Reverse Culture Shock: India

Jul 15, 2014 by

… Or what being back in Canada is like after almost 3 months in India…

 

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I use the term “reverse culture shock” loosely. The following items aren’t entirely about culture, but life in India, generally speaking. These are things I’ve noticed as different to Canada, things I miss, or things uniquely India. Let’s go.

 

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Language

I think it goes without saying that one of the first things a person notices after traveling or living overseas is that the language (if not only the accent) is different. It’s always nice to understand what people are saying (like at home), but it’s also fun not to understand sometimes (and tune it all out). I miss the Indian accent; it grew on me like a rapidly sprouting vine. And I miss my little kiddies yammering away in Hindi, calling me didi.

 

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The art, the science, the craft, the religion of delivery.

Without fail, almost once per day, I think to myself, “If I were in India, I would just call someone up and get that delivered.”

You name it, it can be delivered in India. I first treated myself to this free home delivery service when I was wicked-hungover and desperately required Oreos and orange Gatorade. If it doesn’t cost any extra, why wouldn’t I get it delivered? Some people may have qualms with this, claiming that it is disrespectful or abusive in some way, but truthfully, the delivery service creates jobs for people.

If you want beer, medicine or cookies, it will be on your doorstep, just a phone call away.

 

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Traffic. Honking. All the noise.

India is synonymous with blaring horns and functionally disorganized traffic. I adapted quickly to the streets and taking rickshaws because I spent my time with people who live in India; I just followed their leads. During my two week trip through India and Nepal, I was reminded how unusual this way of driving is to the Western world. I loved riding in rickshaws and other forms of local transport with people who’d only been in India for a few days. Their shrieks and tightly squeezed eyes had me cackling straight from my diaphragm.

Now that I’m home, traffic just seems predictable and silly. People cope with a lot less on the road here and don’t fare as well as Indians do.

 

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Excuse me, there’s a man behind you riding on a white horse in a wedding procession, and you are staring at me?

INDIAN MEN STARING

It’s no mystery that Indian men are known for staring. After a couple of weeks in Mumbai, I realised that Indian men are harmless, despite all the shit they (and the country) get in the media. Of course, one must be careful and not taunt a large group of Indian men, but they only stare because they are curious and uneducated. The kids I worked with (who are from the slums) asked why men would stare at their didi, and hearing this made me so proud of them!

This, I do not miss!

 

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Haggling and being ripped off and taken for all my white-slash-foreign skin is worth.

Yes, just because I’m white, Indians assume I have a lot of money. By their standards, this may be true, despite my tight student/volunteer budget. Every time I went to a market, any market, I had to be in the mood to haggle. Sometimes this was fun, sometimes I had a good laugh with a shopkeeper, but sometimes the salespeople were outright rude. Granted, they weren’t always Indian, but the experience of haggling can be a bit tiresome, especially when I just want a bag of cucumbers and don’t want to have to spend three times as much as the Indian lady after me. That said, even paying three times as much was usually pennies. So… I guess my student budget really did go far in India.

 

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Eat with the right, wipe with the left.

The notion of having one perpetually dirty or tainted hand became normal to me. Still to this day, I am aware of how I use my left hand, thinking people might judge me for misusing the poop hand. In India, it’s customary to eat strictly with the right hand and use water (from a bucket or a bum gun) to clean yourself after a number 2. This splashing is done with the left hand. I can’t say I ditched my western toilet paper using ways completely, but by the end of my stay in India, I really appreciated the bum gun, and now I think I need one whenever I have my own home (and the money to install one!).

 

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Drinking tap water

Wait, I don’t have to filter it? I can just drink it like that, straight out of the tap?

This is endlessly thrilling now that I’m home. You have no idea. Or maybe you do. But then you’ve probably been somewhere like India.

 

Flushing toilet paper

Another serious thrill. When I was in Qatar visiting Colin and Claire, I actually shouted to them through the bathroom door, “Can you flush toilet paper here?” and Claire promptly answered, “Yes!”

Since India, I have caught myself a couple of times looking for a waste paper basket for my toilet paper, and when I remember I can flush it, I triumphantly toss it in the water and flush with zeal.

 

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Sunset time

The sun went to bed every day sometime between 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm during my stay in Mumbai. This was disorienting when I went to Europe and visited a long lost friend in Wales. We would spend the day adventuring and exploring, and by the time we were ready to come home, it was well past 9:00 pm, and the sun still hadn’t set. Meanwhile, I thought we still had all the time in the world to dawdle and cook dinner and watch a movie.

The sun sets late in Winnipeg during the summer, and I think I am slowly getting used to the lingering daylight hours once more.

 

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All the animals

The animals were everywhere in India, and my heart broke for them every single day. I knew this had become normal to me when I saw a friend post on Facebook about a lost dog she’d found in a park somewhere. My instinct was that she should just leave it alone, and why was she even bothering the dog when there were hundreds of other dogs roaming the street homeless, nibbling off their own fur from the itch of the fleas – oh wait… I’m in India. You’re in Canada. This was a jolting reality check.

Now… Here’s a brief homage to some of the cutie cute animals from my time there.

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And last, but never least, this little guy. I had a massive meltdown at the end of the day, after this tiny kitten slept in my arms one afternoon. It was earth shattering. When I get the heart to, I will write about it one day and share the story.

