Sunday, May 3, 2009

From the eyes of a Tourist

With nothing much to do, I was killing time by browsing through the net, one of my favorite pass time, when I stumbled upon this article. It's been written by some foreigner who came to visit India. Its about some of the observations that the author made in India. Titled "Prepare for Culture Shock in India", the author seemed to be a great observer, like me for the things noticed. Though all the points mentione are very true, but it is not the kind of image you would like a traveler to take with him/her. Here's the link to the article, do go through it before proceeding further :

Now, there are a few things that even I have observed, and I have often chuckled inside.
The first one- "Holding Hands" that the author mentions. Well, its so rampant here, men holding each other's hand while walking etc. I read about it in newspaper that in the west, men holding hands implies they are gay lovers. Its a universally accepted gesture there, surpassing the borders.
So each time I see two men holding hands here (and as she points out, its rampant), I just think- how is it that they aren't aware of it? ANd I can only chuckle in my mind.

The other point- "Colour", is another thing that we all must have observed. Its really disgusting to see how Indians ogle at white skinned people, at the same time, make insensible comments on dark skinned. When a person comes to visit your country, the least he/ she could expect is proper treatment at the hands of the native people. Equally disappointing is the fact that the government has hardly done anything to wipe out such discrimination, though it exists on paper. You make some insensible comment based on their skin colour in the west, and you are dealt with strongly. While such jibes are common here, I have never heard of any action being taken. We have got used to tha fact I guess. But, it is a really shameful thing.

After reading the article, I mailed the author, countering each point of hers, trying to explain why she noticed it. But the one thing for which I couldn't provide any explanation was the fixation of Indians with skin colour. I simply wrote- My apologies for what you went through.

So please go through the article, at least you will realize how inconvenient we make others, and how these small things leave a bad impression on foreigners. Surely, you wont like someone to go back with a bad image of your beloved country.
(And if you were too lazy that you didnt click on the link, or if the page didnt open up owing to the pathetic net speed of ISM, I am copy- pasting it here too)

Prepare for culture shock in India
Sunday, May 03, 2009

India packs a big culture-shock punch for first-time Western visitors. Some of what I observed -- begging, extraordinary poverty -- surprised me by being so extensive. Other things I was unprepared for:

Hand holding

Indian men and boys hold hands, or sometimes just clasp pinkie fingers together, in public. It is not a gay thing, apparently, and I'm not sure it even connotes affection, since PDAs are frowned on in India. It was weird the first time I saw it, but I got a lot more used to that than the habit of public urination and public adjustment. This is seen all over the place.

Of all the people out and about on a daily basis, 90 percent seemed to be men who are not working. There are still arranged marriages and boys are coddled. This is from an article in the Hindustan Times by a writer named Samar Halarnkar:

"How do you get your children interested in cooking, especially your sons?

"It isn't easy, given the legion of kitchen-illiterate males our middle class produces. Sons always were -- and continue to be -- willing victims of the mera-raja-beta (my precious son) syndrome of adoring mothers who indulgently serve their sons and watch them eat."

Head waggle

The head waggle is kind of a shoulder shrug, but with the head. It usually follows a request and the closest translation I could figure is "whatever."

I had seen this early on in my trip, but it didn't crystallize until one morning in Jaipur, when we went for a rooftop breakfast at our hotel. My friend Kim, my hostess in India, went to the buffet to ask for cereal for her daughters. The unsmiling young man behind the buffet waggled his head, left-right left-right. And didn't move. (Although we eventually got the cereal.)


Non-Indians are the preferred targets for beggars. Kim said she has seen India natives reach out and smack panhandlers. Travelers are advised not to give, because the result will be more beggars or simply the same one with another hand out (which happened to us in Jaipur).

Many beggars did not seem to be destitute. Firm fleshy cheeks, healthy-looking babies, good teeth. But the deformities are dreadful and rarely seen in the United States.

Only once did I see a beggar get a handout. On the way home with Kim and her daughters one night, at a big intersection, a bearded man with one whole leg and the other amputated halfway up, wearing a thick loincloth, a shirt and a turban, was dragging himself along on his rear end, banging on car doors. Finally, a window rolled down, a hand came out and offered a bill. The beggar stared at it, then showed it around, before dragging himself off as the light changed.


It's clear from the beautiful saris, brightly decorated trucks and ubiquitous flower garlands that Indians love color. The poorest beggar-women wore vivid saris and had jewels in their nostrils.

Skin color is another matter. Our pleasant afternoon at the park-like tomb of Moghul ruler Humayun in Delhi was marred by two incidents.

As we entered the grounds, a group of teenage boys stared and giggled at Kim's black skin. Later, two bearded, toothless old men, turbaned, wearing long flowing clothes and walking with sticks, pointed at her and whispered. These things happened almost every day, and Kim rarely missed an opportunity to call people on it -- especially to remind people that the president of the United States has black skin, too.

When I walked about by myself, I felt stares as well, I could only guess it was because of my white skin. But no one outwardly laughed. It happens to Kim all the time.


Western travelers are advised not to eat fruit unless you wash it in bottled water and peel it yourself. Oh, the temptation is everywhere, though! When traffic stops at intersections, the coconut and watermelon vendors swarm out with delicious-looking wedges. In Paraganj, one man had a cart piled with the most gorgeous mangoes I had ever seen. Finally, on the plane home, I surrendered and ate the rather tired pineapple accompanying breakfast. And a few hours later was rather sorry.

Personal space

Indians seem to have few issues with personal space. One afternoon after shopping, we had stopped at a Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch so Kim could get dinner for her daughters. (The chicken tastes exactly as it does here!)

When we were done eating, Kim went to use the restroom. As I waited for her, an Indian couple sat down at our table as if I, our trays and drinks were not there.

It was a little awkward.

For me, that is.

Katy Buchanan can be reached at or 412-263-1523.
First published on May 3, 2009 at 12:00 am


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