Steven Guest, on how surprisingly organized the unorganized streets of India are.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A trained electrical engineer, a pastor, and a Bible teacher, Dr. Steven Guest was born in the US, but has lived in the United Arab Emirates for ten years, and has traveled extensively abroad before moving to India, where he lived for nine years. He is married and is a father of two adult children and a grandfather of five children. Steven and his wife now live in the Philippines.

What were your first impressions of the country? And has it changed at all?

First impressions, that’s difficult. I have had so many ‘first impressions’ of the country. On the first visit in 1999, I landed in Hyderabad, took a train, taxi, ferry, rickshaw, and jeep to reach my final destination of the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. The vastness and crowdedness of the city was a stark contrast to the rural beauty of the villages I visited near the coast. Then I had first impressions of Bengaluru, Pune, Delhi, and Allahabad on a two-week visit in 2009. Even after living in the cities of Abu Dhabi and Chicago, the cities of India “took our breath away” in terms of the noise, crowds, and pollution. After living in Bengaluru for more than six years, we are less “intimidated” by the cities and have found the country to be filled with dissonance and fascinating opportunities.

Coming from a completely different culture, there must have been some things that came as a shock, what were they? And how did you get over it?

Yes, there were many things that “shocked” us. Traffic was a whole new experience—even after living in the United Arab Emirates for ten years and traveling for months at a time in the Philippines. There is nothing like the traffic in India. The other distressing thing was the dirtiness of the cities and the total disregard for the general welfare/upkeep of the city. Traffic was shocking with its “unorganized” and chaotic “patterns.” We marveled at how, for the local population, it actually worked. I remember thinking one time that watching traffic in the streets of Bengaluru was like watching the activity around an anthill. So many people coming from each and every direction, yet no one seemed to get hurt, and all eventually made it to their destinations. We were able to “get over” our shock by living on a walled campus that was well-tended and cared for. The perpetual beauty and relative quiet helped us forget that we were living in India. As for the traffic, we never tried to navigate it by ourselves but walked, hired rickshaws and taxis, or took rides with friends so that we would not be a hazard to ourselves or others.

Traffic was shocking with its “unorganized” and chaotic “patterns.” We marveled at how, for the local population, it actually worked. I remember thinking one time that watching traffic in the streets of Bengaluru was like watching the activity around an anthill. So many people coming from each and every direction, yet no one seemed to get hurt, and all eventually made it to their destinations.

A lot of expats we’ve interviewed mentioned that it’s difficult to build genuine bonds in India. Was that true to your experience as well?

Not at all. We were able to develop friendships and other personal relationships readily in India. We were very saddened when we came to the realization that the Indian government was going to make it difficult for us to stay through the unwillingness of the Bureau of Immigration to provide the necessary visa and residence permit.

What would you say were the best and worst things about living in India?

The Best: definitely the people, even if there were LOTS of them. We were able to build meaningful and lasting friendships with many. We enjoyed Indian hospitality immensely (even if we did eat too much or even if the foods had too many spices and/or chilis). The Worst: had to be the traffic. Traffic chaos was compounded by the ineffectiveness of the government to maintain the roads to any standard of reasonable quality. Moreover, even when roads were relatively clear and smooth, the constant lane strictures and speedbumps that impede the traffic were an obnoxious source of harassment.

Do you think the expat community can bring an influence to the local community? If so, how?

Obviously, any person can influence his/her community for good or ill, whether expat or local. I would like to think that we made a positive contribution through our work and lives for the time we lived in India. Taking the time to enter into the culture of India is necessary to make a positive impact. Learning that “different” does not necessarily mean “bad” is a good way to begin to evaluate if our contributions will be accepted or rejected.

Tell us about the process of moving to India.

I had made four short term trips (approx. two weeks each in 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2009) to India prior to my transition to live there in Jan 2013. I visited India for a month in 2010 to interview for my future position on the faculty of the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (Bengaluru). Then I returned as an adjunct faculty in February 2011 and October and November 2011. So, I had a pretty good idea of what I should anticipate when I moved in Jan 2013 to assume my full-time residential faculty role in Bengaluru.

Taking the time to enter into the culture of India is necessary to make a positive impact. Learning that “different” does not necessarily mean “bad” is a good way to begin to evaluate if our contributions will be accepted or rejected.

Let’s talk about working in India. What were the two most memorable experiences you’ve had while working here?

Over the course of the last nine years of living and working in India, I have had too many memorable experiences to accurately identify my two most memorable ones. Having traveled to the north (as far as Himachal Pradesh) and to the south (to Kanyakumari) and to the east (in Andhra Pradesh), there were sites that were breath-taking (mountain vistas, ocean seascapes, lush green jungles), we were able to appreciate the tremendous variety that is in India. But what left a lasting impression was the people of India—the friendships that we made would remain forever in our hearts.

What are your views on the work culture in India, especially in your industry?

Given that I worked for a Christian seminary, I fear for the Christians in India. The recent turn of events and the radicalization of many Hindu elements in society is a matter of grave concern. The abuse of power by the authorities and the majority rule that is uncharacteristic of a democratic, secular, constitutional government is quite worrying.

Did you ever get homesick? If yes, what did you miss the most?

I don’t think we ever became “homesick,” according to the common understanding. Obviously, when you live ten time zones away from family and the familiar, there are times when the differences are heightened, and the distance feels great. Being a world away from home when family is facing health crises, weddings, births, deaths, etc., can be difficult.

Any advice to newbies?

Take time to learn the culture. Read about the history of India. Engage in meaningful relationships with Indians and look for new experiences that can broaden your own horizons.

