Signs that you grew up in the 90s to Asian/Desi parents, or, 12 cheap ways to save your household costs
I am often reminded of the various facets of myself which has roots in various places; I am a British-Pakistani Muslim woman, waist-deep in Western culture and society, the other half of me in Middle Eastern and Pakistani idioms. Like many of my peers. I have followed various influences through high school colleges and university, and found myself in the nine-to-five workplace. I’ve watched the popular American television series, the dry-wit British stand-up shows, the silly YouTube videos gone viral and the thought-provoking Islamic lectures and Ted Talks. Not to mention all the Lollywood and Bollywood films you can think of, which certainly added a spice to my cultural awareness.
I’ve spoken about my family briefly before, and certainly think that growing up in the 90s had its own charm, and also was its own nightmare. One of the reasons we can relate so much to the classic 90s tv series awesomeness that was Goodness Gracious Me was that they were able to capture so well everything that makes us British-Asians – being cheesy, sarcastic, admiring our roots while recognising how embarrassing we (and our parents!) are. This post was long overdue in the list of things which I’m sure many of you will recognise in your own family’s upbringing (although please note I’m not trying to write anything offensive, and if anything I should be the most offended that most of these things happened to me in my poor, defenceless childhood)
1. Cover everything with plastic – the carpet, the sofa, the remote control, half of the furniture in the house (it took us a couple of years to convince my parents to take the sheeting off our new dining table set) and even our mobile phone screens – remember that? We were one of millions of forward-thinking families to ‘protect’ and cover the hallways with plastic runners (all of which are pretty much identical in every house). Years later, when we finally convinced our parents to remove the plastic, the carpet underneath looked as brand new as the day we bought it, and the ones that were exposed looked like something had died and decayed on it. But the thing is, it was a normal thing to do in the nineties, because every other house down the road did exactly the same thing. Another thing our mums did? Cover the cooker over top with foil so that any food that spilled would get caught in the foil, which you could just pick up and throw away. My mum stopped doing that about 10 years ago when she got fed up of the foil getting caught on fire, and also because I think she didn’t see the point in covering (wasting!) in foil when you’d still have to clean the cooker because some piece of food wriggled underneath. Something my mum still does is line all of the cupboards and drawers with old wallpaper or sheets, but that’s probably good practise (and not so funny either, I suppose). My mum even used to lovely sew pretty sofa covers (which we could have tried to pass off as boho and eclectic throws, but it blatantly wasn’t), with frills and all, to cover the sofas. I’m not sure what we were trying to do, whether we wanted to preserve the sofas and carpets for the next ten years, especially as we don’t have any of the same furniture of carpet now. The first thing we did when we bought a new television a couple of years back was, yep, rip off the plastic before my mum even opened her mouth to stop us.
2. Buying new things was a big event in our house, and even bigger was then showing them to family and friends so that they would go out and buy the same thing if they liked it. I remember my aunt coming to our house and seeing our red and cream patterned sofas, then buying the same ones for her own house (which were there for years). It is with great relief that I can say none of the original furniture from my childhood remains in the house (except possibly my parent’s my dad’s old bookshelf which has gotten away with being in the hallway, and which no one moves because it’s a good place to surreptitiously put unwanted plastic bags and extra creams that mysteriously appear). Similarly, we’d all be involved in a trip to go buy something like a vacuum for the house, my dad would expertly examine it for flaws (and then never be the one to use it), while we all sat bored and begging to go to the toys aisle.
We weren’t a well-off family and didn’t often have new things – one thing we all remember is hand-me-downs from older siblings (I didn’t have it as bad because I was the youngest, but one of my sisters remembers having hand-me-downs from my brother which was less pretty!) My parents were very thrifty and careful with what they had, and it’s a trait we’ve all manage to inherit – it also meant having an array of junk in our house because things were on sale/free/being given away. These days internet shopping is a great revelation in my house (and not just because I buy a lot of junk, my dad is the worst) – it’s a big jumble sale out there and it’s easy to go crazy. Except for my mum, who still buys everything in cash and almost always finds a bargain in any store.
