in the world still tends to surprise me every day; from the cows sitting on the highways to the weird ways that they fix things that are broken…India has stolen my heart and I will keep cherishing every day that I can while I stay and work in this wonderful country. I do feel sorry to talk about this, but apart from the love and respect that I have, I also sometimes feel anger or disgust. However, often I’m very surprised about how Indian people act in general.
I’ve hiked on a couple of nice treks this monsoon and really enjoyed them. On one of my last treks we went to one of the surrounding forts, the very well preserved Lohgad fort. A proper stone staircase will lead you to the actual gates of the fort, which will eventually get you on the upper deck. Being on the upper deck of the fort is amazing and the views are astonishing. Here’s the irony – standing on the upper deck of the fort, one would find open areas in the rocked wall. Back in Shivaji’s tenure (Shivaji Bhonsle was an Indian warrior king) the fort was a hideaway and treasury department, and they fought numerous battles. The open areas were probably used to attack the enemy. The Indian department that maintains the fort is doing a very good job as large parts of the structures are completely intact. However, the fort is a dangerous place for small kids, the open areas are completely open and the upper deck has no barricades. It’s all very slippery while walking up to the fort during heavy rains. This could turn this place into a horror-castle; it’s easy to get yourself killed.
I’ve spent some time to collecting some of the weird, funny or irritating things that Indian people do.
- Honking, even when there is no traffic. I’m not sure if this is true, but somone told me a very funny incident about a Mercedes research survey. Driving an imported car in India definitely gives one status, especially if this car is from Europe. BMW, Audi and Mercedes are very popular brands among the rich and elite. At some point during their presence in India, Mercedes had conducted a survey to receive some feedback from their clients. The outcome was a surprise to everyone involved: the Mercedes drivers where actually happy with almost all features of the car. However, there was one area for improvement: they wanted to have a louder horn. Honking is and always will be an annoying aspect while commuting within India. Having observed a lot of drivers, I’ve noticed something surprising; they actually honk without any reason. They just do it as a force of habit.
- Sitting under waterfalls to get wet during monsoons. After we arrived in India in November 2016, a lot of people told us about their most favourite season: the monsoons. Time moved by and we slowly approached the actual date of this season. People started to make plans: shall we go a trek? Have you seen the surrounding forts? After the arrival of the monsoon in the second week of June 2017 we went out for our first hike with colleagues and what happened still makes me laugh; all of my office co-workers seemed to have the same thought in mind: they wanted to visit some the beautiful waterfalls near Pune and get wet. Since that first encounter with monsoon-life, I’ve seen thousands of people sitting under waterfalls and it still surprises me.
- No safety practice in various areas. With a belief of more than one life for the majority of the population (the Hindu’s), putting any effort into safety regulations could be seen as a waste of time. Or could there be some other reason for this? Some of the constructions site have little or no safety policies are not being controlled by the local or national government. However, I’m still surprised to see a lot of damaging evidence where people are taking huge safety risks. I’ve seen engineers working with hazardous tools without proper safety gear, painters working on the 23rd floor without a wire harness and welders working without protective glasses. No matter how funny it may seem, the worst of it all is the very commonly sight of spotting a two-wheeler with six people on it.
- Acquaintances asking your for loans. Every day when I step out of my luxurious home, I’m confronted with the poverty and inequality within this immense country. The poverty here is significant. The huge inequality has two sides; on one hand one could say that it’s tragic, because a large part of the population in India makes a living on only 1500 euro’s per annum or less. One could also argue that the inequality brings benefits; hiring staff is very cheap and some of the people you engage with are really loyal. We were warned when we hired our house help; ‘She will ask you for a loan in within three weeks and you should say now’. It took a bit longer than this, but our friend was correct; she asked us for a loan. Given the challenging conditions (no husband and three kids to feed) we gave her the money and gifted the last part of the loan payment to her. To my surprise, I also got some requests from middle class Indian people, asking me for larger amounts of money. I even got a call from a friend, asking me to lend him some money to bridge a challenging period in his company. I’m well aware of my privileged position, but asking for money for us feels a bit weird. Thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that India is in fact more of a cooperative society, whereas our country (the Netherlands) is more individualist. Asking other people for help in country is seen as weak.