Alexandra Bret on Why Adapting is Better Than Struggling With Culture Shock

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Fifteen years after her first visit to the south of India, Alexandra Bret, came back as an exchange student, learning Hindi, at the age of 45. She decided to spend a little more time in India, after finishing her Bachelor’s degree in Delhi, to better understand how the country and the Indian society works. She teaches French and also works as a consultant for a cultural project based in Paris.

 

What were your first impressions of the country, 15 years ago and last year, when you arrived for the second time?

 

The first time I was here was 15 years ago, there were very few expectations. This time, however, the first thoughts I had was this is a very noisy country with a lot of mess, and people everywhere, all the time, but it is also a country filled with colour! There are lots of curious people, and usually, this curiosity is quite benevolent.

India is a country that can make you experience extreme emotions. There are days when you will love India, and days when you will completely hate it.

 

Would you say that it’s changed over the course of living here?

Of course! It has changed— what I said previously pretty much remains the same. But yes it has changed because now I have the experience of living here for almost a year. So, I got used to a few things. Now, I would say that I don’t even hear the noise anymore, except when they keep horning when they drive, and this is something I am not sure I can get used to.

 

Culture shock is a struggle every expat goes through, what was your biggest one?

Maybe to live, as a woman, in Delhi was my biggest cultural shock. Sometimes when I go out and when it’s time to go to the metro station, out of habit, I would light a cigarette. I did that here once and immediately knew that it wasn’t a very good idea. I could see how people were looking at me, especially men, because I think they thought that I was disrespectful towards them.

For me, the biggest shock sometimes, even in big cities like Delhi, is how women act. The place of a woman is different here, in comparison to Europe, and it’s quite difficult for people like me when you come from a country where girls have the freedom to go out alone and dance, etc., and feel safe. And that was the most difficult thing to adapt to. When I go out in Delhi in order to meet some friends and have dinner in a restaurant at 11 o’clock in the night, I call an Uber, but won’t wait for the Uber outside as first it’s not safe, and secondly, people would think that it’s normal to accompany me as I am a woman and I need to be protected. Therefore, the most important cultural shock is the relation between men and women, how women should act, and how their behaviour should be. For me, this is the biggest difference I had experienced here.

 

How did you get over it?

 

You don’t get over it, but you get used to it. I could not imagine acting like a Parisian as I do in Paris now that I live in India. So, I try to act as Indians do, because I think it’s a question of respect to adapt to the culture. However, it doesn’t mean I accept those things that happen to women in India, just as you don’t have to accept the wrong things happening in the world.

What is the best and worst thing about living in India?

Actually, I think the best and the worst thing are two faces of the same coin, and this is their conception of time. Yesterday, an Indian was explaining to me that if we have an appointment, coming 10 minutes late for it is not considered a big deal. The people here will take their time to do things and of course when you’re not used to it; it is a cultural shock. You might think that if they are late, they’re just being rude but if you get used to it, it could also work as a margin time for you. People just take it easy here, and I think if I do the same, maybe my day will be less stressful.

If I say I’m going to do finish this, at this particular moment, it will be finished at that moment. It was very difficult for me at the beginning, in India, because people said yes, yes it will be done, but when? You have to get used to this kind of flexibility. Moreover, this flexibility can also be a benefit for you, this doesn’t mean that you can’t be firm. In some situations, if you really need something, you have to ask firmly, and if you don’t, you can get exhausted by waiting for things you want.


Do you ever get homesick?

Of course, I get homesick, and especially for food. I love Indian food, but I miss French food. I crave cheese and real chocolate which obviously you can find in the market but which is very expensive as it is imported. There is some good Indian chocolate as well, but they are as expensive as imported chocolate. I miss my friends as I am not able to converse in my language. Now, of course, you have WhatsApp, but sometimes I feel like sharing things with the people I am close to face to face. 

I would say I also miss the silence.

 

Do you have any advice for newbies?

I would advise not to struggle with the conception of time, rather, try to accept whatever comes your way. Sometimes things won’t go as fast as we want or at the required pace, we are used to. Also, yes, we can be homesick, but I manage because I try to think though I don’t have what I want, there are other things to enjoy. And last but not least, take the time to maintain good health. There are many good doctors in Delhi who are as competent and good as there are in Europe. Even if you have a little problem and you don’t recover, don’t hesitate to go and see a doctor because they know what happens here. Take time to rest to get used to the weather, to the noise because Delhi can be easily an exhaustive city, but if you take time and protect yourself, you can really enjoy it.

Why learning the local language makes you more relatable.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Me tumse pyar karti hu” and “aap pagal hai? Me pagal nahi!” were the first Hindi sentences I learned. For some reason, the people who taught me these sentences thought it would be the perfect first-few Hindi lines for me. Almost a decade later, the only other Hindi phrase I could say with confidence was kitna hai? In nearly ten years of living in India, I only knew three sentences, two of which were practically useless. 

You see, Hindi was as foreign to me as Polish is, or Japanese is to me. Besides the word jalebi— which I used to pronounce as jubilee— I didn’t know anything else. Truth be told, I did not know anything India until I boarded a plane to Delhi. After my arrival, I had the perfect excuse to why I never learned to speak Hindi, “I’ve always lived in a multicultural environment that required me to speak in English,” an expat bubble, so to say. Speaking to vendors, cab drivers, auto-rickshaw drivers, and even police officers for instructions was a task. The frustration to be understood was real, as if I was entitled to be understood. 

