Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Indians believe Americans are gladiators who "don't wear clothes" -- and said she plans to "go on a diet" after eating "way too much" of the country's traditional fare once she returns stateside.
"I have long been an admirer of India," Clinton said. "I feel very much at home here. I eat way too much of the food at every chance I get. I have to go on a diet when I get back home — back to carrots and celery."
Clinton compared Americans to naked gladiators and Indians to blissful beauties in a question-and-answer session with university students in India who probed her on a range of topics.
"If Hollywood and Bollywood were how we all lived our lives, that would surprise me," she said with a tone of understatement. "And yet it's often the way our cultures are conveyed, isn't it?
"People watching a Bollywood movie in some other part of Asia think everybody in India is beautiful and they have dramatic lives and happy endings. And if you were to watch American TV and our movies you'd think that we don't wear clothes and we spend all our time fighting with each other."
It was a classic Clinton moment, engaging in what she calls public diplomacy to argue that Americans have more in common with people around the globe than is often suggested. She blamed the media — not just the news but also entertainment — for distortions.
Clinton, on her fourth visit to India and her first as secretary of state, also used her appearance at Delhi University to stress the importance of stepping beyond formal diplomacy to encourage U.S.-India contacts on other levels, including academic and business.
"We have to get to the real meat of the matter, and our cooperation will do that for us," she told her university audience.
One of the notable features of the Obama-Clinton relationship six months into his presidency is the absence, at least publicly, of divisions that many had predicted would develop between two strong personalities who so recently were fierce political rivals. Clinton told the student that she is proud to be a member of an administration that shares her goal of "positive change" in U.S. foreign relations.
She went on to say she was "pleasantly surprised" when, shortly after the election, Obama asked her to become his chief diplomat.
"We talked a lot about what do we want to do and how we could set the goals and achieve our objectives," she said, acknowledging there were "maybe some differences of degree, but not necessarily difference of kind" between herself and the president.
The discussion got a little more personal when a student asked Clinton whether she feels that her gender kept her from winning the White House.
"As for myself, I feel very grateful that I've had the experiences that I've had," said the former first lady and former U.S. senator.
"I don't look back. I am always somebody who gets up and looks forward. But I am fueled by my commitment to making sure that we eradicate all the remaining vestiges of discrimination toward women."