As a writer of India, I am frequently asked what my interest is in a country few people think to visit. Most people don’t really care to hear the reasons. They have already envisioned an idea of what the country looks like even as I sing the praises of India’s wonderful tourist sites and it’s people. Oh, and the food!
Are they still listening? Nope. These people have nodded off because I didn’t give them what they really wanted to hear; This list of 10 annoying things about India and Indians:
1. Why Do You Keep Staring at Me?
Coming from a culture where we barely give a passing glance at most people surrounding us, it’s perhaps more than a bit of culture shock to arrive in a country where the general feeling is, EVERYONE IS STARING AT ME! In the hotel lobby, in restaurants, on the road, inside cars, buses and trains…AHHHH, stop staring at me. At home we would take this as an unspoken suggestion that maybe you should check your teeth for leftovers, or that pimple is ready to apply for a zip code. Yet most of us don’t even notice we’re being stared at in our normal surroundings. Cross the Atlantic into a foreign country and we’re suddenly blindingly aware of the different characteristics of the Indian population.
Some will say Indians stare because they are interested in you; Your fashion, your mannerisms, your speech, your approval or disapproval of their country. And others will offer their own irritation at being stared at. “I don’t know what their damn problem is,” a local once explained to me. Ugh, and the laughing. If you’re personality sides more with Woody Allen than the Dalai Lama, plan to travel with a therapist.
2. Can’t Say No
Westerners love to say no. We love it so much so, it’s not uncommon to hear people say, “Hell No!” Indians on the other hand can’t be brought to say no. Asking a yes or no question in India will commonly be answered with, “actually, it is…” Asking to meet at a certain time or to go to a particular place can be met with, “I’ll try, We’ll see.” Indians consider ‘No’ to be very harsh and they don’t like to disappoint. So rather than getting a quick determination on a request, tourists are often left wondering what ‘possibly’ means.
3. Hypocrisy Between Religion and Life
Hinduism and Islam are the most common religions in India. Followers are quick to educate foreigners on the societal laws of the country. And what sounds great on paper doesn’t always translate into reality. I once had a conversation with a tour guide about Hinduism, specifically his beliefs and how they applied to his life. We spent far too long talking about the ideals of Hinduism and as I questioned him further it was clear there were cracks in his theories. Topics about helping others in need and concern for one another are the basics of good moral consciousness. But when asked to give examples of how he helps his community, there were none. He was focused on earning enough to take care of his family.
Talk of sex in India is commonly avoided. In the movies it’s rare to see two characters kiss. Homosexuality is regarded as non-existent in most circles. And arranged marriage is seen as the poster child for successful unions. It’s no secret there is an entirely different reality surrounding sex in India behind closed doors. Affairs, a growing number of un-closeted gays and a rising divorce rate are just some of the hypocrisies between religion and life in India.
4. Everything is a Headache
Even locals will tell you, everything in India is a headache. From cops shaking down drivers for minor infractions to merchants watering down product or skimming small amounts from a package after it’s been weighed, some days one wonders how the country progresses. Ever come to a road block? Instead of simply driving past or looking for a quick detour as we would outside of India, locals find this a challenge to conquer. They simply must pull over, get out and add their two cents into what has become an argument of strangers. For no rational reason this growing cluster of people debate the reason for the accident, who is to blame, why they should blame them while inevitably moving to a debate about politics.
5. No Sense of Pride for Historical Landmarks
Travel guide books of India give wonderfully written descriptions of famous monuments, museums, historical landmarks to see. What they often forget to include is the rampant graffiti scrawled across walls, or etched into stone. Indians are infatuated with letting the world know they visited a particular place. As tourists we are bombarded with talk of how proud Indians are of their country. Yet locals and traveling Indians can’t seem to find personal restraint from defacing property which is hundreds, sometimes thousands of years old.
I’ve been told this is bad education, poor moral character. I’ve never caught anyone in the act during all my travels. One day I hope to meet up with an individual so I can ask, what are you doing and why? Is it really necessary to burn your initials into this tree?