Fast forward to four months ago, after moving back to Delhi, I was living alone and trying to navigate my way around the culture and language all over again. This time, I did not have the safety net of a family to help me express myself in the local language, nor did I have a flatmate, who was better at Hindi than I was. Often, I would have to call friends over the phone, or patch them into a call to speak to whoever. It was always a hassle. If that wasn’t complicated enough, I started working at an agency where everyone often conversed in Hindi, even in meetings. It felt like the universe was conspiring against me. I had no choice but to pick up Hindi! As I write this, my knowledge of Hindi words has increased, I understand some of the numbers, though I still find pachas (50) and chalis (40) confusing, I understand everything else under 50. I’ve also started learning how to say other phrases that are more useful, like “khaana khane chalo,” “kaha pe ho?” And other less useful lines such as “sale, mera bi khale.” I can manage to put together a bunch of words and say what I need to say. I’ve yelled “aap pagal hai?” at an autorickshaw driver for overcharging me, while storming away with a big grin because I was finally able to use that phrase— I felt victorious. Though not understanding word by word, I now get the gist of what people are saying. One thing I noticed immediately, after learning to express myself in Hindi better is how people no longer seemed rude. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of them still are, but I had a slight change in perspective.

Learning the local language goes beyond merely communicating with ease, it opens you up to understanding the culture and society deeper, until you’re no longer the foreigner who speaks to them with an accent, but the foreigner who understands them.

It’s not news that there is an intimate link between a language, the person speaking it, and the culture around them. When we speak, or even attempt to speak, a dialect that is foreign to us, we’re embracing a part of the culture attached to the language. Hence, when we, as expats, try to speak a language local to the community we live in, a cultural barrier gets broken down, and we become more relatable to the community around us and vice versa. And while living in our expat bubbles seem more convenient and more natural, we didn’t move to India to do that, did we? 

In his book Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah says, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Learning the local language goes beyond merely communicating with ease, it opens you up to understanding the culture and society deeper, until you’re no longer the foreigner who speaks to them with an accent, but the foreigner who understands them. 

We’ve added a few important and easy Hindi phrases for you to learn. Download it here.


Glossary:

Me tumse pyar karti hu. – I love you.
Aap pagal hai? Me pagal nahi. – Are you crazy? I’m not crazy.
Kitna hai?- How much?
Khaana khane chalo!- Let’s eat!
Kaha pe ho? – Where are you?
Sale, mera bi khale! – *****, eat my food too!

Third Culture Kids, neither there nor here.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Third Culture Kid (Merriam-Webster)
A child who grows up in a culture different from the one in which his or her parents grew up. The “third culture” is influenced both by their parents’ culture and the culture in which they are raised.
Expat (Wikipedia)
An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person residing in a country other than their native country. In common usage, the term often refers to professionals, skilled workers, or artists taking positions outside their home country, either independently or sent abroad by their employers.


Growing up, my answer to the question “Where are you from?” always felt empty. To answer it is to say you identify with and represent the culture and traditions of a specific place. Having moved countries three times by the age of seven, and then attending an international school for the next ten years resulted in a blending of cultures, traditions, and mannerisms that were impossible to sort out. Third Culture Kids (TCKs) have it doubly hard precisely because, as the term states, they are kids. Smoothly navigating through puberty and adolescence in a normal, stable environment is hard enough without adding the stress and sense of displacement that is bound to happen when moving places and ping-ponging between the culture at home with family, and then immediately adapting to the one outside the four walls. Add to that having parents from two different countries and cultures, and the sense of “who am I?” was further magnified, at least in my case. Suffice to say, most TCKs, if not all, spend an inordinately long time figuring out who they are and where they belong. Many ultimately accept they never will have a precise answer to that and learn to comfortably grow into their jumbled state of identity.

Suffice to say, most TCKs, if not all, spend an inordinately long time figuring out who they are and where they belong. Many ultimately accept they never will have a precise answer to that and learn to comfortably grow into their jumbled state of identity.

After 14 years in India, the expat phase of my life began. I went to the US as a student for two years, then lived and worked in Japan twice, first for five years, and then for two. I felt more at home abroad than I ever did living here in Delhi! I attribute it largely to the fact that the only constant world I had growing up was at school— with friends and classmates from all over the world. Bringing with them bits of international, albeit predominantly western, culture,  it wasn’t that different to the social circles I found myself gravitating towards when abroad.

The usual adjustments and culture shock that come with moving to a foreign country were not too difficult for me, even in a homogenous country like Japan, with its strict social dos and don’ts. As a TCK, I was already adept at reading people and situations and easily adapting to them. You may or may not have already come across TCKs also being called cultural chameleons, but it’s true— we really are. And though well-traveled expats can also share the same label, unlike expats, TCKs learn these skills at a young age, and not consciously. Moving homes was never our choice to make— we were brought into this complex mingling of cultures, mindsets, and traditions because our parents chose to make the move.

This is probably the most significant difference between expats and TCKs, who then become Adult TCKs (ATCKs). Not all expats were TCKs, and many make their first international move as adults, with a ‘stable-r’ sense of self— having already maneuvered through their formative years in an environment that is both culturally and socially stable. They also have strong, defined connections to their home country. TCKs, however, grow up in a culture (sometimes multiple cultures), not their own, and usually in a continually changing environment like international schools— both of which contribute to a longer-than-normal path to self-discovery and identity. We grow up saying goodbye to people and places, and constantly adjusting and adapting to diverse cultures and mindsets. By the time we’re adults, we’re a rootless lot, belonging everywhere and nowhere with close friends scattered around the world. We feel most at home with people who have also traveled and experienced the world because we’ve faced similar challenges, and here’s when TCKs as expats make sense.

