Before you Move to India…

Before I made the decision to move to India, I talked to my (then) future husband, to my other Indian friends and I read as many books, magazines and articles that I could find on the topic. I also haunted traveler forums getting practical advice from people who had “been there, done that”.  I also had my earlier 3 week visit to India and all my experiences there to draw from.

So when I moved, I was fairly positive that I was at the very least MARGINALLY ready for any contingency.

But I forgot the old saying of “You can never be too ready.”  I was marginally ready for some issues but woefully unprepared for many others.

Let me be very clear. The differences and challenges I’m about to discuss are in no way a reflection on things that I think are wrong or that are inherently wrong, they are only things that I found as challenges based on my own geographical raising and the culture I was raised in. In other words, in one place something may be acceptable and in another, the opposite is true.

Let’s discuss those today.

Being from America and living here in India for 3 years, I see many similarities in Cultural aspects that only go by different names or some twists or outright changes. These made me very comfortable and gave me a false sense of understanding. I say false because you can never fully understand a people from another society, even after living there for multiple years.

Some things are just too ingrained in your nature to fully comprehend theirs. This is not a bad thing, it’s just the truth.

Challenges…

  • Honking. It drives me nuts. People honk when their turning, coming up on another car, to tell a car to get out-of-the-way, when they’re frightened, to get a dog/cow/goat/horse to move out-of-the-way and to get guards to open gates faster. They aren’t going to stop.  Get over it. Why? Because it’s the law to honk on public roads when your making a turn or coming to a blind corner. People just do it everywhere now. At all times of day or night.
  • As mentioned above, there are a LOT of animals in the road or in colony’s or on the curb or in parking lots or pretty much anywhere you look. Most of them are not vaccinated. Some of them are owned, some are not. Some people care for them, other’s do not. Some people help them, some people hurt them. If you are a helper, be ready for a lot of backlash for it. Some people will then want you to take responsibility for any animal you feed or they’ll just blatantly tell you to stop. The Law protects you and covers you for being an animal lover but you’ll really have to fight hard for those rights.
  • People here love to over-talk others. It’s socially acceptable to most. You will find some who find it rude, but they are few and far between.
  • It’s acceptable to raise your voice to be heard over others but not to yell or scream. Apparently there is an understood decibel level that you should not rise above. I haven’t gotten this down yet and so am accused of yelling….frequently. Even though to me, raised voices are as unacceptable as yelling and most of the time the people sound to ME as if they ARE yelling…when apparently to them this is ‘raised voice’. Here, only raising voices is acceptable no matter what.
  • People often sound like they are yelling at each other or arguing with one another when in fact they are just having a passionate discussion or perhaps that’s just how they are. It’s confusing if you don’t’ speak the language and it can make you feel uncomfortable.
  • Speech as an Art Form:
    • Implying is a form of speech here. To imply something without saying it so that one can back out of ever having “said” any such thing even though everyone knows that’s what you meant. You can’t pin some people down to an absolute honest and straightforward answer.
    • Purposely giving misleading information is another form of speech here. This leaves the onus on you to either argue your point or defend your stance or to leave it and let everyone believe whatever lie the other person “implied”.
    • Purposely misinterpreting what you say or write. This is a popular one, because they will stick to whatever opinion they’ve formed based on what you didn’t write or say. Even after explaining they will fall back on their next favorite method of Speech.
    • Argumentative. People here will argue you blue in the face for the fun of it. It’s an art form and similar to bickering over cost. If you don’t do one or the other, you’re seen as a weak target and easily over run.
    • Barking. I only just learned what this means. I’ve seen it happening for 3 years but never had a word for it until this week. In the US we would call it lip service. It basically means that people like to say things but not act on them. They like to complain in a way where they won’t be held responsible. Especially effective if they can say whatever they want, knowing that it bothers you and then sit back and watch while you become upset.
  • Responsibility. This one is a very touchy subject with people living here. Mainly because they would prefer not to take responsibility for something. Many people would rather you take responsibility or do the work for something that they want done. This way, they do not have to do it, they can tell you how to do it and they do not have to take responsibility if things go wrong. You see it in all aspects of life here, from Government to everyday life.
    • For Example: There was a recent meeting about the Society Dogs (yes…again) brought on by a complaint by someone here in the Complex to the Animal Welfare Board of India to the Society for abuse/cruelty towards animals, owners and animal lovers. During the meeting, a dog hater brought up this as an example:
      • “What if a four-year old goes to play on the swings and his Mom is watching from inside the house when she sees a dog trying to play with the child but the child doesn’t understand so runs away and the dog attacks the four-year old and kills him. Who takes responsibility?”
      • My Answer: “The parents. Who let’s a child of that age (an immature child) out to play without adult supervision? I call that a negligent parent. And why didn’t the parent teach the child how to be around animals? In India there are millions, they will see them everywhere.”
