Never travelled to Asia before, a 36-year-old Mexican mother of two and married to a British diplomat, Diana Alcalà, a Pilates trainer, talks about her adjustment in India and the new perspective of Indian culture and lifestyle.
How did you feel before moving to India because it’s very different from your home country?
To be honest, I wanted to come here as a tourist in my early 20s, but that never happened. I quietly pursued that idea in the back of my mind, so I felt very excited about coming here. I was a little bit scared because you hear many crazy things about India and you read many opposite things, people love it or hate it. You never hear like an objective sort of point of view. So yeah, I was anxious but super excited at the same time.
Since you heard and read a lot about India and was it real or was it different?
I would say nothing prepared me for what India actually is. One of the things I heard the most was that it is a very dirty and dangerous country, but I didn’t find India particularly dangerous. I do feel that in India, particularly the concept of clean, cleaner spaces is very flexible. This is one of the most challenging things to understand. Also, you always have to bargain for correct prices because they always want to make money from you, especially if you are a foreigner.
I would say nothing prepared me for what India actually is.
While most expats find all this very tough, it is relatively easy for me because, in the end, I come from a country with a very high inequality situation. I grew up seeing children selling the stuff in the street, so when you put everything in those numbers, every problem that you’ve had in many other countries culminates in all dimensions now. What was shocking is that I can come from a city like Mexico city with 22 million people and still with that I can’t beat Delhi.
Do you think that expats have an influence on Indian culture or not?
That’s a difficult question, but I guess it does. In some ways, expats have already changed India. No? Like, if you think that the Mongols were expats in India, or, the early British, French in Pondicherry, and the Portuguese in Goa. India is huge, from the borders of Pakistan to Bangladesh, it is a whole subcontinent. So I guess for the little expat community, we end up acquiring more of Indian culture than Indian culture acquires things from us.
So when you came to India, of course, there was a cultural shock. What was the biggest one for you?
I’m trying to remember what was my biggest shock. I didn’t realise that despite living in the best area with the best brands, a high-street market is allowed to have a pot and dirty holes and dirty water outside and street dogs with fleas. So it was a challenge, and I think with Latinos we have a hard time to put those in their order of social class. Latinos are indeed a little white, you know, and Indians seem to appreciate the skin colour and fair hands. People are very open, they talk to you a lot, but it doesn’t go beyond that, and then they have these things they don’t know where to classify you which is just weird sometimes.
A lot of expats say that it is very difficult to make friends in India. What do you think about it? Is it the same for you? Or it’s different.
Well, as I said, I think they can be very friendly at the beginning. Especially if you speak a bit of Hindi, they find it like whoa! My husband is a Hindi teacher, so with all that social encounters we had, when they see him speaking Hindi, they love it. But then nothing happens afterwards unless there is a bit of interest like when they need a visa. In Europe you don’t operate this way, you cannot take anyone to get their visa. And here, social interaction becomes a bit awkward. I would say I do have a couple of Indian friends or good acquaintances. But I can’t say how difficult it is. You know, the older you are, the more difficult it is to make friends.
Do you have Indian friends or is it easier to make friends with expats?
Yeah, because when I first arrived, the obvious thing was getting close to people like you. So in India, all Westerners, no matter if you are Mexican, British, French, Canadian, whatever, we all end up being closer to each other here. I mean being an expat plays an active part in your social life. Most of our time, the people we mingle with people are from expat communities.
What are the best things and the worst things about living in India?
I am retreating in Rishikesh, and I have a brilliant and all around the clock nanny to look after my children. She’s super loving, caring, trustworthy, and my good companion. And that’s something I’m most content about, and you cannot afford to have at other places. The other thing that I find amazing in India is the richness of the culture. I am doing a spiritual tourism holiday now, which I can’t think of doing in any other country where you can go on tourist trips that talk about your spiritual life. I love the fact that in India you have all the possible religions coexisting and most of the Hindu would be delighted to tell their stories to non-Hindu. They love people who are not Hindus to open them to the ideology of Hinduism. It opens a fascinating door for people like me, especially if you come from Europe, where you cannot speak about God outside the church. It just feels pleasant from time to allow humans to be openly spiritual and not feel guilty for believing in God. I sometimes think in western countries if you’re speaking out about your beliefs, you’re touching a difficult subject. While here you could be Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, of any denomination or whatever, people wouldn’t care. In India, if you come out loudly and say I’m an atheist and I don’t believe in God, then you will have a problem.
I love the fact that in India you have all the possible religions coexisting and most of the Hindu would be delighted to tell their stories to non-Hindu. They love people who are not Hindus to open them to the ideology of Hinduism.
Well, you told me a lot of very nice things about living in India but what are the worst things?
People don’t aim to solve a problem- like you call someone to fix something at home and there are 20 people, and they cannot fix it. It does say a lot about the lack of professionalism, the lack of skills of people doing their jobs. I like that it is an exchange of Nobel prizes and people are well educated. And everybody who does all these regular daily jobs doesn’t know how to do something. I don’t know who told them they could be a plumber or electrician. Many times the drivers come late, and that’s fine for them. But then they drive a little bit crazy when you are in, we come from a very time-oriented country.
You are a Pilates trainer, and train people from home. What are your views on the work culture in India, but as you work from home, is it a little different?
I can’t talk about it because I have been trying to find courses in India about pilates trainers. And it has been very difficult to find places that teach you properly. The few courses that are happening now are very expensive. They bring trainers from Canada or the US, and they teach. Most of the things in Delhi are about a typical workout like a personal trainer. I find a few Yoga and pilates trainers but they are very non-professional.
You have been in India for years now. Did you ever get homesick?
Yeah, I mean yeah but I’d be out of it for six years now. So, I have changed a lot. If I miss things about Mexico, it’s my friends and family. So I don’t know. I haven’t been feeling homesick for a few months.
What is your advice for new expats moving to India?
A new expat in India? Come with an open heart and open mind and not too many expectations and enjoy the ride. India is not the kind of country you can see with a narrow mind. You have to let things happen. It’s something that comes across as difficult so just retreat a little bit, try again and later decide for yourself. I would say that you have to look between those two extremes.
Come with an open heart and open mind and not too many expectations and enjoy the ride. India is not the kind of country you can see with a narrow mind. You have to let things happen.
So did you finally plan to go to another country?
We will move away once my husband’s job finishes in three years from now. That is not a permanent home.
How did India make a difference in your life?
If you get angry every time someone does something crazy, you’re going to become insane by staying in India. But it’s going to happen, loads of difficult moments, lots of challenging issues, you know, like things we keep for granted in western countries like there are no cows in the street. From the things you used to believe were massively important to realise what’s actually important- It does put a lot of things in that perspective.