Third Culture Kids 3

Think of TCKs as mini expats, experiencing the expat world during their most sensitive, crucial, identity-forming stage of life. What expats learn about adjusting, adapting, and understanding foreign cultures is second nature to TCKs. We’re not even aware it’s what we’ve been doing till we become adults and are able to analyze and reflect on our childhood/teen years. The loneliness, culture shock and frequent goodbyes that expats invariably go through, are old and dear friends of ours. Even the complicated and existential answers to ‘Where are you from?’ that seasoned/lifelong expats give, we started tackling while were still in school. TCKs as expats? Most assuredly yes. I feel a reluctant need to add that the cheesy cliché ‘Brother from another mother’ couldn’t be a more apt description of the close relationship between adult TCKs and expats.

By the time we’re adults, we’re a rootless lot, belonging everywhere and nowhere with close friends scattered around the world. We feel most at home with people who have also traveled and experienced the world because we’ve faced similar challenges, and here’s when TCKs as expats make sense.

At a time when divisiveness between peoples and countries seem to be mushrooming all over the world right now, the cultural and global understanding, as well as respect and tolerance that TCKs and expats become intimately familiar with in their personal and professional lives, can be a precious and significant lifeline. The lessons we’ve learned about not making superficial judgments, understanding the beliefs and traditions of the other, accepting that people can have perfectly valid and acceptable reasons for differing opinions, and learning to respect those differences yet still find points of mutual interest and passions to bridge gaps. These are invaluable and unique to us in the sense that collectively, within the expat/TCK community alone, we could easily represent most, if not all, of the world. That is a mighty wonderful thing that we shouldn’t take for granted.

Tatsiana Chykhayeva, the woman behind Life Talk Delhi.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Born in Belarus, Tatsiana Chykhayeva was only 15 when she first experienced a life of an expat in England, as a student. Since then, she’s lived in Switzerland, China, Dubai, and the Bahamas, for six years, before moving to India. Though having a background in hospitality, she decided to switch careers and got a certificate as a life coach. This was about the same time she decided to visit a friend in India, now husband. Unafraid of the challenges of living in India, in spite of her husband’s concern, she moved to Delhi and loved it here.

What were your first impressions about India?

I just loved everything. The first time I came here was in 2013; we just went on a trip. Every day started at 7 a.m.; we were doing many things – buying sarees, attending weddings. Everything was so exciting! I think people may get a little lost and confused during their first time, so I was happy that my husband was showing my friend and me around.

Now, three years later, do you still feel the same?

Three years later, I still like India. Certain things were a bit challenging to get used to, but overall it is a good place to be. It is amazing how India can be so different for different people. Some love it, while others find it difficult to manage even after ten years of residing here!

In my opinion, there is something special about the country. It can teach us a lot, as well as “brings out the worse” in us. Let me explain. Many foreigners shared their personality shifts after living in Delhi for some time. When before, they found it difficult to say ‘no’ to people or point out the wrongdoing when someone is cutting into a line in front of them; after some time, they developed certain aggression that they didn’t know existed. Of course, it is not a bad thing. I think many of us can use to be more assertive in certain situations, and Delhi gives us a chance to improve it. Simply, because there are so many people everywhere, so the chances of someone to cut the queue or ask you for things that you don’t need are much higher. You get to practice communication skills more often.

How did you start your blog Life Talk Delhi?

I’ve always liked to meet new people, and the idea came to organize events so people can come and socialize. My husband has a restaurant by the name Roadhouse Café, so the venue was decided right away. The location is perfect; a lot of expats live nearby (GK1).
Of course, to start something new is challenging. So it took some time to spread the word. The blog had started at the same time. I just had a lot to say about the place I am currently living in. Plus, I kept on hearing so many interesting views from other expats, so I decided to start sharing it. The response was great, so I continued doing it.

Now, the platform also allows many foreigners and locals to join us in the projects for social good. We organize charitable events in the slums, orphanages, and elderly people’s homes. For those who might not be able to join, we write about various social challenges in India. We touch subjects of homosexuality, elderly abandonment, slum life. It is very interesting and not always match the stereotypes we hear when outside the country.

India is well known to be, on the more negative side, not very friendly to women, and this is an issue that has come up several times in our interviews with expat women. What is your view and experience with this?

Yes, I agree. The reputation, especially of big cities like Delhi, is not great. However, I do not feel unsafe. I know people who are terrified to travel alone in the cab or walk on the street as soon as it gets dark outside. Well, I don’t allow the fear to stop me from doing what I have to do. I believe it is essential to be aware of where you are, who you are with, and take precautions.

Do you have any advice for women who are planning to move to India because a question we always get is, “Is India safe for women?”

My advice is to take the time to adjust. Don’t trust the first person that you meet.
Of course, read as much as you can about the place, but be selective. There is a lot of information online, and not all are true. You can always check out Facebook Groups for expats, blogs, websites, and, of course, Life Talk Delhi page! If there is something you want to buy, but don’t seem to find it in the nearby store, don’t worry. You will find it somewhere else. Delhi is a huge city, and it has pretty much anything, you just need to look for it.

Another advice is to get out and explore! But do it in the right careful manner. Metro, for instance, is very clean and easy to figure out. My husband was a bit concerned the first time I traveled alone. But hey, now he doesn’t worry as he knows I can manage.

India is incredible, there is so much to see,
but you cannot get to know it by only looking outside your window.

However, sadly, some people were warned so much that they are afraid to step out. That doesn’t make anyone’s life exciting and fun. Safe, yes, but not worth it, in my opinion. India is incredible, there is so much to see, but you cannot get to know it by only looking outside your window.

One more advice, don’t expect to get to know and see everything right away! Despite my desire to explore, I also did not visit the slum area on my first days of staying in India. It took me some time to get to know people, places, and what was safe and what wasn’t.

What are the best and the worst things about living in India?

