India, cultural differences.
In India, I'm not finding that to be true at all. I'm not trying to make it a criticism, it just feels alien in a way nowhere else I've ever been has. To my eyes, a lot of it is negative, but I'm wondering to what extent I'm biased and it's just different.
The smoking and spitting everywhere (and how you need signs, mostly ignored, to encourage people not to do it everywhere from elevators and buses to clinics). The pushing and refusal and queue, sometimes literally clambering over the young and elderly.
There's a taboo with the left hand, but spitting everywhere, especially where you're walking, is more unclean and spreads more disease than wiping your hand with your ass and thoroughly washing them.
I wince every time I see a group of guys trying to pose with a western woman, with the inevitable grope/slap or push as they try and cop a feel.
The bystander effect, involving anything from fights to traffic accidents. I read one story about a crowd on the beach calmly watching a few kids drown, and it seems totally believable to me.
Not that I'm immune, I don't know what to when I see a person or animal mistreated. I saw one guy toss a LIT cigarette onto a dog. And then toss lumps of sand onto it, for no reason, while his friends just watched. A street worker breaking rocks started throwing rocks at a passing beggar woman. I'm not sure, but I guess it was because she was slightly darker skinned than he was, but to my eye they were pretty similar.
I was thinking some of it may have to do with how densely packed India is. A lot of my perceptions seem to have to do with respecting each other's space. If I ask someone not to read over my shoulder or spy on what I'm doing on my computer (openly reading my chat conversations), back home they'd understand.
I really like India, the history, the richness of the culture, the food... but it's also really difficult to deal with sometimes.
And not that my own country, obviously, doesn't have plenty of social issues. But if I confronted someone throwing rocks at another human being back home, they'd on some level understand why I felt it was wrong, and I think on some level they'd think it was wrong, too.
I'd really like to learn why there's such a divergence between here and elsewhere regarding customs and social interactions. Anyone have recommendations for that or other advice?
And I really am trying to understand, and not just criticize. So if I'm missing something, please, please let me know.
I've also encountered incredibly friendly and kind people here as well, but some of the things I mentioned here, among others, feel more common. Maybe I just don't notice the kindness or familiar qualities as much as the alien or negative.
Just because the culture around you has a reputation for 'enlightenment' or colorfulness and has a long legacy, if you personally witness despicable behavior you can feel free to reach out and just say "No!"
I've done it places where I didn't speak the language but I was not going to stand there silently while some inhumane act was perpetrated. And I was successful in ameliorating the act because sometimes people are just so beat down and so used to the cruelty of the status quo that they just don't care any more and feel incapable of intervening.
When you stop caring you are defeated. I don't give a damn where you are or how old the culture is, ugly is ugly and wrong is wrong and dammit you know the difference.
Chances are that observers will be so surprised by your outspokenness they will be shell shocked by it. No one will challenge you.
Do not stand by aimlessly observing acts of cruelty. As long as no one speaks up, no one will speak up. One voice can matter in this world. Sometimes that voice is yours.
If you hate India, even after all the tales of its enlightenment and its heritage and its milennial greatness and the food--get the hell out. It's your money, your life, and your time spent. If you think it sucks, leave.
You can't change the world but sometimes you can affect that which is directly in front of you. A traveler who is unsure of the conviction of his own values will soon be lost.
I've just passed my second month in India, and I think I'm coping with it a lot better than when I started.
Being able to sleep helps. I go out of my way to try and find a quiet guesthouse. Of course, India being as noisy as it is, sometimes I just get screwed anyway. Even fancy hotels seem can have loud/drunk staff or packs of dogs baying at the moon nearby.
Still, sleep helps me remain patient. Have patience, remain calm, and keep smiling. And when you can't do that anymore, get the hell out. I'll take a day off and watch movies, or hole up in my guesthouse, or splurge on a meal. Does wonders for staying healthy, too.
I've been avoiding the more congested cities. That's an aspect of the country I'm just never going to learn to love. The bigger cities are polluted, filthy, and chaotic.
When I don't like a place, I leave as soon as possible. I originally tried to travel only by train, so I would end up in locations for days longer than I really wanted, which didn't help my mood. Now I'll jump on a bus or ride second sitting class within hours of arriving just to escape if it doesn't strike my fancy or come with the recommendation of someone I trust. I've never had a train or bus ride that was worse than staying somewhere I didn't like.
I've also sought out more tourist-centric places in between lesser visited areas and monuments. It's nice to chat with other travelers or people from back home when you meet them, and it's a good way to pick up buddies for those more out-of-the-way destinations. Always helps to have someone who can watch your back and let a little of the pressure off.
Speaking my mind has definitely helped from keeping things bottled up. I'm no closer to understanding WHY people treat each other, foreigners, or animals a certain way, but at least it's cathartic to let people know that I don't agree with their actions.
No, you can't treat another person/animal that way. No, I don't think it's okay you lied to my face. Yes, I think that's rude. Please give me some privacy.
When it comes to anything involving money (and many interactions that may lead to money, such as random people asking you to take their picture and then demanding you pay them) I've just learned to be immediately distrustful. Even if someone is very friendly, sometimes especially if they are, I double-check any information they've given me. This includes something simple like directions. Politely declining someone's request that you buy something seems like it can lead to intentionally inaccurate information, just out of spite.
Other times, there's a language barrier, or maybe the person simply doesn't know what they're talking about. So double-checking can save a lot of time and energy. Friendly people aren't always smart or well-informed, alas. That's true everywhere.
Oddly enough, my becoming less friendly and more distrusting has allowed me to enjoy my trip a lot more and has even increased the purely friendly and welcoming interactions I've had with local people. I enter a conversation suspicious, and let my guard down gradually. If something ends up being a scam or ploy for money, I immediately excuse myself. Politely, if possible, but brusquely or rudely if necessary. Although the man who asked to shake my hand then refused to let me go until I came into his shop came awful close to making me angry enough to hit him. I settled for dragging him halfway down the sidewalk and snubbing him whenever he tried to talk to me afterwards.
And when it turns out someone IS just being nice, it can be wonderful. I've gone to a wedding party, drank whiskey on the train, been invited for tea, and just had interesting conversations and learned a lot about new people. When people are too extreme in the other direction and are too friendly (bordering on stalker-y or just at a time when I don't have the energy to have a 3 hour conversation on why I'm not married), I just excuse myself as quickly as I can without hurting their feelings.
I just assume prices have been more than doubled whenever I ask the cost of something that isn't marked. Taxis, tuk-tuks, bottled water, clothing, whatever. If someone tries to take advantage to an extreme, I just refuse their business and go to a competitor who is (slightly) more honest. And I try to remember that it's almost never a lot of money. When someone blatantly cheats me, I let them know I understand they cheated me, that I'm paying them anyway, and that I'll never be back, so they lost any of my future business, and the business of anyone I talk to. Maybe that won't matter or will have little to no effect, but there's not much else to be done.
Plus, even with the more honest businesses, it's good to realize that almost every price is negotiable. I'm paying half the listed price for the hotel room I'm typing this in because it's low season and there were 15 keys hanging on the wall indicating unused rooms and I offered to stay multiple nights.
So in the end Sophie's advice helped a lot. India is amazing, but it's also fucking exhausting. I've got about 3 weeks left before I head to Nepal, and it's a bittersweet feeling. I've really enjoyed my time here, but I think by the time my visa expires I'll be drained of energy and ready to leave.
I'm still no closer to understanding the how or why of India, but I've definitely learned to deal with it a lot more productively.
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