3. Who says you can’t fit eight people in a five-person car? You’re just not squeezing people inside hard enough. Coming from a family where I was the youngest of five, I spent most of my childhood squashed/half-couched in the feet area of the back seats (back then I was the skinniest and the smallest, which meant I got the least space). Oddly enough, although we should have spent half our journeys terrified of the police stopping us over for overcrowding a vehicle, we never worried about it, and it never happened to us. Booster seats for toddlers and seat-belts? Pah. Our car wasn’t that glamorous either, we had an ugly white Nissan when I was a child , which then got upgraded to an ugly red Nissan a few years later – although both of which still weren’t as embarrassing as the yellow three-wheeler down the road.
4. Reading books are full of nonsense and put silly ideas in your head. My sisters and I are all avid readers, and have been since we learned our alphabet as little toddlers. I remember holding my sister’s (sometimes my Dad’s) hand and being led to the local library which was minutes up the road as a child, and being in awe at the sheer number of books lining the shelves, getting greedy over how many we could take home. My parents, on the other hand, hated it. They hated the fact that we’d go glazed-eyed and deaf once we got stuck in a book (they had to shout at us up the stairs a good few times to get our attention), the fact that we wouldn’t stop reading for hours, or the fact that our books took up piles of space next to our beds. I remember being engrossed in books which I refused to put down even when eating, ignoring the television to put a book next to my play and accidentally drip a bit of food into the pages, which would drive my parents nuts. Even now our rooms (in all of our respective houses!) still fill up with books and crowd the bookshelves (which our parents keep threatening to dump in a landfill every so often, but we know they’re just empty threats).
5. PG films didn’t apply to us. As long as there wasn’t any inappropriate scenes about K-I-S-S-I-N-G, we became pretty desensitized to violent films, because our parents didn’t see them as unsuitable. Mind you, the kissing thing became pretty old, we could be watching a scene from an innocent, joyful Christmas family movie, and as soon as any kissy scenes came on, the channel got changed, and we’d lose control over the remote.* Gory killing scenes in Predator were okay though, cos that was just men running around with knives. There’s been many a film that we didn’t see the ending of because of this problem.
6. Yes, our parents were those ones who said if you didn’t get A grades, you might as well not have bothered. Admittedly, we were lucky enough to be that family which were high achievers at school and who made our cousins’ lives (unintentionally) miserable because their parents were always smacking them on the head asking them why they couldn’t get our grades. Also funnily enough, when I got my GCSE grade, the majority of which were A grades, my dad pointed out that I only got a B in Maths, which was a bit of a let-down – yet a day later a few of my uncles congratulated me saying my dad had praised my grades. My dad wanted one of us to be a mathematician (because it was his favourite subject) and my mum would have preferred it if one of us did something respectable like become a doctor or lawyer. Seeing as no one in the family has yet to reach these lofty statuses yet, I’m still waiting for them to transfer their attentions on the grandkids.
7. Clothes and fashion in the 90s wasn’t as glamorous as they are for us today, and we didn’t have it all thought out. My sister and I are 18 months apart, which meant that as kids, we got dressed exactly the same. We looked nothing the same as kids (and even less so as adults), but this didn’t stop my mum from dressing us up exactly the same, and for relatives to ask if we were twins. Another cost-saving fashion method we had was to buy a roll of fabric and for all the girls in the family to have the same outfit stitches (which we’d have to wear at the same time) – hence our aversion as adults to wear anything pink, frilly, netted or similar to anything any other sister is wearing. And my brother wasn’t spared either, we have many photographs of him growing up displaying his stylish shell-suits with his curtain hair styles.
8. Bollywood films were a staple when we were going up, as much as Power Rangers, Blue Peter and the Indiana Jones films were. Every week, my mum would send one of us to the corner video shop to pick up the latest pirated Bollywood video tape and watch huddled together in the living room (they were a lot more family friendly than they are now, no kissing scenes here). My dad hated us watching Bollywood films, so we would watch it whenever he went out with (blatant, over-acted) ‘stealth’, – whenever we’d hear the sound of his key in the door and him stepping into the house, we would be scrambling around to switch the VCR off and pretend to be staring at the news/carpet/empty bowl when he came in.