I love the variety and contrasts that India offers. Some days I visit the slum in the mornings and later in the evening going out to dine in a 5-star hotel. One day I shop at a crowded local market; the next day, I am in the fancy mall looking at world-famous brands. The city has it all, and it makes it exciting.

India is a very spiritual place. Even though I am not much into yoga and meditation, I think there is a certain energy here. This place teaches us a lot and gives experiences that one can get either pissed off about or learn from it and add to his or her personal growth.

There are always good and bad sides to everything. Overpopulation also has its bright side. In Delhi, it is so easy to get lost. Not direction wise, more in terms of personal liberation. I’ll give you an example. People in my country are very self-conscious about what they wear and what they look like. I know it is good in many ways, but it also adds a lot of pressure. Here, in Delhi, it is so easy to get lost in the crowd. If someone notices that your shoes don’t match your bag, they have approximately 2 minutes to formulate their judgment before they lose sight of you. Sometimes they don’t even look at you as it is best to look at the road and where you are going. The cars, scooters, and people are everywhere!

Delhi has also changed significantly since I moved here three years ago. It became much cleaner. My friend from home visited me recently. It took us four days to see a cow on the street. She was very surprised as all the travel guides, and documentaries about India are pushing that image of the city where holy animals live side by side with people. Well, the reality did not match the stereotypes. Some parts of Delhi now are very different from what one might think.

What about the top three worst things?

Pollution. It is bad here. It is very unhealthy to be in the city for at least one month of the year. Unfortunately, it hasn’t improved much despite the issue being raised by everyone.

I think the attitude toward cleanliness also has to change. Yes, Delhi had become much cleaner recently, but not everywhere. It seems some people don’t want to contribute towards their society, making progress slower. It is not always about education or social status. Sometimes you see fancy cars driving down the road when suddenly the window opens, and garbage is being thrown outside right in the middle of the street.

India is developing, but there are a lot of challenges the society is facing. The country is opening up as much as people’s minds. However, there is yet a long way to go.

Whenever you need an escape from Delhi, where do you go to?

We like to go to Rishikesh. No, we don’t go for yoga or meditation, just to chill at a resort. We found our favorite spot up on the hills. They have wooden houses, beautiful grounds, waterfalls, and best of all, they allow us to bring our dog. However, I came back with dengue from the last trip, so we might take a break from Rishikesh for now.

What are the other places close to Delhi you would recommend to go away for a weekend?

There are many options. You can go to Gurgaon and stay at a farmhouse. It’s a great way to escape from the busy city with only an hour’s drive away. Horse riding is also available there.

If you are up for some cooler experience, you can go to Greater Noida and play in the snow (one of the malls there offer such experience). You can try out the Sky Dining in Noida. That’s definitely on my list.

Otherwise, there is so much to explore in Delhi itself! The challenge is to find out about the things to do. The best way to do it is by talking to others. Online sources are not very reliable. First, you never know what quality you will get, and there is no one centralized platform to learn about it!

Bringing India Into Your Home

Reading Time: 3 minutes

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and move to India. You’ve found a lovely apartment filled with natural light, which isn’t easy to find around here. It’s time to decorate and make this new place feel like home! Where to start though? One of the biggest struggles we’ve all had about living in India is never finding everything in one single place! 

Right about now, I bet you miss IKEA— the furniture, the plants, the home décor, and the food, of course. However, IKEA can be pretty basic too, if I may say. Think about it; you now live in India, the mystical land of dreams, as plenty of writers have described it. India is a land with some of the most intricate architecture and craftsmanship, and of course, a culture that’s full of life and vibrancy, wouldn’t you want to bring some of that into your home?

India is a land with some of the most intricate architecture and craftsmanship.

I love everything design related, regardless of where it is sold, if it’s beautifully made, I will take it. Moreover, I love coming home to a house that is warm, cozy, and inviting— it’s one of my weaknesses. In the process of looking for furniture and décor, for my new place, I came across five Indian brands that I’ve fallen in love with, and quickly found in Delhi or else supports online purchases as well!

Courtesy – Fabindia

Fabindia

Fabindia has been killing the furniture game for about 50 years now. They somehow figured out the right balance between contemporary and traditional design, and as a result— classic wooden pieces that are functional, unique, and will stand the test of time. Not to mention, they have everything! From furniture to bed linen, textiles, candles, and even food! 

If you’re looking for types of furniture that are simple and elegant, yet stylish, you should consider checking them out!

Courtesy Nicobar

Nicobar

Let me begin with this; I love Nicobar. It’s classic, earthy, tropical, filled with positive vibes, and they’re environment-conscious! With designs that are inspired by “journeys across the Indian Ocean,” a tropical and modern take on traditional Indian lifestyle, what’s not to love? Unfortunately, they only have clothing and décor, but I will remain hopefully patient until they start designing furniture as well.

Courtesy Goodearth

Good Earth

I saw a Good Earth store for the first time, nine years ago, in Khan Market— it was love at first sight. I tend to lean more towards the earthy, beachy, boho décor, and neutral colors. Good Earth is different beautiful shades of pink, green, blue, red, and all the colors you can think of; nevertheless, I love everything about them. I want to live in a Good Earth store. The phrase “India, the mystical land of dreams,” perfectly reflects through their décor. Like Nicobar, however, they only have décor, breathtakingly stunning décor. 

Courtesy of Gulmohar Lane

Gulmohar Lane

Gulmohar Lane is a dream come true. First of all, they design both furniture and décor. Secondly, they’re sustainable and support other brands who have embraced sustainability as a core value too. Lastly, their designs are almost minimal and aesthetically beautiful. I nearly jumped out of my chair when I came across their website. The only downfall is, they’re based in Jaipur, so it will not be possible to touch or feel the products before purchasing them. 