      • Uproar.
      • New Scenario from different person: “What if that same four-year old is on the swing and it breaks? Then who’s at fault?”
      • My Answer: “The parents. For not first checking the equipment their child was playing on and reporting any issues to the Society Management.”
      • Uproar.
      • I was told later that the correct answers would have been “The dog lovers” and “The Society Management”. I snorted and walked away.
  • Corruption. ::sigh:: Please don’t get me started on this topic. It’s rampant and wide-spread and you deal with it everywhere. From your local Babu who wants to force your local Kirana shop to close on certain days or to pay a “fee” for operating in the area to the Police or Government officials who want “gifts” for doing their job. Societies have little fiefdoms of people in power or who have a family member in politics. Don’t be surprised if you’re pulled over by the police and given a bogus ticket. Money is the grease of palms here and you better be ready to whip it out at the drop of a hat. Getting all mad and righteous might make a difference today but when you face it a few times a week you have a choice between your mental/physical well-being or doing what’s right.
  • Racism/Reverse Racism: Yes it is here. More towards each other (other Indians) for differences related to states (similar to the North and South rivalry if you added some violence and not giving jobs to people from the reverse area), religion, and caste or skin color. But it does happen with “white people” mainly because we are all lumped into one category: RICH. Which means you will get people trying to rip you off or to pay more for something that someone else pays for. You’ll also get lots of dirty looks or lewd remarks and inappropriate touching in certain locations where they can get away with it (like crowded locations – I was once butt pinched while in line to enter a temple place, from then on, my husband was stationed behind me and I led the way). You’ll also get special preferential treatment, which will make you feel special and nice till you realize how everyone else around you is being treated and then you just feel sick and guilty. It can be a very isolating experience over a longer period, because you are daily being singled out either for great treatment, shitty treatment or stares. Remember how you would go somewhere blithely? There is no blithely here unless it’s in an area with a LOT of other foreigners and the people living there are used to seeing people like you.
  • Health: There are many things here to be mentioned and truly I couldn’t possibly go over them all. If you were raised in the US, it’s going to be far more difficult for you to live here and not have health issues unless you are an especially hearty person. For people like me, I found that I was sick two or three times a month. At least one serious illness every 3rd month. Indian medicines can sometimes make things really better or sometimes make them much worse…it’s a crap shoot and we’ve taken to telling doctors that my body reacts extreme to medicines so they give me lower dosages for certain issues.
  • Depending on where you live, you will deal with dust/exhaust/chemical/pollen pollution. In some places you will deal with them all. Where we live we have them all since this place is still under massive development. The humidity can also cause problems with breathing.There are Gyms here but they are few and far between in our area. Since I cannot drive that far on my own and there are limited reliable/trustworthy rickshaws in the area, it makes it impossible for me to join them. Also, the closest one is a ‘gents only’ gym. The ladies gym is further away.
    • For Example: This Monsoon the humidity was so heavy I had to go to the Emergency room for a session with a steam inhaler and oxygen.  There were 12 other people there at the same time getting the same treatment…and they were Indians. It affects everyone sometimes.
  • Chiropractors are really hard to find here in India. There are a few but that’s for all of India and the closest one to me is about 12 hours away. Not exactly good for a weekly alignment. I’m really in need of a neck and upper back alignment but no go. We don’t have a bath tub that I can even take a hot bath in to help relax.
  • Mental Health:   This is another touchy subject here. Mental Health here has the same stigma that it had in the US in the 60’s. Recently this had begun to change and I have lately seen Psychiatric and Psychological Center’s opening.  It’s got a long way to go yet though.
    • For Example: I’ve recently had some rather scary symptoms crop up. I felt like I couldn’t breathe or take a deep breath; I felt light-headed or dizzy; I would feel hungry, eat and then feel sick to my stomach; clammy skin or flushing, disassociated feeling (like being unconnected), numbness in hands and feet and some feelings of fear. We finally would up going to the Hospital Doctor, who after examining me and finding nothing wrong physically – spent 10 minutes asking about my life and found that I was having a long-term Anxiety attack (I had felt this for over a week). Now I’m on multivitamins, anxiety medication and sleeping pills. I feel better but my Western mentality is telling me that I need to see a Psychologist to help me work out WHY I’m anxious since I’ve been dealing with the same stress I’ve always dealt with for the past three years …so why NOW? Saturation? Increase? Exhaustion? No time to heal? Who knows.
  • Infrastructure and Amenities: You never realize how lovely a well paved road is, 24/7 fresh clean water from the tap or electricity that’s always there…until you don’t have it anymore. We’re lucky; we have a bore well that always provides us water even if we have to filter it to drink it. We still have water anytime so we can do our laundry or clean our floors and bathrooms (each of these requires daily cleaning here– no joke). Otherwise, you’re going to have to store water in plastic buckets for cleaning and metal ones for “drinking” water. Going anywhere is a journey of torture on some roads. The jarring, jouncing, bouncing, jumping, bumping, swerving and blaring are all enough to limit the amount of times you go beyond your general area.
  • Mosquito’s. Ugh. Enough said.