9. Weddings in the 90s were a world away from the grand affair they are now. Weddings in the 90s were purely about eating food, wearing puffy dresses and tinsel, and lots of cramped seating. And don’t get me started on the cringe-worthy wedding videos and their ‘special’ effects (one of my uncle’s wedding videos features the cameraman’s hand holding up a piece of glass to make a kaleidoscopic effect in the lens. It worked, too). Compared to the bridezillas of today who take a microscopic look at wedding dresses, cakes, flowers, seating arrangements and a hundred other things, wedding back in the day involved booking a hall and food, turning up, watching at least one fight and leaving as soon as you ate. The poor bride was usually miserable and spent the whole time with her head down, and the groom was usually an obscure figure on the stage. The best thing I remember about those days was running around with the other kids and picking up loose change on the floor (and feeling really rich!)
10. Family portraits were another disaster in our household, and not just because of the fashion faux pas – I don’t think we have a single family picture which has everyone with a straight face (one of us were usually sniggering or hiding behind someone else). My sisters remember my mum telling them not to smile too much (and keep their teeth inside their mouths) because it didn’t look respectable in pictures – which is a far cry from the fake smiles and poses we all have today (I’m pretty sure we could submit a lot of ours to this website). A lot of our pictures from an early age look quite serious and sombre, usually because we were sitting on sofas in the front room which we weren’t usually meant to go in, which is ironic because I don’t think any of us were particularly miserable children. These days we’re all about arty-farty pictures and looking our best in pictures (okay that’s probably just me, but still), and the grandkids in my family have grown up with camera phones in front of their faces.
11. Food in our house was another affair which hasn’t changed. I watched Russell Peters at one of his stand-up shows once, and he correctly talked about how our mums only ever cooked whatever our dads wanted, no matter whether we wanted it or not. This was the same in our house – I can remember countless number of times that my mum made my dad’s favourite food (usually lentils) while we all moaned about wanting chicken and chips. We also didn’t eat out or have much junk food as kids (which is probably a good thing in hindsight) – I think I was about 13 when I had my first McDonald fish burger. Whenever we wanted junk food, my mum would make us home-made fish and chips (peeled and chopped potatoes, of course!) on Sundays, or otherwise make us home-made kebabs to put in burger buns. Over time we discovered halal chicken burger shops, and I remember making weekly trips with one of my sisters after saving up all of our 5ps and 10ps to buy burgers from the local shops (with all of our change in our hands, who needs purses?)
12. Storing and hoarding is a trait that probably all Asian (and other ethnicities) family have – we can’t bear to throw anything away. We have a cellar full of junk from our childhood which we are constantly trying to clear and then end up filling up again. Granted, we’re a lot more neater at storing our junk than those weird shows you see on tv (and we uses to think that the number of books we had were bad, until we drove past a house once which had newspapers and books lining the hallway in stacks until it reached the front door). Part of the problem is we hate to chuck something that we’d paid for, especially because we think we’ll need it again (we won’t). My dad even built a shed (which we’ve named the cow-shed) to ‘store’ our extra tools and things, and which is our latest dumping ground (plus it’s a haven for spiders so everyone’s too scared to go in there).
Another habit we all have is storing and stockpiling enough food and toilet paper to fuel a small country, even though my mother goes shopping every week to buy more of these. We always say that if there’s ever a siege, at least we won’t starve or need toilet paper.
All in all, there were plenty of embarassing moments (this is just the tip of the ice-berg, really!) but there were also lots of perks. Things were simpler then, video games were easier to play (have you tried to play one now? jeez.), cartoon shows were better, we weren’t obssessed with mobiles and the internet, and being an Asian nerd wasn’t always a bad thing if it meant you got A grades at school instead of beats (I rememeber a boy in my class on results day who didn’t go home for two days because he was too scared to tell his parents his grade, when he finally came home they told him they’d been waiting for him to come and show his results).
I’m sure there’s a part two of this coming soon, but in the mean-time, I’m off to browse 90s films to make fun out of (starting with this one, one of the funniest re-caps I’ve read!)
*Ownership of the remote control is a serious thing in our house (I have no idea if this is a thing in other people’s house, although I suspect it is) ‘Having’ the remote is taken pretty seriously, and whoever has it is a lucky devil because they can hold on it and control what everyone else watches. The only exception to this is my dad who has the power to take the remote and change it to Geo channel or BBC news at any and all times, no matter how much we might complain.