Courtesy Chumbak

Chumbak

While they’re a little too colorful for me, I love the quirkiness their décor brings to a room. If vibrant, eccentric India is a vibe you’re going for, this is the place for you. Their attention to detail fascinates me, and their stores are quite inviting! 

Happy decorating!

The saga of foreign inward remittances.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

It has become unbelievably easy to open a bank account in India. The efficiency that I observed during my latest “adventure” left me astonished. You read correctly, I said, “easy” and “efficient,” two words I had thought become extinct from my vocabulary in New Delhi. 

I walked into the HDFC branch in Defence Colony, already surrendering myself to an afternoon of form filling and frustration. I came prepared with my ID, proof of address, PAN, and Adhaar Cards to facilitate the process. I’ve learned it’s better to be over-prepared rather than be sent home because one “t” wasn’t crossed or “i” dotted properly. To my delight, the woman at the teller counter handling my case was incredibly helpful. She even carefully filled out the cheque correctly for my opening deposit, leaving nothing to chance, I thought as I signed it. I appreciated the initiative and revelled in a rare glimmer of satisfaction for banking administrative processes. I walked in and out of the branch with a new cheque book and debit card in less than 30 minutes, well under the expected time.Because the cheque book and debit card are both issued without a customer’s name on them, HDFC can provide you with a “starter kit” as soon as you hand over your opening deposit. Compared to my first experience of opening a personal bank account with HSBC about six years ago, today’s HDFC encounter was a joy. 

It seems as though the days of endless forms and waiting are over. Perhaps with the introduction of the Adhaar card, it is easier for banks to complete their “Know Your Client” (KYC) compliance responsibilities. When my account with HSBC was finally opened, and I attempted to transfer money in from overseas, stress was waiting for me with a Cheshire cat grin. How could I have thought it would be simple? You see, back then, a foreign inward remittance had a stringent set of rules that the bank had to follow (that’s what I was told). But I was simply moving my money from an overseas account into my account with HSBC India so that I could pay my deposit for a rental apartment. HSBC was refusing to release my money as they said they needed to investigate the purpose of the inward remittance! My palm couldn’t hit my face any harder. 

I was simply moving my money from an overseas account into my account with HSBC India so that I could pay my deposit for a rental apartment. HSBC was refusing to release my money as they said they needed to investigate the purpose of the inward remittance!

Even after I returned to the branch with the rental contract as proof, they still were not sure. Only when I desperately pleaded and explained that I would be homeless did they finally release my money! OK, I embellished a bit, but I guess they just needed to sap the rest of my dignity to finalize the transaction. I then realised that transferring money from an overseas account was expensive and inefficient. My bank in the UK would charge £25 for an international transfer, and the exchange rate was not competitive either. The bank had a monopoly, and I needed to make my life easier for future transfers. 

So I searched for a solution and came across Transferwise. They provide you with a platform that allows you to capture the actual market exchange rate, and they charge a fee for exchanging and sending your money, cross-border. This service works so well because I can simply send a domestic transfer to Transferwise first (so no international transfer fee!) Then, the funds are sent to my Indian account. When the money lands in my account, usually within hours, it is a domestic inward remittance, not a foreign inward remittance. Problem solved. 

The fee they deduct based on sending £2,500 is less than my bank’s international transfer cost. Plus, I’m no longer at the mercy of a foreign inward remittance “investigation” by the bank, and I can keep my dignity (or what little is left) in the process. 

However, there is something I have now encountered, relatively recently, that is also connected to banking. When using your debit card for a purchase, the card machines that some merchants use, scramble the numbers for the pin entry, so it doesn’t follow the same layout as an ATM. As I find it easier to remember my six-digit PIN, by the sequence or pattern that I follow from the first number, it has left me occasionally stumbling to complete a purchase (especially with the added challenge of a few drinks been added to the mix). Imagine your keyboard re-arranged from QWERTY to A to Z and then trying to touch type. So, I now have remembered all of the six digits of my pin. Another great obstacle overcome and another historical triumph to celebrate. Problem solved.


Editor’s note: Ranjit Atwal is a finance and banking expert. If you need any help with financial solutions, drop an email to ranjit@atwalfinancial.com.

Ginalyn Makanawa explains the impact of expats on each other, and India.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Having lived in India for almost eight years, Ginalyn Makanawa, from the Philippines, now calls India home. She moved to Chennai seven and a half years ago with her husband and daughter, Sophia. She and her family moved from Cario, Egypt in 2011, when her husband was offered to be the executive chef of The Leela Palace, Chennai.

What was your impression of the country when you came for the first time in India? Has it changed at all?

My first impression of Chennai was not good. It took me eight months to adjust and accept that we were in India. The surrounding was dirty, animals (cows, goats, and pigs) were roaming on the street, the people were wearing their traditional clothing – saree for the women and the men wore lungi which looks like a wrap skirt. Plus, the weather was hot. There are three seasons— hot, hotter, and hottest. The one thing that is difficult to see is poverty. You see it everywhere. It’s an eye-opener for those coming here for the first time, and that made me appreciate the little things in life.

As time went by, I began to love the city. I made a lot of friends, and the availability of products got easier to find. I find the people so friendly and nice. I started to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings, especially during the festive season. And I began to love biryani!

As a family, we try to do our share of giving back by helping orphanages and starting livelihood programs for women in the village with the help of our local pastor. It took us seven and a half years to finally decide to move to Delhi. It’s nice to have a change of environment.
We find Delhi better than Chennai— the infrastructures, the greenery, and the weather, but not the pollution. And the South has better biryani than the north!

