10 Things I Have Learnt Living In Punjab
Updated: Jan 13
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 band aid solution. There really is no end to their creativity with finding a solution. The difference however between a band aid 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 for 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, braking and accelerating intermittently. If you are in the way or driving too slow then 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.
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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.
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 aren't a local and a woman and should do so to Indian men they take this as a sign you are interested in them. Most men have only ever seen a white woman in a Hollywood movie and as such assume that all Caucasian women act sexually. So should you take more than one glance at a man you will most likely find they will eagerly smile back.
But if you happen to be in a rural town, then don't be surprised if they then try to grope you or make some form of physical contact. Unfortunately you don't even need to always make eye contact for some men in rural towns to simply just grope you randomly. 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 goes, 'This is India!' Meaning it is what it is, therefore just go with it. Doing business is especially frustrating for a myriad of reasons such as no governing legislations to keep businesses in check, everyone runs on Indian time so you never know when a business will be open, and many are content with just average therefore never strive for better.
Unfortunately we had a terrible experience with our local Travel Agent who just so happens to be a family friend as well. My in laws had purchased my flights back to India from their local travel agent. It is not what you would expect from an office in the western world of business. It is just someone's home with a space downstairs that acts as the shop front, and in most cases isn't even styled like a 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 that 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, and 24 hour time wasn't used. I never received that information from him and had to google it in the end. 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 as I was stopped and 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 directly across the street 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
When living with my in laws, my husband would suddenly tell me we are leaving to visit our relatives soon, so hurry up and get ready. I would then rush around and get myself ready as quickly as possible, only to find that 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 in the west whereby we 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. Which can be frustrating when trying to arrive somewhere in a timely fashion.
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 that it will be alright. Or as they say to me in English - "no tension", which is their way of trying to say "don't stress" or in Aussie slang, "no worries". 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.
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8. Masala Is Added To Everything
Masala, Masala, Masala! India is obviously well known for it's love of everything masala, which 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 chili 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, living in India I become very ill within a month of living there as my stomach just wasn't accustomed to all the spices, dairy and oils.
So I decided to avoid spicy food for a while, and one evening had my husband order me some chicken nuggets and fries from a local restaurant for dinner. I took a bite of my nugget only to discover that masala was sprinkled all over my meal. He told me that he ordered plain chicken nuggets and fries just as I had requested. Though to the locals plain meant with masala. So now when I order anything I specifically ask for no masala, as it comes with basically everything as a standard.
9. Carry Cash, Not Card
With the Indian government cancelling the 500 and 1000 rupee notes during my stay in 2016, this is an important factor to consider. As during the chaos, not a single ATM had any cash in them due to locals fearing that they would loose their money and withdrawing what they had in a panic. However, even 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 as it can be difficult locating an ATM when you desperately need one. If you are visiting a tourist destination or major city, then ATM's will be much more accessible.
But that isn't the only reason to carry cash, as you will find that many small local businesses do not usually accept foreign bank cards. Some don't even accept local bank cards, especially if you're shopping at a local bazaar. Even shopping online, many retailers only accept local bank cards and not international, except for global brands such as Amazon. This has more than likely improved over the past few years. But it's always a good idea to carry some back up cash in any case.
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 and a small first aid kit. These come in extremely useful when travelling through India. Especially since toilets are few and far between and should you be lucky enough to find public toilets, they are usually filthy and probably won't have a western toilet available.
You will also find that locals use water to clean off with after going to the toilet, so if you don't carry tissues you will be left with a wet bottom. Though it just comes down to what your comfortable with, however personally I prefer the comfort of using tissues over water.
Antibacterial gel and wipes are definitely a must, especially since many of us western tourists are more susceptible to catching foreign bacteria. Even locals aren't fully immune to everything and tend to avoid eating out much, so that they don't get food poisoning. As washing hands alone doesn't always work. 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?