6. Indian Standard Time
Planned a meeting at 9:30? Expect your guests to arrive closer to 9:45-10:00, possibly even 10:30. Indians move to a different time schedule jokingly referred to as Indian Standard Time. It’s not for a lack of clocks. Mobile phones are a personal fixture and everyone is checking them constantly. Punctuality in India is not the same as in the western world; however this is changing with the rapid integration of western standards within the country.
Tourists using a car and driver service will experience this at least once during a tour of India. A 9:00 AM scheduled departure may end up being closer to 9:30. The excuse? The car didn’t start, it needed to be washed, the driver was asking directions, etc. How do you react to this? You don’t. Let the driver save face and chalk it up to your first encounter with IST.
7. I’m in a big hurry!
And so goes the experience where queues are involved in India. Talk of corruption is rampant throughout the media and within inner circles. Yet, these are the same people who believe lines are not for them. Indians think nothing of cutting in front of each other in traffic. Heck, most of them don’t even look when merging into your lane. It’s expected that you will see them merging and thus, fall back to make room. While standing at a ticket window after waiting in queue for ten minutes at a railway station, you’ll be pushed from all directions by arms holding wads of money while shouts erupt behind you. Movie theaters, museums, festivals; Anywhere a crowd gathers you can expect to be pushed to the end of the line unless you quickly adapt. There is a fine line between Indian queue etiquette and aggressive western behavior. Learn the difference fast.
8. Apathy Toward Animals
Cows are sacred. Monkeys are revered. The rest of the animal kingdom in India, eh, not so much of a big deal. Trusts for tiger preservation, prevention of cruelty to elephants and a modest group of other NGO’s are gaining traction within the country. But the general reaction to animals by Indians can be sickening. Elephants are pulled from their mothers at an early age only to be beaten, starved, and drugged into submission for later use at temples and popular tourist sites. Stray dogs continue to be a tremendous burden on the country. Sterilization campaigns in the largest cities have been received with mixed results. Perilous reports of continued poaching of endangered species continues with seemingly no triumphant end. Urbanization to house an overpopulated country pushes monkeys, birds, reptiles and countless other species further and further away from their natural habitats.
To point a finger only at India would be unfair. Similar situations are perplexing a myriad of countries across the globe. Animal populations are rising along with humans. The education of how to interact humanely with the animals, how to curb the excessive growth patterns, how to safeguard future existence, is grossing lacking.
9. No Sense of Individual Property
The need to visit the toilet hit while I was typing away on my laptop. As I entered the bathroom, my Indian friend who was staying with me jumped on my computer. When I returned he was furiously browsing the web. The project in process before leaving to use the toilet was of no concern to him even though I was patiently waiting to return to it’s completion.
Morning showers start me off in a good mood. I travel with a particular soap while in India. Call it a ritual, it’s always in my bag. So when I reach for my special soap, only find it covered in long black hairs not belonging to me, it’s clear another of my traveling friends has helped himself to it. And the travel size shampoo bottle is much lighter in contents compared to just yesterday. Is that my towel, wet and crumpled in the corner?
I love to walk whenever I can stretch my legs after too many hours bumping between various cities in India. Returning back to my hotel room generally finds one of my friends rummaging through my bags. It’s not what you think. They aren’t stealing from me, simply exercising Indian curiosity to see what they can borrow for a short period of time.
Indians are fascinated with western products from electronics to beauty brands which they cannot find in their home country. Becoming accustomed to the lack of requesting approval before using your personal property takes a bit of time. What you gain is a rearranging of priorities along with the understanding that Indians would share any of their possessions with you in kind.
10. Curious or Making Fun?
For some people it’s a shy way of gaining your attention. They are as curious about us as we are about them. For others, it has to be mean spirited joking at your expense. While exploring a historical tourist spot in Tamil Nadu, I came across a group of young teenagers. Great bursts of laughter ensued as I passed. They in turn decided to follow my movements. The laughter followed and so did the loud conversations. One boy approached me to ask if I spoke Tamil. It was clear he was ensuring I was void of understand their language before digging in further to whatever course of conversation they were enjoying.
Examples of this occur regardless of location in India. It happens at home too. We’re all exposed to it, wondering if we’re being talked about, in what manner. All a tourist of India can do is ignore or confront. I prefer to remind myself it’s not about me, it’s not about me.