The first time I travelled to India I experienced the typical foreigner shock, the heat, stifling humidity, incessant horn blowing, and never-ending requests for money from the poor or would-be poor.
What I wasn’t prepared for however were the incredibly intrusive questions and as a Canadian, the land of PC and fence sitters, these request for personal statistics caught me completely off guard, and because of this experience and the many more I have had since, I feel compelled to share with newcomers to India my Top 10 list of things foreigners should know about India and its people prior to travelling to India for the first time and for those of us who frequent India, to always remember. Here are my personal list and observations:
Culture Shock India – A Foreigner’s Top 10 Guide
1. Intrusive questions: By nature, Indians are really inquisitive people and their culture is one where people do anything but mind their own business, often due to the lack of personal space and privacy in India. As a result, don’t be surprised or offended if an Indian asks you how much you earn for a living and whether or not you are married within the first moments of initial meeting. This along with a host of other personal questions is quite normal and truly not meant to be offensive. What’s more, you should feel free to ask these type of questions in return. And instead of them taking offense they will be pleased that you’ve taken such an interest in them!
2. Unwanted Attention: Some or most Indians will unabashedly stare at foreign tourists, especially in the not so tourist-rich cities. And in turn, the tourists become magnets for persistent touts and beggars. This at first seems charming, even a bit magical perhaps one might feel a bit like a rock star, but that quickly fades and is replaces with beggars, especially malnourished children and the badly deformed can be particularly disturbing.
3. Noise: Drivers lean on their horns constantly, and for no reason. Radios and televisions blast Bollywood tracks, even temples, mosques and churches use loudspeakers to spread their message. My personal favorite is the guy yelling “PAPER” at the top of his lungs every morning before 7 am, trying to convince me to give him my recycling.
4. Pollution: every Indian city I have visited suffers badly from pollution. Exhaust combined with dust and humidity leave you with a nice layer of film on your skin after a day of sightseeing. A day where you can expect to see cows meandering the streets, eating garbage, and leisurely strolling the packed roadways without a care in the world. Cows truly are Kings in India.
5. Crowds: again typical, except perhaps what the crowds are made up of, jam-packed with people, vehicles, and the occasional elephant, the every present cow, the often seen cow, a wild dog perhaps and the infrequent ox.
6. Toilets: India has a combination of what is called “squatter” or Indian toilets and western toilets. You will find in all major hotels standard western toilets, however often they lack tissue paper. And if you find yourself out and about and in need of the facilities do not be shocked to find you will have to use a squatter and make sure to bring some tissue paper.
7. Traffic: The best way to describe the traffic in India is organized chaos. The traffic at any given time contains a complete array of motor vehicles (4-wheelers), stray dogs, motorcycles (or 2 wheelers) with sometimes up to 5 people riding at a time, lorries, buses, cows, auto rickshaws and ox drawn carts. No one pays any attention to the lines on the road – it is “every man for himself”. Police are generally active at all major intersections and there appear to be to adherence to any traffic laws – but somehow it all works and there is rarely if ever road rage!
8. Never say NO: For some reason, Indian’s have a very difficult time saying NO, so even if they do not know the proper direction to the place you are trying to find they will often give you false directions. They mean no harm; they just feel bad for not be able to help. Other times they will go out of their way to find someone to help.
9. Smiling Faces: Unbeknownst to me everywhere I have traveled in India, the people are smiling. They smile while driving in a luxury car while riding on the back of a 2- wheeler with 3 other family members (or so I assume), they smile while walking in the scorching heat and humidity. No matter the climate, time of day, or circumstance a smile is always my initial greeting.
10. Entrepreneurial Spirit: Having worked in sales and management for most of my adult life I always amazed and in absolute awe of the entrepreneurial spirit of the Indian people. They can always find a use for something, feel compelled to reuse items and are never let down by being knocked back by the word no to the often sought after the sale.