islamophobia.

  21. Thanks for making clear some false-myths that are believed to be true when in reality, they are none other then a group of wicked lies. Pakistan is such a great place. My parents are religious but they are not bad to my sisters and they encourage them. One thing I spotted wrong is that it’s not good to approve of Pakistani university dating culture – It’s bad. That’s the reason why we fail. We forget our real aim, and focus on stupid stuff. Had to correct you there. Btw, everything else is ok.

  22. Reblogged this on shakirhabib and commented:
    Well, Pakistan seems to be a typical Islamic country with fundamentalism deeply embedded but it is not. I think one of the reason of not understanding the real Pakistan is the denial of people from other cultures to socialise with Pakistanis and second important reason is the blind belief in media. This article will give you an idea of the real Pakistan (the secular side )

      • Hi Robert thank you for the comment. It is not the people who threaten foreigners, it’s the media who bring the bad image of a country. After 9/11 the security situation isn’t understandable to a common man. People are paying price for the wrong foreign policies of Pakistan army. I believe all the subcultures of Pakistan are very colourful and they all believe in the hospitality. I recommend you to explore the northern Pakistan, you will love it and won’t regret.

  23. Oh my gosh this is hilarious! I laughed the whole way through it. I was laughing also because I grew up in a Pakistani/Indian neighbourhood and as youngsters we were so naughty and I know all the misconceptions you wrote about are so untrue, my friends got up to all sorts of eyewatering things! My parents still live there and the houses around are the most lavish you could ever see. I am so glad you chose to follow my blog otherwise I’d never of had such a laugh this morning! Thank you so much!! xx

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