- Answering the phone with a simple ‘allo?!’ Using a mobile phone abroad is a common thing now, especially after the implementation of the EU-tariffs, which have removed the potential bill shock for the travelling EU-citizen. For most Indians, having a mobile number is a unique thing. Furthermore, for many people this would be their first phone. Only a limited number of householders had a landline. One of the great things about mobile phones is that you can actually see who’s calling you, unless you haven’t saved the callers number. In India it’s very common to pick up the phone with a simple ‘allo’.
- Arriving with a one hour delay without any apology. Living and working here is cool, I’ll keep on saying this till I’ve convinced the most critical expats of this. However, I also need to deal with a lack of Indian etiquette and one of the most annoying one is showing up late. Luckily, after being here for 2.5 years, I’ve figured the pattern now. ‘I’ll be there in 10 minutes’ means everything between now and 30 minutes. If people tell you ‘I won’t be there on time’, one should expect anywhere between a 15 to 90 minute delay. Knowing the patterns means that I’ve also implemented some personal shields. It doesn’t bother me anymore. One other thing: never – ever – tell an Indian person or business partner the actual time. If you want a party to start at 6pm and you want to have everyone at your house for the cake cutting at 8pm, tell them the cake cutting will start at 7pm.
- Jumping in a queue, any queue. With a population of over 1.3 billion people, one should accustomed on line from time to time. It feels rather uncomfortable, but discrimination against their own people is a very common thing. As a result, I’ve been picked out of the queue many times; ‘please sir, come with me’. However, I’ve also had my share of experiences without a premium service and found Indian people to be really annoying. Not only are they not aware of any private space, they also don’t mind jumpin in a queue and they’re doing it very openly.
- People are over-curious, asking a lot of personal questions. I’m not even surprised anymore, if random people start asking me personal questions about my relationship or finances. ‘Sir, what do pay for house’ or ‘Why are you not having children’ are some of the more common things I got questions about. However, I still get annoyed from time to time, because some of the random people I would meet seem to lack any moral compass; they just don’t think it’s inappropriate to ask many intrusive and personal questions
- Jugaad. One of the very sad things in India is the short horizon that a lot of people seem to have. Yes, if you’re a day labourer, working in construction, you would not have a five year career plan. Day labourers will most probably have a horizon for a week. However, the short horizon is also at the back of a lot of people’s minds in India, with Jugaad as a result. If you’re a westerner and you’ve never heard about it, I would advise you to go online, type in ‘Jugaad’ and click on the ‘Images’. You’ll see the amazing creativity within India for fixing things that are broken or solving challenges easily. Jugaad is extremely funny to see, but there is a flipside to this: some of the people who I have met during my stay over here, also use some form of Jugaad to ‘repair’ stuff. We recently had a severe leakage in the house, caused by broken stones on our upper terrace. The landlord came up with several Jugaad-based solutions of which all turned out to be useless. Eventually they solved this, but only after we needed to wait to see if the jugaad solutions were helpful.
- Cake cutting at the office during birthdays. One of the tips that I would give to new expats in India is to stay away from the office on birthdays. For me, the office is a ‘no go zone’ on my birthday and I will tell you why. Indian people tend to have very unusual way to celebrate someone’s birthday. Someone in the group will arrange for a very fancy cake. On the day itself, co-workers will be invited for the actual celebration. At the corporate offices that I’ve visited in India, they actually need to book a special space for cake cutting. Many things in India, which are heavily regulated and bureaucratic, it’s not possible to use a space without a reservation. The procedure during the ceremony is this: one of the senior colleagues will actually cut the cake and give you the first piece of the cake if it is your birthday. However, he will not only feed you the cake but also will smear the cake in your face.
So, enough said. I will now change my perspective again towards India! India, I love you!