OK, so what can you do to make your life easier if you still chose to move to India or really have no choice BUT to move?

First and foremost, get yourself healthy RIGHT NOW. Stop smoking, lose any over-weight; get yourself into an exercise regimen. Get yourself healthy so that your body will be healthy when you move. You’re body will need everything it’s got to be ready for the different virus bugs here, the water issues, the air pollution, the changes in atmosphere and cleanliness.

Save up some extra money so that you can buy the following items immediately upon arrival:

  • Generator : This is for when the power goes, it should be big enough to run whatever is most important to you from the TV or AC unit to the Frig or Water Purifier.
  • AC Unit. It’s a must for getting used to the changes in temperature, the extreme heat and relief from humidity.
  • Water Purifier. It’s a must, trust me. I suggest the Aquaguard Total SENSA from Eureka Forbes. It has E-Boiling +, UV+, RO+, UF+, and SMP+. Which means it cleans the water thoroughly and gets rid of the salty after taste. It’s going to run you about 18,990 rupees. Not cheap but a MUST.
  • Water Heater which here is called a Geyser. If you like cold showers even in winter than don’t worry…but if you want a hot shower or hot water for anything in your house, then you need a Geyser. They only get installed above the faucet you’ll use it for. It’s not like in the US where it’s a large unit for the whole house. This is a smaller unit holding less water and is compact enough to fit above your shower or sink. You can easily get an Immersion Heater which is a hand-held metal prong that you but in a bucket of water to heat it, but then that means no hot showers. A good 25 liter geyser will cost you between 5,000 and 7,000 rupees.
  • Gym Membership. You don’t think this is important but trust me it is. There isn’t any place really safe to jog or ride a bike here like we have in the US unless you live in a huge complex or society. To keep your health, get the Gym Membership but I would suggest getting one in a Gym either older than 5 years old or in a hotel like Radisson which offers specials for use of their gym, pool, spa and discounts on dining and room stay. We did this and it made a HUGE difference. I say this because our Society Gym was wrecked within 5 months of opening by people not knowing how to use the equipment and the Gym that opened in our area a couple of years ago closed one day with no notice and no refunds for anybody…even members who bought 5 year Gold memberships (not us – we had the Hotel offer).
  • Language Tutor. This can be cheap or costly depending on where you are and if it’s a private tutor. Either way, save the money for it. For example, we were going to have a private lady tutor to come to our house twice a week for two hours each. We had to pay for her transport to and from and the total was going to be 26,000 rupees for one month. Let me tell you…that’s a lot of freaking money. It was also all we could find for our area.
  • Transportation:
    • For remote locations: A Car and driving instructions class upon arrival.
    • For city locations or close to: a Scooty for going to shops or stores that are a little further away…don’t forget the helmet.

Naturally you’ll buy a TV, Frig and Range for cooking, buckets for water storage or washing…you know, things like that. But those are given. Almost everyone get’s those without a second thought here. But the other’s are things that people just don’t think about here or if moving to here.