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To finish off, I’d like to share a video I made a few weeks ago, right when I returned to Canada from my journey. Things were still fresh and vibrant in my mind, and I wanted to capture it all while it was raw. Here it is… I hope you like it.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/98222034]

 

Have you ever been to India? How did you feel when you got home?

Also, have you ever been curious about volunteering in India? I am going to write a post all about what I went through to volunteer with One! International, and what I think you should know. I am going to cover things like visas, accommodation, food and even a little bit of ethics. Is there anything YOU would like to know about? Let me know in the comments below!

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14 Comments

  1. I would like to think I am adventurous and open minded and hopefully would be traveling abroad. But, the one thing I feel I could not concede on is a flushing toilet with toilet paper! 🙂 That part about the men staring was fascinating and even I was uncomfortable reading it. That’s because I don’t like to be stared at. Thank you for including the pics of all the animals and especially the puppy! 🙂 Great post, Colleen 🙂

    • Colleen

      I think most travellers are uncomfortable about the staring… but once I got my footing in the country I would just stare back!
      And I was of course thinking about you two when I posted the puppy pic… even when I took these animal snaps! Cheers fellow animal lover!

  2. As you know, I didn’t make it to India on this trip and I’ve never been there, but so many of your “reverse culture shock” moments are ones that I still recognize after my prolonged time in Asia, particularly the ones to do with hygiene and drinking water. And it is SO quiet in the west, it was actually quite disconcerting at first… I couldn’t sleep at night at first because I was so used to the hustle and bustle acting as an urban lullaby. At first I thought the quiet would be unsettling, but I have come to appreciate it. I also love how clean and open the streets are here (though I would go back to the cramped, crowded streets of Asia in a heartbeat!).

    Also, I totally get what you mean about haggling. I think part of why I so easily got over my previous shopaholic ways is because in Asia it is so much more of a hassle to buy stuff because of the haggling portion. Yes, it can be fun at times, but sometimes I really missed a mall/standard supermarket where the prices were marked and you didn’t have to worry about getting ripped off. Hence why I fell in love with 7Eleven where you knew you were paying the same for a bottle of water as everyone else!

    • Colleen

      I can understand how silence can be disconcerting… it’s like something is wrong or amiss after the lively and cramped streets of places like India or SE Asia.
      As for the haggling – totally agree. And regardless of the standard price of a bottle of water, I could always find issues over paying 10 extra rupees which is less than 20 cents. Isn’t that goofy!! I would refuse to pay 30 or 40 rupees when I knew I could get water for less. I guess I was just there too long, haha!

  3. I agree with Steph on the odd feeling and uncomfortableness with silence. – I still have it and when I can, even if it’s -30 outside… I’ll sleep with a fan running for the white-noise it offers.

    • Colleen

      Isn’t that insulated silence of winter astounding though!!!?

  4. You can’t flush the toilet paper throughout much of Central and South America, either! I don’t miss the wastebaskets of Nicaragua… The animals are heartbreaking and beautiful. That goat in front of the blue door!! Priceless. The kids are just KIDS! It’s weird, as this privileged American, I have this nasty tendency to sometimes envision those who live in poverty as unhappy — and they look like some of the happiest kids in the world. Your video is mesmerizing. Thanks for sharing!

    • Colleen

      The first time I experienced this no-TP-flushing rule was in Mexico. I thought it was the grossest thing ever, but the more I travel, the more I realise that it’s actually less of a norm to be able to flush. We are just so sheltered and pampered in North America, living these bizarre sterile existences.. don’t you think?
      And you are right about those kids… this experience with these people completely changed how I see poverty.
      Thank you for the nice comment about my video. I’m so happy to hear you liked it!

  5. Aww, that kitten is so cute! In fact, they’re all cute: animals, kids and even that goat chilling in front of the blue door – love it. Reverse culture shock is an odd thing, it even took me a week or so to adjust from Montreal life to back to London, I can’t imagine how odd it must be going from India to Canada. The haggling thing would get on my nerves after a while I’m sure, I’d probably be getting a lot delivered!

    • Colleen

      That goat was so weird. I’m not even sure it counts for a goat. It’s like some weird alien hybrid animal in my imagination.
      I think anytime one hops continents, there is a strange sensation that goes with, but to me that’s half the fun, as I bet it is for you too… why else do we travel?

  6. Delivery everything sounds amazing!! Recently I’ve really wanted there to be a way for me to get frozen yogurt delivered. That would be heaven.

    Oh the dear “bum gun”! I miss that for washing my feet! Even in the States I seem to still acquire really dirty soles and it’s annoying have to step in the shower 😉

    • Colleen

      Haha I never thought of using the bum gun to wash feet. There are apparently loads of ingenious ways to use that thing! Love it.

  7. I can relate to a good portion of this, as I live down in Ecuador part of the year. It always takes weeks to adjust back to language (people know what I’m saying? I can speak English?) and the tap water and toilet paper things, haha…we take such things for granted, that is for sure!

    • Colleen

      Living in Ecuador sounds fun! Love hearing about other people’s experiences, so thank you for sharing. It’s so cool how travellers can unite on these funny language moments and other cultural jolts.

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