Did your expectations of India match with what was really out here?

When we found out that we were moving to Chennai, India, we got excited. We did our research and saw that the sea surrounds Chennai. Beaches and good seafood came to our minds. We even chose to live near the beach; it was just across our home. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what we expected. Coming from the Philippines, when we say ‘beach,’ we think of blue waters, swimming, and playing in the sand, but it’s not the same in Chennai. The beach was dirty, there was rubbish everywhere, and it smelled of pee!

We didn’t last long in our house. We decided to move out after a few months. But there’s something on the beach that we enjoyed, and we let our daughter experience it. They have those manual Ferris wheels that a man pushes for it to go around and also a manual carousel. Our daughter loved them and would go on those rides every weekend.

Do you think expats have an impact on the local culture? If yes, what do you think is yours?

For me, I believe that expats have a significant impact on Indian culture. People start to look more western, especially in Delhi. The restaurants now have different kinds of international dishes, and supermarkets now carry more imported items compared to before. Women are becoming more independent and vocal about their rights.

I guess the impact I made is when we started the women’s project in the village in Kancheepuram district in Tamil Nadu. We started a tailoring course with our pastor friend. The government certifies it, so when they finish the course, they get certificates and can get a job or start their own little business. We chose battered women, single mothers, and women with disabilities. We encourage them and tell them of their value and worth in society. Empowering women is my contribution, especially in a community where some don’t have voices and have no say at all.

What shocked you the most about India, and how did you get over it?

The biggest shock I had was the dowry system and arranged marriages. Because of these things, girls are not wanted, and they get rid of them even before they are born. People say that dowry is illegal, but people still do it. The girl’s family is always harassed for more money. I even see families educate their daughters, so it will look good on their CV or records for marriage. I can’t get over it. I volunteered to help an orphanage in Chennai that rescues unwanted babies, and most of them are girls. I see foreigners adopt the babies, and all I can do is pray and hope that these girls have a better life overseas.

After seven years of living in India, was this culture shock as challenging to manage as your first months here?

After almost eight years in India, you will get used to it and accept their culture. As much as we want to change it, we can only educate them, and some of them won’t even listen because that’s what they are used to. I guess with access to social media, it might affect their culture as the girls and women are exposed to the outside world and not just their own.

Have you ever been an expat in another country? If yes, how different is the experience between living in India and living in the other country?

We were in Cairo, Egypt, before coming to India. It’s a totally different world as the religion is mostly Islam, while here it is primarily Hindu. Muslim beliefs are so different from Hinduism. These religions affect each country’s culture and tradition. In Egypt, we can easily go out and grab a beef burger. They’re very common in fast-food chain restaurants. In India, you can’t get beef burgers. The dowry system is also there, but in Egypt, the men are the ones who give the dowry, unlike here. But in spite of these differences, they also have a lot in common. One of them is the close family ties. Egyptians are like Indians because they love having the whole family together, and they have a tight bond with each other. Both cultures are hospitable. They prepare a feast for their guests.

Many expats we interviewed said that building relationships is difficult in India, what do you think about this?

I guess that depends on where you are. When we were in Chennai, we had a small expat community compared to here in Delhi. There’s only one international school in the city, and all the expat kids go there. After dropping the kids to school, we all sit in the parents’ cafeteria and get to know each other. There aren’t a lot of activities in the city, so most of us do stuff in our homes and invite people over. We have barbecues, play dates for the kids, and even host parties just to catch up. It’s the close friendship we had that made Chennai a great place to be in.
If one mom is not well, a friend will offer to pick her kids up or make their dinner so the mom can rest. That is one thing I missed when we moved to Delhi. I’ve met a lot of expats but haven’t found one that I am close to. The good thing is, Chennai isn’t that far, some of our friends have already been to Delhi to visit and stay with us. That’s how close the relationship is. We even go on holidays overseas together.
Every expat I know who came to Chennai was not happy at first, but when they started to meet people, no one wanted to leave.

If one mom is not well, a friend will offer to pick her kids up or make their dinner so the mom can rest.

What are the best things and the worst things about living in India?

We have been in India long enough to love it. I love the food, the arts, and the people, especially in the South. We have traveled to some places like Agra, Udaipur, Kerala, Goa, Chennai, Pondicherry, Mumbai, and Delhi. Everywhere we go, you get to see and appreciate India more. It’s full of history, the old buildings, and palaces, the arts. Each place has it’s own style like the inlay marbles of Agra and the colorful fabric of the South. I also love the miniature paintings in Udaipur. I even took a short class on that. The food is different everywhere, and they all have their own special dishes that we all love.

I have more good things to say now about the country compared to when we first arrived. The worst thing is when we go to all these historical places like temples, forts, and palaces, we get disappointed when people don’t take care of it. We have seen palaces that are vandalized, and people leave their trash around! The worst is that they made it into a public urinal. I wish that people will be more disciplined when it comes to throwing their garbage.

Aside from the trash, it’s the way people drive. I don’t go out that much as I get nervous about how they drive. There’s no discipline, and they don’t follow the rules most of the time.

How have you been keeping yourself busy?

I like being productive with my time. I used to attend classes like painting, quilting, and going to the F45 gym every morning. I even studied and volunteered as a photographer at the American International School, Chennai, for five months! I also helped at orphanages. We have been in Delhi for three months now, and I’m slowly trying to figure out where I can spend my time, trying to connect with people who have the same interests as me.

Do you ever get homesick? If yes, what do you miss the most?

For me, its the other way around, India has been our home for so many years. If we go back to the Philippines or Australia, because my husband is from there, I can’t wait to come back home to India. I usually like to go overseas just to get my groceries, because buying the imported stuff here is so expensive. Once I get the things I need, I can’t wait to get back.

