DO NOT do these in India

  • Never eat food from roadside stalls. They are not bad, but your system is not accustomed to such delicacies and you might end up sick.
  • Never drink non-boiled or not bottled water. Even many Indians who have lived out of India for a few years sometimes suffer stomach upsets on drinking local tap water.
  • Don't offer bribes to get any job done. Leave that to a local. Bribe taking and bribe giving are a common practice in India but it is a very complicated art. You can do much damage to your cause by getting yourself exploited and not getting what you want.
  • Don't make fun of Indian English. Indians are very proud that many Indians speak (some with a strong accent though) and write better English than most native English speakers.
  • Never get upset when someone asks personal questions relating to your age, marital status, income and family background.

What was the most difficult aspect of adapting to Indian culture as a German woman, work in India and raise a family?

  • A certain lack of privacy especially within the extended family
  • The dominant role played by the elders in the family
  • Getting used to the fact that by marrying an Indian one marries the whole family
  • As a daughter-in-law one was expected to change almost overnight into an Indian woman
  • An obvious lack of civic sense even among educated people
  • Apparent indifference to cleanliness outside the home
  • Noise everywhere

The joint family is an ancient Indian institution, but it has changed very much. Ideally several generations live together but actual living arrangements vary according to region, social status, and economic circumstances. Even when relatives do not actually live together, they typically maintain strong bonds of kinship and attempt to give each other economic help, emotional support, and other benefits. This arrangement is very hierarchical and different from communal living. It is not easy getting used to the fact that by marrying an Indian one marries the whole family and is often expected to fall in with the wishes of the elders against her own inclinations. I was lucky in that my extended family was small and somewhat westernized and I had an understanding husband who allowed me to remain myself.

What are the biggest challenges of Europeans who move to live in India nowadays?

It all depends on the circumstances.

You will have to get used to seeing squalor and poverty staring you in the face almost everywhere, dirt, heat and dust, noise, ubiquitous chaos, humanity in plenty and often disastrous infrastructure. If they marry into an Indian family, they may have to put up with interference with their private life. If it happens to be an ordinary middle class family they might have to do without certain amenities they are used to (e.g., uninterrupted supply of electricity, modern kitchen, toilet paper is very costly here). If the person comes as a 'sahib' living in one of the metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Kolkata or New Delhi or the other cities like Bangalore - they will now be able to maintain their western standard of life easily. Actually they can even have a better living standard as they can afford luxury club-life and servants! Maybe it was easier for the post war generation of Europeans to adapt to India. Then we had to learn to do without things and be hungry. This gives you the ability to make compromises. The values we grew up with  i.e., dignity of labour, civic sense and individual responsibilities are difficult to notice on the streets of India but can be found amongst the driving elements of this vibrant culture.

The 'culture shock' for a 'greenhorn' will definitely be there. But, trust me, you can cope with it.

Advice to foreigners moving to live in India nowadays.

  • Prepare yourself! Learn about Indian culture, religion.
  • Don't ever entertain any idea that any race is superior or that the orient is more spiritual.
  • Don't feel guilty when confronted with poverty.
  • Don't neglect the hygiene rules, i.e., boiled drinking water, no roadside food etc.

"The apparent chaos really works, trust me!"

says Christel Das from Kolkata, India who has lived, worked and raised a family in India since 1959.

Namaskar/Namaste! I am Christel Das from Kolkata (Calcutta earlier), India. I was born in Germany in the mid 1930's but nowadays I live in India. I will share with you the unique perspective of Indian culture that I have acquired by living almost my entire life in a Bengali joint family and working with culture. My involvement with diverse aspects of both cultures in my own work, social life and travels, friendships and contacts as well as constant reading has really enriched my life.

Famous Quotes on India (by non-Indians)

  • Albert Einstein - We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.
  • Hu Shih, former Ambassador of China to USA - India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border.
  • Romain Rolland, French scholar - If there is one place on the face of earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India.
  • Mark Twain - India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.

The second culture in our series is India.

Read also about China

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