10 Things I Have Learnt Living In Punjab
As a foreigner when you first arrive in India it is an assault on all the senses. Being a tourist is also vastly different to living in India. There are many customs that a foreigner must respect in order to ease into everyday life as a local. These customs also vary between states, districts and towns. I have travelled the state of Punjab and found that for most part the customs are very similar. There are also many cultural differences to the Punjabi way of life that you simply have no choice but to accept.
1. They Have A Permanent Temporary Solution For Almost Everything
The permanent temporary solution is also known as a jugaard in Hindi and Punjabi. Essentially translating to an innovative low cost solution to a problem also known as the permanent temporary solution. As you travel through India you will notice this everywhere. Such as a plastic sheet erected as a roof to fix a hole, or a plank laid across a ditch in the road, tape wrapped around broken electrical wire, rope used to close the bathroom door as the latch is broken, scissors inserted into an electric drill to act as a food beater and so on, you get the picture. Essentially what we would call a bandaid solution. There really is no end to their creativity with finding a solution. The difference however between a bandaid solution and the jugaard, is that it is almost never a temporary solution and always becomes a permanent temporary solution.
2. There Are No Road Rules
You don't even need to visit India to know that they have no road rules. It's every man to himself. Even after six months in India I am still not used to their driving. The 10 hour long drive from Delhi to my in laws house was an experience in itself. Everyone shares the road from cattle, dogs, goats, tractors, trucks, cars, bikes, bicycles and even pedestrians. Expect to exit the car with whiplash as drivers tend to weave in and out of traffic. If you are in the way expect to have a horn blasted at you. Drivers also use their horn to indicate. So traffic in India is just a constant stream of horns blaring.
Cars and buses are usually overloaded with more people than they can fit. I recall when my father in law took us to the market one day and on the way home had to pick up our relatives. As I sat in the back I was wondering just how exactly are we supposed to pick up people when there are no free seats. As we stopped 3 more people piled into the car sitting on one another's laps while my face and body was pressed against the window. I am claustrophobic and this prompted a panic attack. Now they always allow me the front seat.
As a pedestrian you really need to be overly cautious as drivers will not stop for you. They simply blare the horn and won't even flinch as they approach you at 80km. Though if you watch a local crossing the road as they brazenly walk in front of oncoming traffic you'll wonder how they haven't ended up in the hospital before. It really is every man for himself on Indian roads. You can read more about driving in India in the article Welcome To Driving In India.
There are no restrictions on what you can carry on the road.
3. Women Cannot Smile At Strange Men
It might seem the polite thing to do by smiling and being friendly to strangers, however if you are a woman and should do so to Indian men they take this as a sign you are interested in them. This is all thanks to the Hollywood depiction of women in pornography. Most men have only ever seen a white woman in a pornographic film or Hollywood movie and as such assume this is how all white women are. So should you take more than one glance at a man you will most likely find they will eagerly smile back.
Don't be surprised if they then try to grab your behind or make physical contact with you in some way. Even without making any eye contact in smaller towns you will probably have men attempting to grope you from any direction. So keep those smiles for your husband and always go out in public with others if you want to avoid embarrassment or potentially worse. Even at weddings with friends & family around I had men try to grope me much to the bride & groom's embarrassment. So you will find that even if men know better they will use any excuse to act like a sleaze.
4. Accept What You Cannot Change
If you want to live a relaxed life then you will definitely have to accept what you cannot change. This I find exceptionally difficult as I have an eye for detail. There are many things in India that make it the country it is. The saying in India is 'This is India!' Meaning it is what it is, don't question it or try to fix it. Doing business is especially frustrating. My in laws purchased my flights back to India for me at their local travel agent. It is not what you would expect from a business in the western world. It is just someone's home with a space downstairs that acts as the shop front. All you need is an online accreditation and a computer to be a travel agent. So you don't necessarily have to be any good at what you do.
After they paid for my flights it took the travel agent over a month to email me an itinerary. I discovered alas he had misspelt my name with three errors. Furthermore the information was illegible as he merely copied and pasted the data into an email rather than attach a PDF document. It took another month to finally receive a legible PDF copy only to find he had not listed whether the flights were morning or evening. I never received that information from him and had to google it. He also never rectified my name on my tickets as he simply said it will be fine don't worry it is only a few mistakes.
Imagine if that was how we did business in Australia customer's would be furious and simply go elsewhere. But the issue with India is there simply is nowhere else to go. So life goes on as it is. Luckily I made my flights, however it was a huge drama at the airport and not something I wish to go through again. I was running late to board at every airport. I was questioned at every security gate. If he had managed to do his job right in the first instance it would have been a pleasant journey. This is what daily life is like in India. So if you do not accept it you will give yourself a stress ulcer.