India has been our home for so many years. If we go back to the Philippines or Australia, because my husband is from there, I can’t wait to come back home to India.

We are grateful that we get to go and visit our families back home and are thankful for Whatsapp and Facebook. With these apps, it’s easy to be connected and be aware of what’s happening with friends and families.

Any advice to newbies?

Be patient, take time to appreciate the little things. The most important is to make friends. Join some expat groups, and from there, life will be easier as they have been here longer, and they will tell you where, what, when, and how.

A lot of people say that India impacted them in ways they never imagined. How would you describe India’s impact on you?
India has changed me a lot. Coming here has been an eye-opener. We see all kinds of people, especially the poor. I’m more appreciative compared to before. I remember when we arrived in Singapore, as we drove from the airport to the hotel, I told my husband, “Can you feel how smooth the road is?” When we go overseas, we enjoy spending time at the supermarket, seeing all kinds of food that are way cheaper compared to the shops in India. I have become more giving.

 

How to enjoy the art of slow living in India.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Chaos. The first thing I see on my way to work is chaos. It describes everything from the traffic jam, the cars honking pointlessly, auto-rickshaws driving on the wrong side of the road, and don’t even get me started with people cutting lines and pushing each other to get into the trains! 

Every morning, India feels like a super-fast paced country I can’t seem to keep up with. Everyone is rushing and running as if their lives depended on it, and sometimes, I get scooped into the busyness of living here too. Often, by 10:00 AM, I’m already exhausted, feeling as if more than half my day has passed.

how to enjoy the art of slow living 1

While speaking to our social media manager, a couple of days back, she said, “Life in India is so fast; we should talk about this on We The Expats.” I had already begun thinking about this topic, and writing, when we had this conversation. The thing is, I don’t think life in India is fast-paced. On the contrary, I think it’s pretty slow and laid-back; the chaotic nature of India makes everything feel so fast and on-the-go. If you observe, you’ll notice that people here actually enjoy taking their time doing everything.

I bumped into my neighbor’s housekeeper, one morning, and watched her enjoy her walk down the stairs in bliss. The car washers, in the morning, hum a happy tune while cycling from one block to another, searching for cars on their list. And like their very own version of Hakuna Matatain India, they say, ho jaega, when translated means, it will be done. It also stands for, do not worry, I found out later on— I can’t even count the number of times people have said this to me. 

how to enjoy the art of slow living 2

I grew up in the islands, so don’t get me wrong, I am all for the slow-living, the laid back, and the ho-jaega attitude. Nevertheless, I understand that it can be frustrating when we want things to be done, and quickly too. We come from different cultures that vary like night and day, and when that clashes with the culture we currently live in, I don’t know about you, but I question my reasoning behind living here. Then my inner hyper-active-hulk comes out, followed by a couple of yelling with the few Hindi words I know and switching to English regardless of whether the person understands or not. So, what then? Is there anything we can do about it? As much as I’d like to say yes, I think the answer is no. There is nothing we can do about this, and we might as well as just stop trying. Instead, we should adopt, take the good parts about living slow!

When I talk about slow-living, I do not mean slacking or being late, that’s just being lazy. What I mean about a slow-paced-lifestyle is rushing only when needed, and saying no to charging around all day, every day. It’s about being more mindful and “taking a step back and start enjoying life being conscious of sensory profusion,” according to Wikipedia. It’s basically about finding balance in our everyday lives. Not the easiest thing to do when we have high-pressure jobs and deadlines to meet, but a necessity if we do. 

And like their very own version of Hakuna Matata, in India, they say, ho jaega, when translated means, it will be done. It also stands for, do not worry, I found out later on— I can’t even count the number of times people have said this to me.

You see, a high-pressure job mixed with the chaotic nature of India, Delhi especially, and all the other negative aspects of being an expat, isolation, culture shock, etc. is the perfect concoction for an early burnout— trust me on this. 

I feel the need to start the next section by saying, I am not an expert on slow-living. However, I do enjoy that kind of lifestyle, and try my best to slow down whenever I feel anxious or whenever I feel burnt-out. Here are a few things I have begun incorporating into my daily/monthly routines:

Take time drinking or eating. When I was living in Bangkok, I noticed that my co-workers would often eat while walking or working on their desks. Coffee will always be taken on-the-go; everyone was walking around with food or a drink, which I eventually adapted into my lifestyle too. This isn’t something I see in India! Here when people drink tea, they stand around the chai-wallah and chat, or sit in the coffee shop while drinking their coffee, even if they’re alone.

how to enjoy the art of slow living 3

Get out of the city. The chaotic nature of India is mostly restricted to the bigger cities and the touristic areas. There is so much more to India than Delhi, Mumbai, Agra, or even Rajasthan! Any chance you get, pack an overnight bag and explore India. I recently heard of a French-British heritage town of Chandannagar, about 30 km of Calcutta, that could be a perfect retreat for those of us who need time away from the city. 

Unplug. One of the hardest things for me to do is unplug. I used to sleep with my phone in my hand, and wake up with it flat on my face. While I still do not dare to turn off my phone, I have been getting into the habit of keeping it away before bedtime— it has done wonders for my sleep.

Think ho jaega. Though it requires a lot of patience, sometimes we just have to let some things be, and learn to accept that there are things way beyond our control. India loves to procrastinate, it almost feels like they enjoy the high of rushing, and there’s nothing we can do about it, it’s frustrating! However, at the end of the day, we can’t impose our lifestyle on India. There are things we can work around with, there are situations where we need to put our feet down, and time when we have to let it be!