India's people -
Stop being so nice to me
Disclaimer: This post does not attempt to give an exhaustive description of the Indian people, because obviously that’s impossible. In India, you can find billionaires and beggars, atheists and monks, brown and black people (some white, but not too many).
The number one trait I will give the people of India is hospitality. Their Sanskrit saying Atithidevo Bhava, ‘The guest is equivalent to God’, has definitely influenced them, to the point where it starts to make you feel uncomfortable. Multiple times I have been disarmed by their serving acts, whether it’s calling it an ‘honour’ to bring me to the bus or a gift for visiting their church. The biggest annoyance is when they simply refuse to let me pay for a meal.
Indian culture is a culture of respect and family, both of which can be found in everyday language. It’s still difficult to get used to older people calling me ‘Sir’, just because I’m giving a communication training. In the beginning, I was confused to hear Nathaniel speak about so many uncles; how big is their family? Until I realised that they just call anyone uncle and auntie when they’re an older family acquaintance. Even the kids in my building call me uncle. And when it comes to interactions between younger men, the word ‘bro’ is unavoidable, even if you’ve met them 30 seconds ago.
People are somewhat shy. I remember a young hotel worker serving me at the restaurant, ever so calm, quiet, and polite as Indians do. I came there 3 meals a day, so when I showed up the third time his shy and composed face turned into a beaming smile that is genuinely happy and excited to see you. I get the same smile from the security guards at our building. When I walk along the streets and they stare at me with a surprised and tiny smile, smiling back at them creates a huge grin on their face. And of course there is the smirk when they wonder at me like I’m from a different planet and then take a selfie with me.
And speaking of shy, most of these interactions have of course been with men. From the ca. 100 selfies on the street, two were with girls, which speaks for both the timidity of girls and the fact that generally I would see more guys on the streets. Although it was a different story altogether when I came to make a video about the Nazarene nursing college.
A whole book could be written about the appearance of the Indian people. The most typical attire for the average male would be a dress shirt and sandals, with either loose dress pants or a lunghi, a kind of cloth that you wear in the way you wrap your towel around your waist when you forgot to take your underwear into the bathroom. Important to complete this outfit is a moustache in any shape or form.
Womens’ clothing in India is a real treat for colourful pictures. The average woman would be wrapped in a Saree, with a matching scarf hanging on her shoulders and part of her waist exposed. The colour palette and combination is endless, but my favourite is probably a bright yellow. The most common accessory is carrying a baby on the left arm. A silky thin headscarf that constantly has to be put back can also be spotted, along with some golden jewellery. Altogether the dress seems comfortable for the loose fit and soft fabrics, yet also terribly annoying for having to rearrange the pieces of cloth the whole time.
Another common accessory is an umbrella, but not for the rain. The reason for it is illustrated on a billboard I saw: The model’s face was more fare on one half, and more tanned on the other. In Europe the same picture could be used to advertise a spray tan, but here the two words were ‘bye tan’. While one of our media representation flaws is to make you feel inadequate unless you have the body of an Olympic athlete, here it is a fixation on ‘whiteness’. All the beautiful billboard models and actresses don’t carry any resemblance to the average woman on the street. Not because they’re too beautiful, but because they’re too white. 90% of these women look like they could also be Turkish or Brazilian, and of course these kind of women can be found in India, but you would struggle to find a billboard featuring the beauty of the darker Indian girls.
And now that I’ve let out the critical cat out of the bag, I might as well continue on some of the negative issues. It probably comes to no surprise that India is a male-dominated society, where the women spent half their day in the kitchen and wife jokes are completely acceptable. And for all the super friendly people, there are also plenty of salesmen and taxi drivers trying to rip off the rich white guy. The most unfortunate part about it is that it makes you more suspicious towards the genuinely nice people.
And then are some observations that I will categorise under ‘cultural differences that seem a little weird but are neither good or bat, just different’. Different is good, right? One of these would be the liberty to burp wherever and with whoever you want, and clear your throat as loud as possible without anyone bothering; yay freedom! Something funny is to see the kids wearing their backpacks all the way at their bottoms, a trend that I was also part of about 10-15 years ago. And then there is the liberty to spit in public. It is almost something of a job requirement for taxi and auto drivers, and definitely a good reason for pulling up to the side to open the door and water the plants with some spit (definitely happened). Although the public services don’t seem to agree, since I’ve spotted various ‘NO SPITTING’ signs in the metro. The spitting ritual is probably part of what some of my Indian friends call ‘stupid, primitive, and uneducated people’ (their words, not mine).
Okay let’s move on to the topic of language. In case you didn’t know it yet, Hindi is sort of the official language but it’s only 1 of 23 official languages, leaving aside the 600+ dialects. It is amazing how many languages people speak, and with my 3,5 languages I’m more like average. And that is also the reason why so many people speak English, because it is the only way they can understand each other! Yes that’s right, for some people English is their most-used language, and having a jolly Indian accent doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not their mother tongue. And even if they don’t speak English, when they speak Hindi they still use a lot of English words because Hindi doesn’t have a word for ‘hospital’, ‘traffic’, or ‘current’ - this last one being of special importance because the current often goes. The nice thing is that means I can follow the general outline of a conversation. So this results in people speaking ‘Hinglish’, which means having outstanding vocabulary, an Indian accent, and some different phrases. A few of my favourites include:
It’s there only (as in ‘It’s right there’)
SO much of money
Did you take bath? (for asking whether I took a shower)
Even me (for saying ‘me, too’)
Hello? (The way of making sure the phone connection is still there)
So that’s it, a collection of observation and memories and a tiny glimpse into the people of India. It is a diverse and complex society, that probably should be more than just one country. But its people are some of the nicest hosts, and they will definitely warm your heart if you let them.