Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Always In The Way

First and foremost I have no intention of sounding like this way of living is wrong. However, this is one minor thing I think you will need to learn how to adapt to as an expat (gori wife, gori expat, etc.) in India. Some days it can be quite stressful or maddening to say the least, especially if you are used to an organized lifestyle.

Also for FYI, I was raised to understand that you do your best not to get in anyone's way or cause them extra trouble unless there was no way to prevent it. If someone's coming through a door and you are on the opposite side about to walk through, you let them go first. If two cars meet and both need to cross a one lane bridge, you yield the right of way to the other car.

Now, I live in a 3 story home with 7 other family members. This house is not huge by anybody's standards nor is it small by Indian standards. In America this is the size house that would be occupied by an average family with 2 adults and up to 2 kids. We have 2 bathrooms, 3 wash stations (like for dishes/laundry/etc, not sinks), there are 2 extra bedrooms not currently in use, one extra kitchen and two terraces. That sounds sufficient right? Not really.

That's because I didn't share enough details yet. They're coming! Let me start with the bathroom. Seven people all use one bathroom and 6 of them even refuse to use the second bathroom ever! Granted, the second bathroom is an Indian style toilet but, before I visited back in 2009 this house still had the pre-partition toilets and both were Indian style. So those 5 people are well skilled in using both types of toilet. No, not all the people refusing to use the Indian toilet are girls. So you can imagine this creates a lot of waiting for the bathroom. Thank God I'm not a morning person like most everyone in this house if you know what I mean. Now, I can understand wanting to sit down to do your business (I'm a girl after all) but, for a guy to refuse to use the downstairs bathroom because he has to stand up is quite absurd - especially when they still stand up at the American style toilet. Thank you.

I won't dig to deep with the shower but imagine 8 people all trying to shower in a 2 hour time span before the "fresh" water is cut off (it comes back but you'd never know it by the rush waiting outside the shower). I should say 7 because I've absolved myself of the morning rush completely. I'm still having issues though where if I go to the shower at the same time too many days in a row someone else finds something to do in there to keep me out by day 4 or 5.

Next let's talk about these wash stations. I have yet to understand the methodology behind which one gets used and when. It varies based on the season and the day and the time of day and more. Basically there is no methodology. One wash station is immediately inside of the front door to the house. I've noticed this wash station is only late at night, about the same time that everyone is trying to go out and park their vehicles for the night.. Why would I care? Well when we come home he can't bring his motorcycle inside to store it for the night because anyone sitting there blocks the entire door. This leads me to believe it's only being used because somewhere in the back of someones mind they are in the way. Before you think I could be wrong, consider that the second wash station is about 15 feet away and has the exact same water access. 

The third wash station (and now I realize we have 4 but the other is never used for dishes or laundry) is on the lower terrace. This wash station is only used in the mornings, 7-11 AM. Hubby and I are the only ones still sleeping at that time but, it should also be considered that Chachi has all of her wash items (washing machines, detergent, etc.) stored on the ground floor. Yet for some reason she still comes up 2 flights of stairs to do laundry most of the time. The only time she does laundry downstairs at the wash station is when everyone is trying to shower for the morning. The wash station shares a water tap with the shower so you can't do both at once. Odd practice? Or maybe I'm right and people here are so used to living in each other's way they subconsciously find ways to be in the way.  Don't answer that yet, there's more.

The spare kitchen and two extra bedrooms. All of the available space in these rooms except for a walkway and the bed space have been taken up by Uncle ji and Chachi. They store all their books, the kids daily clothes, their washing machine, refrigerator, excess furniture, etc. in there. The kitchen is taken over by all the kids old school papers, kitchen equipment I highly doubt has been used in 10+ years, old pots and tons of other random and useless items that no one ever uses or needs. The kitchen counters are where they keep their stuff they are using for that day and the kids are sent off down there to study so they aren't disturbed by the TV. Those of you who have suggested I get my own kitchen here, I assure you I would have but this kitchen was Chachi's and is on their power grid and those things can't be shared or rewired apparently. She has since built a new kitchen and now this is their storage area that can't be parted with. But that's a different post.

Driving is another thing in this city where I see people constantly getting in their own way as well as others as if it's the thing to do. Stoplights are few and far between here and they are usually almost completely disregarded. There are quite a few traffic circles meant to ease the flow of traffic and those are the worst for having people get in your way. Picture it. You're driving and a car to the right of you cuts into you to make a left hand turn. I fail to understand why this car is driving on the far right when they need to make a left hand turn but it happens at least 5 times every trip out we make. Literally, people fill in any hole or gap they can to inch forward without any thought to how close they are to the turn, etc. It's very common also to see people driving on the wrong side of the road to go to a store rather than going down past it and turning around. These drivers stop traffic, get in the way of oncoming traffic and generally confuse and anger those traveling the right direction.Yes, it's illegal but it's still done when the police aren't looking - and they rarely are.

