Going to New Delhi: A Word to the Uninitiated...Particularly Female - New Delhi, India by Debbie Sealey
I loved this article and wish I had read it before I went to India as a complete traveling novice. I have just spent a month in India - touching only on the tip of the iceberg (Delhi, Goa (mostly), Bangalore, Mumbai). I didn't understand what culture shock meant back then - now I think I do. I was very cross with the whole country when I was leaving. I was tired of feeling like a mark when I had tried to be kind and act in a respectable way. BUT I am going back in a month to try again and this time I will be better prepared, although I will be traveling on my own. I didn't see poverty that bothered me but perhaps I am used to the begging with borrowed and drugged babies on the streets of London. Having some coins in an easily accessible pocket (so the wallet doesn't have to come on display) helped, especially when older people asked. Giving to children is a very bad idea. Our guide told us about a childrenâ€™s charity called CRY http://www.cry.org/whatwedo/whatwedo.html
I was particularly shocked by the dual charging system for foreigners which operates at all levels (including government) whether its paying for flights, hotels, regular shopping, visiting places of interest etc. I know the people in general are poor but to charge me up to 25 times what a wealthy (or poor) Indian is asked to pay just didn't seem fair at all.
Another thing that got under my skin was the way Indian men look at western women: at the beach, they will plonk themselves in groups near ANY woman in a swim suit and on one occasion, I saw them take out a video camera. This shocked me all the more because the guide books all discourage photography of Indian women without first getting permission. On occasions when we thought we had found a secluded beach, a pair of Indian men would come along and wait for me, staring all the while, to come out of the water. In the end, when I felt uncomfortable, I swam in a dress.
One last feature applied to the Goan selling women in particular; over the years, they have mimicked cockney accents perfectly and they will think nothing of targeting a potential buyer en mass so at times it felt like torture. I got sick of giving the evil eye to women who approached me with the words 'remember me from the beach..?' when I had obviously never met them before. We were advised by locals that giving the persistent street/beach sellers the idea that you are a bit of a crazy is effective. Humour can work and can be wonderful but especially in the heat, if you have a bit of a tummy bug and you are just plain tired, it isn't always the first response. My partner used to entertain himself by speaking rubbish back to them, so for example if they tried to sell him something, he would tell them the time, smile and walk on.
Saying all this, the people I met were hard working and good natured and despite all the heat and dust, the place was cleaner than I expected. The whole month felt like a great big music festival (without so much music) complete with the toilet experiences. No matter how out of my depth I felt there and how I might not fully understand or condone some of the behaviours, things WORKED even though about 20 times more people were involved in making each part of any process do so.
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