It’s easy not to know what to expect when you travel internationally. When I went to India I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. And, despite my feeble attempts to prepare myself (I listened to a lot of MIA before flying out), culture shock would be a minimal way of saying I was a “deer in headlights” when I got there. There were some things I learned while I was there, though. And, in the end, I left with so much more knowledge and experience than I ever thought I could gather in one place. So here they are, 10 things I thought I knew about India (specifically Bangalore, where I stayed).
1. Language: A majority of people in major cities speak English. I tried to learn Hindi for months before going to India, which was completely unnecessary (although, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy learning it).
2. Dancing: Bollywood dancing is damn. hard. It looks easy in the movies, but it will kick the butt of even the most in shape person. I would highly suggest trying to find a class if you travel to India. It was so much fun and a memory I’ll never forget.
3. Sickness: You actually CAN get sick from street food. It’s no joke. Several of my travel buddies got “Bangalore Belly” from eating the street food that looked/smelled so good. I’m not going to go into detail, but we’ll just say… you get sick in EVERY way. Indian street vendors do not hold to the same requirements when preparing their food as most do in the US, and tourist’s immune systems aren’t built to be able to withstand the same things as natives. Be really careful if you decide to try some.
4. Music/Hollywood: Kelly Clarkson and Lindsey Lohan were names I heard EVERY TIME someone found out I was American. I really think it’s funny that those are the two people who get associated with the United States. While I’m ok with the Kelly obsession, it mildly broke my heart that our international rep lies on the shoulders of Lindsey Lohan.
5. Social System: The caste system is real, and people abide by it. This really shocked me, because I thought that stories about castes had always been exaggerated. It was such an eye opening experience to actually sit down with people and hear their perspectives about what it means to be Indian and live in whichever caste they were born into.
6. Food: Indians take EXTREME pride in their traditional food. Once I sent back a barely eaten plate of food and the chef himself came out and asked me what was wrong with it. Nothing had been wrong with it, except that my mouth was on fire from how many spices were added. He was so upset. I finished my plate of food from that day out – spicy or not.
7. Hang out spots: Hookah bars are like Starbuck coffees in Bangalore. When someone first casually asked me to hang out at one I thought, ” Wait. Can’t we just get coffee or something?” Little did I know they hold a completely different meaning and atmosphere than they do in the US. There were so many on every street that I got used to the idea. But, I’m still a fan of coffee shops.
8. Animals: One of my first thoughts when I got to India was, “Why the hell is there a cow in the street?!” The traffic in Bangalore was pretty on par with a big city in Seattle during rush hour (except more rickshaws) and, yet, there she was. Not caring who was around, there was a cow crossing the street. Dogs were another animal that roamed freely in the streets, belonging to no one in particular. It was kind of fun to make friends with some of the dogs, but there was also always this thought in the back of my mind to call and report a missing animal.
9. Affection: Ok, so this one I HAD been “warned” about. It was fairly common to see men walking holding hands or with their arms around each other. In the US this would probably suggest some kind of romantic relationship, but in India? Just good (good good good) friends.
10. Our Impact: I couldn’t help feeling like the whole time I was traveling I needed to apologize for the US. We have so much more of an impact than we can imagine in countries like India. People dream about running away to where we live. People know our music, our movies, our tabloids. The US has so much more of a global voice than I ever had realized. What are we doing with it? I think traveling to India really made me become more aware of how I live and what I support. Just think of it this way – over a billion people are watching.
Do you guys have any good culture shock stories out there!? Leave a comment and let me know!