In the mall there are quite a few people scared of the escalators. It's not at all uncommon to encounter a family standing at the end staring down trying to force themselves to step on. They are typically blocking the entire entry to the escalator and thus, in the way. This doesn't deter the younger generation who bust through, cut between them, push them out of the way and step on - which makes them in the way. Another thing about stores is when you get in line. There is almost always some aunty or group of young men trying to squeeze in around you or get in front of you. There's no concept of personal space and far too many times I've been hit with a shopping cart (I hit back, typically much harder and throw in an evil eye glare), I've had young men come between me and my groceries trying to get ahead and more.

What are some ways you've noticed people in India getting in each others way without even realizing it?


  1. Yeah I notice it all the time outside in public space, I don't live in a joint family so can't comment on that. The thing I find laughable is how conservative parties and people say that the west is too selfish  and has an indivudual before group culture that India apparently doesn't have...yeah right. I haven't seen people more obcessed with being the first, pushing around, refusing to yield, and just doing their own thing before even considering the common good. Loud music at a private party until 12am, repainting the area around their balcony of their appartment in a high rise residential building, throwing garbage out of their windows without care of where it would fall (car or anothe person's balcony if not head), people yanking shopping carts out of a person's hand to push it in the next promotional display simply because they want to pass right between you and the cart and don't even waste saliva or breath to ask if you could move...I've seen it all! People here seem far more obcessed wit the idea of "Me and myself" than the so called "individualistic cultures" that are supposed to exist in the west and are painted negatively by the right wing parties!

  2. I absolutely agree with Cyn. I even have to chastise my husband for trying to exhibit some of these behaviors in the states.

  3. One word which trumps all other inconvenience - GUESTS

  4. I have to agree. Having lived in both cultures I have to say that there is an extreme amount of selfishness here. Communal living is just another way of saying what's yours is mine and I'm not giving it back.

  5. True !

    Much of the imagined and indignantly stated cultural superiority stemming from purported "communal living" is either hogwash, west jealousy, misinformation by propagandists lapped up by the gullible or everything mixed with hell of a lot of hypocrisy. Whatever truth is there is very small and doesn't justify any chest thumping. Moreover all the comparison is done on the basis of information gleaned from trash Hollywood movies like American Pie.But to be fair, all societies have gone through such a phase. London/NY of 1860s was probably worse than Amritsar of today. Those londoners couldn't compare themselves with any other city coz there was nothing to compare. Amritsar has London/NY/Beijing to compare but instead it falls into paroxysms of jealousy. The same situation persists in most of the small towns of India but Punjab seems worse. [I personally have lived in small towns and big cities in India and I feel big cities are far far better ... have much less hypocrisy - so move out to Delhi/Mumbai ASAP.]

    So, I would say as India grows more and more educated and confident these small towns will stop comparing them with non-Indian cities and concentrate on the large Indian ones instead. By that time, the large Indian ones would have transformed into places comparable with international megacities. India would also increasingly attract immigrants from all over the world and Indians will get used to others, though given India's size, no amount of immigration would be anything more than a minuscule fraction of India's population in the next thousand years. But by then, Indians would no longer rely on Hollywood to provide cultural exposure ... they would have direct contact instead.

    And the myth of "communal living" would be laid to rest. The only question is : How much time it will take ?

    Opinions may differ but for whatever it is worth, my estimate is 20 years.

  6. Oh you're right. I often equate Amritsar with American small town mentality. In both countries the small town people have their own individual culture and everyone knows everyone and their business whether that gossip is true or not. The main difference for me is that in small town America I don't give a crap what anyone thinks and here I'm still learning when that's okay and when it really might hurt my husband in some way. I would think it would take more than 20 years though, they seem to be progressing backwards in this city. Delhi is fairly nice and definitely centuries ahead of Amritsar in many ways. I really wish no one would look to Hollywood as a reflection of western culture. Hollywood is all about being fake and really doesn't represent anyone well, at least not anyone from the Eastern coast of the US where I grew up. We are much more conservative on that side of the US.

  7. On Hollywood --

    You have no choice. 

    Movie exporting countries end up projecting an image onto the world. India too exports movies to several Asian nations. The subcontinental cousins know the reality, but other Asians often think of India in terms of Bollywood. They feel India is a paradise like very musical and romantic place where a boy and a girl fall in love a la fairy tales and live in a state of eternal bliss. The reality is that in several parts of India, honor killings are routine if even a whiff of romance happens between a boy and a girl [what else is more natural -- talk of perverted cultures]. And caste based marriages are enforced by all kinds of extra-legal aids. Dowry killings are frequent, if not the norm. I shd know, I have known one of my schoolmate burned to death by in-laws.

    Instead of being a haven of love, today India is possibly one of the most violent nations on earth. And it gets much worse for women.

  8. That's really scary how your schoolmate was murdered. I would be devastated if anything so tragic happened to someone I know. India does seem more dangerous for women. That shapes a lot of the decisions I make. I'm not sure about other small cities but I really don't think Amritsar is a very safe place for women. I still think Afghanistan probably has India beat on violence though. :P