I’ve had the usual ups and downs of culture shock since we came to India. I may do a post on culture shock someday, because I’m a nerd about it, and I think it’s interesting. But I wanted to write a post about things that I have realized that I like about India. These are in no particular order.
- Outdoor food markets. I liked farmers’ markets in the US, and I love them in India. It is best to go to a full on open air market, where you can haggle and walk away if the person doesn’t give a fair price. Unfortunately, where we’re staying right now in Gurgaon, there are only fixed price shops and a drunk/stoned vegetable-wala with a cart who refuses to talk or budge on his prices.
- I have grown to love an excess of spices. The first few months I was here, despite being an adventurous eater, I got really tired of how overly spiced everything was. I decided at the time that Indians had killed their tastebuds and could no longer detect subtle flavors. That is probably true, and I think I have now joined them with dead tastebuds. My mother in law makes this crazy green chili pickle that I am really addicted to. It is bitter and sour and salty and just all around amazing. Just typing that sentence made my mouth water, and now I want to go eat some.
- Autorickshaws. Yes, they are loud, bumpy, and you have constant wind and exhaust in your face, but for some reason I love them. Maybe it’s because I love little cars, and these are even smaller. I like that each driver puts his own little personal touch to it, usually with some kind of murti or by tying marigolds or green chilies to it. It is necessary to negotiate on a price with a driver, which is easy when you have a B to do it all for you. But it could be tricky to negotiate on my own since I don’t know the prices for different distances.
- Dancing. I love how dance is a natural, spontaneous part of Indian culture. Despite never having any formal lessons, my Indian relatives all boogied their little booties off at our wedding here, and it was amazing to see how free and uninhibited they were–all without the influence of alcohol of any type. I also love that when we play a card game or help my nephew study, when he gets something right, he will do a shoulder shimmy of joy. So adorable.
- The clothes here are more fabulous than clothes in any other country in the world. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this. Saris, and fancier salwar khameez(es?) all look so flipping amazing. And it is even more gorgeous on Indian women. I look ok in them, but with their long black hair, big dark eyes, and pretty brown skin tones, Indian women look amazing in them. I also find that a daily wear cotton salwar khameez is ridiculously comfortable, and so easy to wash and dry. They are perfect for summer heat. The salwar bottoms feel so loose and airy. It’s great. I just need to work on the right kind of body language to pull it off. I still just look like a Westerner wearing Indian clothes. My blond hair does not help me out much, either.
- Along the lines of clothes, I love that it is so easy and inexpensive to get clothes custom tailored here. At a shop, you buy a length of fabric that you like, usually with some kind of embroidered print on it, and take it to a tailor for measurements. She will usually have some photos of different collar styles, cuffs, embellishments, etc. You pick out what you like, and a week later, you have a sweet customized outfit.
- Camels. While I feel sorry for the camels, I can’t help but feel like I’m in an Indiana Jones movie every time I see one on the street. Now that I think about it, I haven’t seen a single one in Gurgaon, but they were a daily occurrence in Jaipur. Gurgaon must just be too cool for its own good.
- Cows. You see cows everywhere…except Gurgaon, I guess. We really need to spend more time in the west side of this city. Cows walk about so placid and serene in the midst of the chaos of Indian streets, with the horns honking, and every type of transportation imaginable zooming by. They are like little Buddhas, seriously. They will stand in the middle of an intersection and just relax, or nap in a median. They really just don’t care.
- Resourcefulness and MacGyvering. MacGyvering is a verb that my dad and I invented. It means fixing something just using whatever you have available, and the more creative you can get, the better. This is great in India. It is one part of my personality that has found a home here. I have forever been an ardent MacGyverer, and I sometimes felt silly in the US, wondering if people just thought I was cheap or something, when really it was about the thrill of how creative I could be. I would say I am third at MacGyvering to my dad and sister.
- Tied to resourcefulness is the recognition of the value of everything, and to use something until it just completely disintegrates. This is something people in the US could definitely learn to do better. I am improving at this in India. It is better for the world, and I think better for our character to be aware of the true value of what we have.
Things I am not putting on my list that other foreigners might include:
- Household help is very inexpensive. I find this issue extremely complicated, and don’t see any easy answers here. It may be the American do-it-yourself attitude I was raised with, but it is probably more the justice component of it. Poor and marginalized people have few other alternatives when it comes to employment, so on one hand it is helpful for them to get a job. On the other hand, I have a hard time feeling I am contributing to someone’s dignity by hiring them to clean my floor or toilet. I am not used to it. I feel very uncomfortable about it. It is a collision of two different lifestyles: the one I lead and the one I know is led by someone who is forced to clean homes for a living. I don’t like being confronted with my wealth on a daily basis, and I don’t like being reminded that there is more I could be doing to try to make the world a fairer and more just place. I feel guilty.
- Very modern Western influences and amenities. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t really like globalization. While I like that people can have an improved standard of living, the turning of some parts of India into mini-USAs makes me sad. I think it is erasing and wiping out some of the flamboyance and color of India in favor of restaurant chains and malls. I like the dhabas (food stalls) and dukaans (shops) that you find in Jaipur. Some of the personal flavor and local color is just getting lost, plain and simple. The same thing happened in the US, and I think it is sad and something to be regretted. I will also venture to say that the high standard of living in the US is not environmentally sustainable (even in just the US), so how will it be sustainable when the rest of the world emulates it? I’ve decided that the one exception to this reticence of mine for progress is a blender/grinder. I peeled five heads of garlic the other night and made garlic paste in a pestle and mortar, and it was really annoying. So blenders are allowed. And yes, I realize the folly of romanticizing a rustic lifestyle. Health and other things improve as the standard of living goes up. I just wish the personality of a place didn’t have to go with it, and that there were more environmentally friendly ways of doing it. Deep thoughts by your blog writer.
Things no one will ever say they like about India (this list is short):