I have had the luck of genetically fitting into a culture I am visiting. The most culture shock I felt was when a (tall and blonde) friend from Quest visited me. At the time I did not have a phone, but knew that meeting up with him would not be a problem, as he would be easy to spot. I found him towering above the locals (I am tall here. At 5’4,” people talk about me as if I am a giant.)
He was here for a few days. The first night we met for dinner with my friend from FLAME.
Tanner was the first Canadian I had seen in more than a month and the only person I’d seen since I left that I knew. We chatted about Canada and Quest and life in India. It was SO nice to be with someone who could understand exactly what I was saying (eg. what is with the intermissions in Hollywood movies played in Indian theatres?! It’s like an hour and a half! You can hold your pee!) I also realized how GRATEFUL I am that I cam alone to FLAME so that I do not have anyone who understands all the things I say (intermissions can have benefits too.. I guess). My friend told the rickshaw driver where Tanner’s place was (making it much easier for him than when he was speaking to them in english before meeting us) and we sent him on his way.
The next day I met with him alone and we went to a famous dosa place on the street where the school’s bus drops me. Neither of us knew what we were ordering and we spent a total of about $6 for too much food.
With Tanner I saw India through tourist eyes, but I also saw how people reacted differently to him and to us. People stared much more and we were treated very differently, especially at restaurants. Although it was nice to not have to ask to be spoken to in English, as I usually have to. The things (like beggars) that were constant in India with or without Tanner became humorous as our collective way of coping. (Tanner also attempted a “stop, drop, and roll” command to the child asking for money). It was with Tanner that I had the most aggressive begging experience where I was entirely surrounded by children with balloons, pushing me (literally and figuratively) to buy them. This kind of thing happens much more to foreigners, which, when I’m with my FLAME friends, I can pretend to not be.
The next day I invited the foreign teacher at FLAME to join us for a tour of a local temple. We happily took the hour walk (something no student I know of would have been okay with -rickshaws are taken for very short trips here). It was fun to see the goats and other animals around. There was a tour going on at the temple with other foreigners and it was hilarious when both Tanner and the American teacher were mistaken by the people on the tour for being part of it. The teacher was asked “are you going to come to yoga tomorrow.”
While my FLAME friends have expressed interest in doing these types of touristy things (going to check out the temples/ museums around the city), it is hard to get out of the mindset of academics. When we go out, we have gone shopping or to eat (mostly to eat).
However going out with fellow foreigners meant having a few communication mishaps at a restaurant we went to and then also almost being ripped off for the purchase of street food (20 rupees for 2 pieces of the food instead of the approx. 12 pieces that it should have been). Luckily we asked locals also purchasing at the same time what the prices should be.
The final visit with Tanner was when he came to my campus for a free concert we were throwing (see previous blog post about the Coke Studio concert). It was so funny to think about campus the way that he would see it -and the way that I saw it originally, with the winding road, the gate surrounding it, and the security guards all around. It felt so big when I arrived, but once here for just a day it becomes very easy to figure out where everything is. We managed to walk around campus by claiming he was the foreign teacher’s son.
Tanner’s visit was well-worth it (including the 8+ hours I spent on the bus getting to and from the city in those few days). It was nice to have a glimpse of home and a chance to reflect on how much my perspective has shifted over the previous month and a bit.
However, the best part of seeing a Quest friend in India was a true appreciation for taking this journey alone.
It was really hard to travel and come to FLAME by myself, ESPECIALLY in the beginning when I had to deal with a lot of tough logistical bullshit (excuse my language -no better way to put it). However, I looked to the FLAME students for help and immersed myself completely with them. This means I have some of the most amazing friends and gain a largely more in-depth understanding for the culture here than I ever would have otherwise.
I’m so appreciate for every aspect of my exchange (including the hard bits).
Until next time,