Also, before you move, really consider the area you are going to live. My suggestions?

  • If you are shipping household items to India, it will take about 2-3 months via an actual ship, which is cheaper and the course most people take. If you do this, make sure that you have a reliable customs agent lined up in the India receiving customs area who can facilitate your shipment out of customs and have it delivered to your home. Otherwise…I kid you not, you are screwed. Our items sat in customs for a month and a half longer than they needed to because every time we called to check if they were there we were told they were not. We finally hired an agent who then gained entrance (agents are allowed this) and physically searched, found our items and then get the paperwork in order, got us to come, bribed the official for us, and five hours later we were allowed to leave and our agent got our things shipped to us three days later. They even unpacked some of our things for us. But wow. What a headache and I was freaking out because this was my book and movie collections, albums, pictures, knick knacks and a few other items.
  • If you love Movies or Books or Music, be sure to bring yours with you. You aren’t going to find your entire favorite collection here and even then you would most likely have to buy. It’s rare to find a place where you can rent books or movies. Our local Movie Rental place just closed down after two years of struggling. We have a book rental called Just Books but it’s small and the collection isn’t very varied (their big on romance novels for some reason). Most people here either buy, borrow or….well you know.
  • Try to live in an area that is established and finished with lots of shops and transportation nearby. This way you can be somewhat autonomous even if you haven’t yet learned the language. You can still go out to shop or get your own groceries as and when you need or want them.
  • Make sure your Society Complex has water supplied either by the city or a bore well and that they have a good Security team in place. If you have pets and are bringing them, make sure that the Society doesn’t have by laws about them. It’s actually illegal to not allow pets, but rarely is the bylaws challenged here so they can get away with forcing you out or your pet out.
  • Try to find a flat with a bathroom large enough that you can have a bathtub installed. TRUST ME. There have been many times that I have needed it and not had it. Like strains and pulled muscles, sitz baths or just regular relaxation (which is needed often here). A tub is a little piece of home that is just sitting waiting for you even if you don’t often use it. Try your best to get one installed. BE SURE THAT THE FLAT HAS AT LEAST ONE WESTERN TOILET. Trust me, if your sick the last thing you want to worry about is if you have the strength to hold yourself up over the Indian style one.
  • Buy a Floor Squeegee and Toilet Paper ASAP. It will take time to get used to feeling wet when you go to the bathroom. Or worst yet, you forget to take off your sandals or shoes and walk into the bathroom and sit there and look at your once clean floor and realize you’ve left big black print marks because the floor was still wet. In Indian bathrooms, there is no separation between bathing area and the rest of the bathroom like we have in the US. The bathroom here will easily get wet either due to someone taking a bucket bath or shower or someone using the sprayer wrong or it leaking. The Squeegee is on a long pole and will allow you to swipe all the excess water towards the drain. The bathrooms don’t always tilt properly so in some cases you will HAVE to do this to get the water up. The TP is for your own well-being and you know why. It will take some time to get used to. Carry them in small packs in your purse too if you’re a lady. Public restrooms are the WORST here unless you’re in a new mall. Don’t be surprised to see an Indian toilet instead of western.
  • Get used to the fact that you will need a daily maid to clean your house. Just get over it. I know you used to keep your house clean, work full-time AND do the cooking and laundry in the US…but in India things are different. Your floor and bathroom need daily cleaning. There are no dishwashers unless you got extra money to spend and even then you need to buy a geyser to make the water hot for it. No clothes dryers either. Dust builds up in a day not a week. The floor is all tile and gets dirty in hours…not days. Cooking here is a preparation.  So just get used to the fact that you will need a maid and tell yourself that it is OK.
  • Also try to leave nearby to the work place of whoever is working. This will help reduce the stress of a long commute. Even if something seems only five minutes away to your US mind due to the mileage, it can still be a 40 minute drive due to the traffic or road construction. Try to talk to other people in the workplace on the best place to live CLOSE to the office. Don’t buy until you are sure of that.
  • If possible, before you arrive, have a reputable Doctor lined up or know where the BEST hospital is at. Trust me, even if it’s a good hospital you are going to find it dirty and far from the standards you are used to in the US. The Doctors and staff are generally very good and knowledgeable, but the standards of cleanliness do not always match that. That’s why it’s best for your mental well-being to already know where the BEST hospital is before you move so you know where to go in an emergency.
  • Also, they have ambulances here but they aren’t used the same as they are in the US. It’s harder to get one to you in a timely manner so that is why you will see most people brought by car or rickshaw. Be sure to have someone come with you that can take care of buying your medicines and medical equipment needed. They require someone to do this for the patient before care can be given. It’s not like in the US where they keep track of what is used or bundle it in to a cost and then you pay after. Here, you pay as you go.
  • Learn to let go. This is the most important thing I can suggest to you. Before I moved here, I knew that my personality was the kind who hates to see injustice and would fight it when it was found. But in the US I was like a crusader in a city without crime. Here though, you can find it everywhere. From how people treat their help, to how people drive as if they own the road, to the way or way people will talk to you which you take as rude and they think is normal conversation. Remember that the way you did things in the US is not the way they are always going to do things here in India whether it makes sense to you or not. If you let it, every day…heck several times a day, you can find things that will rankle and irritate you if you are anything like me. LEARN TO LET THESE THINGS GO. I’m not saying that you should not fight for what’s right, I’m saying that you should pick your battles, understand that there is only so much YOU can do and that you sometimes are going to just have to let it go if there is nothing else left for YOU to do. Don’t expect other people to continue or even understand what you think is common sense or logic. It’s that way for YOU or for us because that’s how we were raised. It’s not necessarily so for people here and that doesn’t mean we are right or that they are wrong. It’s just the deal.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you can make a go of living here, that’s great. But if you find you can’t don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t judge yourself based on other people, other foreigners, living here. They may project a perfectly blissful life here and the truth may be very different. If they tell you any differently, take it like you would anything…with a grain of salt. Living in India is hard even for people born and raised here, so it’s no shame if you find it too hard to bare either.

