Monday, November 5, 2007

What's so different about India?: Part one

Hi, all. Sorry to have been out of touch for a bit. We've had several power outages in the past few days which, as I understand it, is pretty much par for the course here in B'lore. (I'm actually spared from the worst of it because my apartment has a back-up generator.) This morning's power outage was intentional, due to some building maintenance. It's funny - in the US, a planned power outage would be preceded by a week of nice little reminders and apologies under your doormat with an 800 number that you could call if you had questions or concerns, but in India they just flip the switch. So if I'm ever talking to you and get cut off, or don't return an email for a while, don't be offended or concerned.

One funny thing that happened repeatedly in the weeks leading up to my move (they call it a "shift" here actually) is that when Indian or India-smart people would find out where I was going they would shake their heads and say some variation of, "Oh man. Are you sure? It is SO different there!" When pressed for details, however, they were rarely able to provide high-level specifics about HOW and WHY it is so different. So one of the things I'll be interested in doing here is seeing if I can manage to articulate to people at home and to myself WHAT exactly is so different about India. (Because it is true that everything is.) This will be a running theme so you'll hear about it repeatedly, but here are some notes on things I've noticed so far:
  • When I posed this exact question to someone I was talking to in the Delhi airport, he gave me the following answer: "I'll tell you what's different. In the U.S., boyfriends and girlfriends live together. This would never happen in India." I thought he was trying to tell me about the nation's entrenched social conservatism, but then he asked me if I had a boyfriend, which, as I later read in a guidebook to India, is a concrete sign of sleazy motives. Unfortunately I hadn't read the guidebook yet, so I answered him honestly, which only made things worse. :) But it probably does still stand as a fair answer to the question of what's so different about India.
  • I'm actually the most directionally-aware person I've run into here so far. (Those of who you have been in a car with me are shaking your heads in bewilderment right now.) It's not that people don't know where they're going, it's just that they have NO use for north and south, or even street names. (It's actually pretty hit-or-miss whether streets are signed at all.) Even official addresses will say things like "5th cross street, opposite the post office". I asked a security guard to help me find something on my map the other day, when all of a sudden I felt this hand on my arm, and looked down to see this odd, short British guy who told me (say this in a British accent with me now), "DON'T bother showing them maps. They haaaate maps. Even the rich ones don't know how to read maps." I wouldn't exactly say it like that, but it's kind of true. Getting directions seems to consist of rolling down the window at an intersection (or just stopping in the middle of the road...whatever) and yelling out the window to someone who looks like they speak your language and might know where you're trying to go. But I've actually developed a pretty good sense for where I am and how to get the next place I'm going. So to those of you (MJ) who like to make fun of me on this front, I say: I'm not dumb after all, I was just born in the wrong country! So there.
  • There seems to be a much lower premium placed on the value of independence. People in the office thought it was weird that I wanted to take a couple days off to get everything squared away before I started work. They kept saying, "Just come in! We'll tell you everything you need to know." Or just now, for example, I asked a colleague what kind of doctor I should see for the nasty back pain I've been having since that 30 hour plane ride last weekend, and she said, "Oh! There's this doctor, he's a friend of mine." She then describes in true Indian style how to get to his office ("You know Ulsoor Lake? There's a hospital near the lake called Lakeside Hospital. Well, across the street from the hospital is his office. You go down this curvy driveway and it's the one on the left."), then said she would just take me there tomorrow at lunchtime. I feel like that wouldn't happen between co-workers in the U.S. unless they were really close or one were really sick. (Which I'm not. So don't worry, Grandma. :) ) So anyway, I'll be curious to find more examples of this interdependence, and I think I'll come to really like it.

That's all I can think of for now. Pictures coming soon. I love you all!

1 comment:

Zach said...

Interesting, Anna… No use for north or south?! That's crazy! I almost have a hard time believing that. And I love all the shout outs to your family ;).