Culture shock is always expected when spending anytime in a foreign country, but I have to say that living and working in India has been harder to adjust to than any other country I’ve visited. Everything is different, from traffic to cuisine, and sometimes it feels like even the simplest things are a big hassle. Here are some of the major cultural differences that I’ve experienced so far.
I’ve been here for 3 months now and have dated 3 different guys. The problem is for the most part the only purpose of dating in India is to find a suitable spouse, get married, and have kids. It is what is expected of every Indian young adult. Needless to say, I have no interest in marriage or having more kids. I have made that fundamentally clear to each guy I’ve dated. Still, I received a marriage proposal from one and an “I love you” text from another. Even if I were to reciprocate their feelings, it would never work. Their family would disown them because I’m twice divorced and wouldn’t produce children. So incidentally I’m treated like their dirty little secret, which doesn’t work for me. Most single men still live with their parents. Even after marriage, typically their wife moves into their multi generational home. If the adult child gets close to age 30 with no marriage the parents typically start shopping for a martial alliance (arranged marriage). On any date I’ve been on past 10:00 PM, their Mom starts calling about every 10 minutes! It’s very frustrating and my dates refuse to not answer the call. They live in constant fear and blatantly lie to their parents to avoid family conflict.
Hindi is the national language but there are thousands of different dialects depending on what area they are from. Most Indians speak Hindi, English and their native language. However some less educated people don’t speak English much at all. That means that many of the working class (housekeeping, laundry, tuck tuck drivers, etc.) are very hard to communicate with. I have begun to write down simple words and phrases and study the language daily. I think it’s fun and the Indians seemed to be appreciative (if not entertained) by my efforts.
Food and eating habits
Indian food is delicious and spicy! The people here are divided into two groups; “veg” and “non veg”. That means vegetarian or carnivores. The majority are veg. Street food is abundant. It’s delicious and cheap! They typically eat with their hands using flat breads to scoop their food. The issue with that is I always get food under my fingernails and spend the rest of the day trying to pick it out. At the end of the meal they eat a little bit of spices, made of fennel and anise seeds, to freshen the breath and aid in digestion.
I will never adjust to Indian squat toilets and wet bathrooms. Every toilet has a shower hose next to it for washing, not wiping. Toilet paper is not typically found in most public “wash rooms”. Now I know why they call it that! They wash everything after they go and dry nothing! Incidentally that means the floors are always wet. Often there are bathroom attendants that squeegee the floor after use. Also, the toilets don’t flush well so they often clog. Sometimes it is a squat style toilet, not an upright seat like we have in America. On road trips I have begun to limit my water intake so that I don’t have to use the public facilities.
Everything is negotiable here. In fact, it’s expected. It doesn’t matter if it’s a taxi ride, flight upgrade, rent payment or food purchase. These people negotiate everything! If you don’t negotiate they won’t respect you. The other day I found myself negotiating with a shop keeper to buy a scarf that was 150 rupees. I wanted it for 100. Then I realized I was arguing over about .40 cents USD. What is happening to me!!
Everywhere I go I get stared at. I’ve noticed that they don’t stare at other white foreigners as much as they stare at me. My Indian friends say that it’s my height and sense of style. “You are like a celebrity” Vilkap said when we were in Udaipur last weekend. Several Indians asked if they could take a picture with me. Sometimes it’s fun, but it also gets old. There are times when I just hide out in my room and don’t want to go anywhere because I get so weary of it.
All these things take some getting used to and you will find that the culture shock eases with time. Eventually you get used to things and settle into a routine. It took about 4 months for me, so be patient.