Wednesday, January 19, 2011


After every trip to India (or from India to somewhere), I've written a post titled "Culture Shock". This one continues in the series, but I don't know if I should call it shock anymore. I'm not surprised by stuff, I expect it. I'm aware of the differences I see and didn't actually goof up, flinch or be shocked.

But I can't say I'm not confused by stuff... or find it worth not mentioning. So here goes a list.

1. Laws & common sense: we are flexible on them. On the plane to India, I was sitting next to this one Indian couple. To put it politely, they weren't frequent fliers. As the plane begins its descent to Mumbai Airport, the lady next to me fishes her cell phone out of her purse, looks at it and asks, "I didn't have network all this time, but do you think I can give a call to XYZ?"
I may have carried more than the permissible amount of wine in my luggage (wink wink). The customs officer looked at the luggage, smiled at me and waved me away.
and so on...

2. Languages: It was after many conversations with people (in Europe) that I realised that we Indians have multi-lingual conversations. Over the past year I've told many people about how I always mix 3 languages when I speak with my Indian friends. But that truly hit me now when I switched on the radio. Seriously, most of the radio jockeys on all the radio stations speak in 3 languages. In Maharashtra, it's Hindi, Marathi and English. In Goa, it was Hindi, Goan and English. I'm used to this, but it's only now that I find that fascinating.

3. Traffic: It seems that if I sit to drive a car, and the car is a left hand drive, I will drive like a law abiding American/European would. If the car is a right hand drive, I will drive like a zig-zagging, lane-hating, 2 inch clearance loving, over-speeding Indian would. I have no problems adjusting. Though I don't use the horn much.
Which makes me wonder how I would drive in England.

4. Costs: India seems to be unable to figure out whether to be expensive or cheap. I hired a cab to go from Mumbai to Pune (~150 kms). It cost me ~Rs. 1800 (= 30€ , or 40 US$). Not too expensive, right? But, a pair of jeans at a mall cost me the same amount. I wasn't buying ultra fancy big brand names. Probably buying them France would be cheaper. Three of us went to a fancy place for drinks, racked up a bill of ~Rs. 2000 (~30 €). Then we left the place, went to a roadside cart and had some of the tastiest scrambled eggs for Rs. 100 (2€). If you ask me if India is cheap, the most honest answer would be "It depends".

5. Physical contact: This leaves me stumped! How does a guy greet an old friend who is a girl? Obviously, 'bisous' are out of the question. (No seriously, don't ever go randomly kiss a girl. Unless she is your girlfriend. And even then, not in public.)

But do I hug, shake hands or wave a hello? If I met the same friend in the US, it would have been a no-brainer - hugs are okay. But in India, most of the times we just stand awkwardly not knowing what to do. Of course, there are some friends who will hug, some who will shake hands and some who will wave a hello. The problem is that there is no standard "code".

On the other hand, I'd always been a "hands-off" person until a couple of years ago and changed after leaving India... so maybe this problem exists entirely in my head.

6. Long distance calls! I'd forgotten that calling someone in another state costs you more. Or travelling to another state gets you roaming charges. But all this doesn't change the fact that one still picks up the phone and randomly calls any childhood/old friend and chats to eternity.

7. Call an hour or two before and announce to your relatives that you will be dropping by. Just to ensure that they aren't out when you visit.

8. Similarly, if you want to meet your friend, the house is a good place to do so. Bars/pubs aren't places you normally go to. Otherwise, there are coffee shops, malls, random college campuses or "tekdi"s. (Pune is surrounded small hills or tekdi's, and some of them are popular walking spots).

9. I think we might be the only place where the term " of marriageable age" exists. I'm not sure, but I haven't heard it being used by non-Indians yet. :P

10. We rarely live alone or away from family. Someone is always at home, and it is impossible to feel alone. We like sharing space. We stayed at my aunt's place just before I left for France, and at that time we were 10 adults living (comfortably) in a 2~3 bedroom apartment.
And then I landed in France, came over home on a Friday afternoon to a 3 bedroom apartment that was empty. The weekend was spent interacting with very few people (physically, not in the online sense). As a friend described it, I suffered from withdrawal symptoms. For those 2 days, saying I missed India would be an understatement.

1 comment:

  1. > I think we might be the only place where the term
    > " of marriageable age" exists.

    in Argentina, if it's used, it would most probably be used with double-entendre meaning (notice how french sneaked in there...).