Though that isn't the only thing you cannot change, there are many aspects about Indian life that will give you stress ulcers if you don't accept that it is what it is. This includes the beggars and slums you will see everywhere you go. It is a popular misconception that the entire country of India is made up of slums which just isn't the case. However there are certainly beggars and slums almost everywhere across the country including Punjab. It is not uncommon to see lavish palatial houses and then across the street will be slums. The moment you land in India you will notice beggars are attracted to you immediately as a foreigner and it is the children who are sent to beg.
It is difficult to not want to give all the children everything you have however you have to remember this is their way of life. Whilst many are poor due to circumstances there are also many who live a life of begging as it is a lucrative business for them. So donating to beggars really only perpetuates the issue therefore if you want to help it is best to volunteer your time to a charity. Otherwise you need to accept that there are poor people everywhere and unfortunately you cannot help them all as much as it is heartbreaking to see.
There will be many more aspects of Indian life that will give you stress ulcers so just remember, 'This Is India' and go with the flow!
5. Indian Time Is Vastly Different To Western Time
My husband will tell me we are leaving to visit our relatives soon so hurry up and get ready. I promptly get myself ready only to find two hours later I am the only one ready and we still haven't left. Indian time essentially does not exist. When someone says I will do that for you in five minutes they could mean by an hour or a week. If trading hours of a shop say opening at 8:00am that could mean any time before midday. Time literally is non existent in India unlike the western world who live minute by minute.
This makes it next to impossible when planning social events as you simply do not know when to expect guests. I am still trying to translate what time my husband means when he tells me we have to be somewhere by a certain time. The same is said when I ask him to be somewhere by a certain time. As much as I try to compensate by giving him a time that is an hour earlier than needed, he still manages to be late.
Some boys take it easy playing a game of cricket.
6. Everything Will Be Alright
The Hindu believe that: It will be alright in the end. If it's not alright, it's not the end. This isn't as prominent in Punjab with the local religion being Sikhism. However you will find it is not dissimilar. Whenever there is a problem I always want to find a solution. Though you will find most people here will simply tell you it will be alright. Or as they say to me in english - No Tension. Then they move on with their life. Meanwhile I am still thinking how can I fix this.
7. Hygiene Is Next To Non Existent When Dining Out
Eating out in India is a great experience with the array of ethnic foods available. However there are no laws in place in India to ensure that restaurants prepare food to a minimum health standard. So you will find that most places keep cold foods out in the sun all day long without refrigerating. Or perhaps the kitchen may not have been cleaned since it opened 20 years ago. These things are to be expected so keep away from the more susceptible foods such as dairy or just eat minimally. I discovered this the hard way and ate a toasted cheese sandwich at Delhi Airport only to have severe food poisoning on my flight home and be wheeled out on a wheel chair when I arrived home.
8. Masala Is Added To Everything
Masala, Masala, Masala. Masala is the Hindi word for spices. Local's cannot get enough of it. You can buy anything from masala porridge, masala iced tea, masala chicken nuggets, masala french fries, masala pizza, masala roasted nuts - you get the picture. They have eaten so much chilli over the years it's as though they no longer have taste buds left. I love Indian food but the locals add so much masala that I can't even tolerate the heat. As Punjabi's eat curry for all three meals of the day I had become very ill within a month of living there as my stomach just wasn't accustomed to the heat.
So I decided to avoid spicy food for a while. I had my husband order me some chicken nuggets and fries from a local restaurant. I took a bite of my nugget only to discover that masala was sprinkled all over my meal. He told me he ordered plain chicken nuggets and fries just as I had requested. Though to the locals that meant with masala. So now when I order anything I ask for no masala as it comes with basically everything as standard.
Spices in bags at a market.
9. Carry Cash, Not Card
With the Indian government recently cancelling the 500 and 1000 rupee notes this is important. As all the ATM's have no cash in them with the fear of people losing their money. Local businesses also do not accept foreign bank cards. This is also the case for online shopping. So currently I am stuck with no access to cash as I didn't bother to bring any rupees with me. However if there was no panic to access cash from ATM's there are not many situated in smaller towns. So it is best to carry cash anyway. If you are visiting a tourist destination then there shouldn't be an issue.
10. Always Pack Essentials In Your Bag When Sight Seeing
I always pack the essentials in my handbag even when in Australia. Things like antibacterial wipes, ibuprofen, tissues, water, imodium. These come in extremely useful when travelling through India. Especially since toilets are few and far between. Should you be lucky enough to find public toilets they are usually filthy and probably won't have a western toilet available. So if you don't carry tissues you will be left with a wet bottom as they use water to clean off with. This really is a personal preference however. I prefer the comfort of using tissues over water. With the amount of foreign bacteria it is wise to bring antibacterial wipes along with you everywhere. Washing hands simply does not suffice. And if you eat out at restaurants there is no such thing as hygiene so pack plenty of imodium with you as you can expect to be spending a lot of time on the toilet the day after.
What have you experienced about the Indian way of life?
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