Before We Forget, Part 2

Continuing with our previous blog on the normal life of India that seems strange at first, here are more of the things that jumped out for us when we were new.

It’s always my turn: It’s always your turn too. It’s also his turn and her turn and everyone else’s turn. It seems like the concept of patiently waiting for your turn is just not part of the culture. This shows up in conversation when people happily talk over each other, neither taking nor intending to give offense. It shows up in traffic when people just edge into any open space without concern for anyone else’s desire to be in the space. It shows up at the elevator when everyone enters when the doors open without regard for who was waiting first.

The children have the biggest eyes and brightest smiles: There is something so heart warming when you happen upon a group of children, their eyes light up as they yell, “hello!” and “how are you?” and “what’s your name?” Then when you try to engage them, they seem baffled, since those phrases pretty much tap their English skills.

Poverty and affluence live right next door to each other: There are probably affluent enclaves that we don’t visit where one can forget the extreme poverty that impacts people in this city. That’s not what we see, though. We see the big houses with impressive gates right next to groups of tented tarps where families are living. We see expensive western malls with small children selling pencils and balloons outside, gesturing for something to eat. We see fancy apartment buildings next to dirt roads where people live without plumbing. From what we see, it’s impossible to ignore the poverty that surrounds us everywhere we go.

Just because someone is speaking English doesn’t mean you can understand them: Some people do not speak English at all, but most speak some and many are entirely proficient. Yet even those who are fluent are sometimes difficult to understand. English is spoken both very quickly and very softly, and the emphasis on a word is often not where we would put it. Speaking on the phone with stores or delivery people can be very difficult and probably very frustrating for them as they wonder why can’t we understand what they’re saying when they are saying it in perfect English!

A tremendous number of people work in each store: It is not unusual for the number of workers to outnumber the shoppers. Some of those workers will simply be in the way while you’re trying to get down aisles, as they stand about and chat. Others will follow you, offering assistance that you don’t want while standing closely enough that it’s difficult to see the things for which you are shopping. As soon as one leaves (after you explain that you’re just looking and would prefer to shop alone), another one takes their place.

We are photographed all the time: We’ve written about this elsewhere, but it’s worth including here too. For most people here in Bengaluru, we are walking, talking flamingos and they can’t wait to snap a picture. Usually we are asked to pose for “selfies,” but then end up posing while someone else takes a picture. We are not celebrities for whom the paparazzi are a necessary evil to boost our careers. We do not have stylists ensuring that we are always photo-ready. We generally dislike being photographed. And yet we smile when asked and try to not to get snippy with the 5th request in an hour. It’s hard to imagine what people do with all these pictures.

Communication modes are different: Here in India, there is no voicemail. When you want to reach someone, you either just keep calling or you send a text. If it’s someone you know, you message them using What’sApp. Because of all this texting, it’s frequently used for advertising. We don’t even know how we ended up on some of these lists, but we delete 10+ spam text messages each day.

And yet, for all of these strange things, this feels more like home every day,