So, why am I giving you all these tips?

Because I wish someone had told me all of this before I moved.

After three years of living on the outskirts of our city with little to no interaction with the outside world except when my husband or neighbor can get me out (or my travel to the local Reliance store), I have become Isolated, slightly Agoraphobic and am now on Anxiety medications.

So prepare yourself. The prevention is always better than the cure.

What about you? Any tips you’d like to share?

©2012 Gori Rajkumari. All rights reserved.

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How to keep an Expat Housewife Sane – Pictures

Ever wondered what is required to keep an Expat sane in India?  Especially an Expat Housewife with nothing on her hands but time?

Ever wanted to know what was required as a Spouse of an Expat Housewife in India to keep said Expat Housewife sane and happy and not ready to dance on your head the moment you get home from work?

Well look no further!  These pictures will explain it all!  ;P

Lots and Lots of Movies! © Gori Rajkumari

 

Yes.  I really do have all the Harry Potter Movies.  Yes.  I bought them.  ::sigh::

 

Lots and Lots of Books!! © Gori Rajkumari

 

Yes.  I brought my entire collection of Stephen King and Nero Wolfe books to India.  Yes.  It cost a fortune and more than the books all together were worth.  No.  I do not care.  Yes.  I am making my husband ship them all back.  😛

 

Lots and Lots of Salsa and Chips and Pepperidge Farm Cookies! © Gori Rajkumari

 

No.  I did not share with my husband.  Yes.  He did sneak chips when I wasn’t looking.  No.  He’s still alive.  For the moment….

 

And CHOCOLATE and COFFEE!!! © Gori Rajkumari

 

Yes.  The Chocolate IS the reason why the Husband is still alive.  😉

 

And Lots of trips to Chili's which I hated in the US and now can't get enough of! © Gori Rajkumari

 

Yes.  They have the Oldtimer Burger there.  No.  It’s made from Lentils, Potato and Other various mashed veggies.

 

Do NOT forget the Mosquito Bat! Hours of fun to be had! © Gori Rajkumari

 

Yes.  That IS a dead mosquito you see in the top right hand corner of the racket.  Yes.  I did enjoy killing him.  VERY MUCH.

 

36" TV? OK. Cricket? YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG! 😛 © Gori Rajkumari

 

Yes.  The Husband still needs training.  No.  He does not realize that American Football and Baseball are the only acceptable forms of sports entertainment to be watched over long periods of time that do not extend beyond 3 hours.  Yes.  Cricket extends WAY beyond 3 hours.  No.  You may not ‘do him in’.  😛

 

© Gori Rajkumari