Saturday, May 5, 2012

Advice for Pardesi's Moving to India

Before I came to India I had the fortune of being in contact with several women who had connections to India for longer than me. Some even had connections to Amritsar. These women are smart, intuitive and opinionated. Several of them gave me some great advice before coming here. Like most, I was stubborn about it and didn't understand it. I'd been here has a TOURIST and felt like their warnings may have been indication of a 'worst case scenario' type of thing. Since coming here I've now learned that I should have heeded their warnings as a means of better preparing myself for life here. Even though I can't undo my own stubbornness, I can pass along this information to you so that you can be more informed.

It's also important to understand that it doesn't matter how many times you've been here as a tourist, even if you came for a few months at a time, you cannot understand what someone living here sees. It takes time to see the true nature of people. Anyone can hide themselves from you for a few weeks or months but when you live with them day to day for over a year, they seem to lose the ability to fake being something they are not. You really must LIVE here for 6 months or more to really understand what life is like here.

This information ALL came from pardesi's who had/have lived here more than 6 months. And no, none of it came from any of the bloggers I follow.

India in General:
  • "the newness does wear off after 6 months or so"
  • "India is not the kind of place where you want to call the police"
  • "get a credit card with a couple thousand limit and make certain to have that in case you ever want to leave"
  • "There is a certain level of torture to be associated with living in India on a daily basis outside of Indian family members."
  • "you will always be an "outsider" in this country"  
  •  "Many people are very friendly and may even treat you better as a foreigner but there will be those that don't and dealing with it on a daily basis and all the little things you will miss from your life in the US can be mentally grueling"
  • "I do feel that it is not common farther north for women to go out alone."
  • "I would never go out by myself in the North of India"
  • "adjustment in India is more about accepting perceived isolation and finding an identity that makes sense"
  • "It is a different world living with an extended family." 
  • "power cuts are a much bigger problem in the Hindi speaking areas of India (north) than in the south" 

Amritsar Specific:
  • "going to be a gamble as far as your happiness is concerned"
  • "should you decide you want to leave your family in India at some point, do not plan on telling them goodbye and its been fun, they will block the doors and try to keep you"
  • "I could not go anywhere by my self with out commotion."
  • "There are places that I do feel comfortable being alone but not every place is the same and Amritsar was not one of them. Amritsar is 11 miles from Pakistan and all someone has to do is pull her into a lorry truck, it's one of two crossing borders in India and she is gone for good. kidnappings happen often and every day there are shots fired over the borders between India and Pakistan. "
  • "I do not go out alone in Amritsar"
  • "Groups of drunk men are who i would be most afraid of if alone." 

I've not personally seen any real threat here in Amritsar that doesn't exist elsewhere. I know (from research and studies) that one tourist is kidnapped every 10 minutes in the world which I do also consider. Most of the fears associated with living in Amritsar (that are preached by the locals) are dated from a time when life here was not safe. 

While everyone should exercise personal caution every time they go out, even in their home country, I would not let the fear of what could happen stop you from living life. I did as part of my learning process about what life is like here - not just my fears but the fears of my family. It will only stifle you and cause resentment and anger. Heed the warnings and use them to prepare yourself for what you may face, don't let them be a dictation of your life.

What's your best advice to anyone considering moving to India?


  1. As you mentioned in an older post, one of the biggest things I've had to contend with, and which still aggravates me after almost 2.5 years, is the inconvenience of taking care of basic household tasks and chores. The dust and dirt-which is a particularly bad problem in Delhi-is another hassle I can't get used to. Also, the excessively aggressive, male dominated society of north India and the passivity of women. I've lived in southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam), where women certainly are not as independent as in developed countries, but it's nothing like here. At least in southeast Asia women go out in the street, work in shops, own their own businesses, wear what they want to wear, do things with their friends, talk to men who are not family members if they want to, etc. And sadly, I really don't think the attitude towards women and girls will change any time soon. Also, the caste system and the extreme social status, image conscious nature of people here, combined with superficiality. In Delhi, all people want is the image of being powerful and important, nobody cares about substance and there is a terrible work ethic. It's a very me, me, me culture. Take as much as you can, give nothing back.

  2. My best advice, which I always tell people, is to have an interest here... something that you can focus on doing that you enjoy. It will give your life meaning and provide a welcome distraction that you can immerse yourself in when the negative side of living in India seems overwhelming. I would say, never just come here for love and think it will be enough to be happy. You need a greater purpose in being in India, even if it's something as simple as learning the language, dabbling in spirituality, etc.

  3. What helps is to have an open mind and carefree attitude. There's no point crying over things you can't control..buckle up and enjoy the ride.

    One thing that struck me was your point about how you will always be an outsider.I grew up in India and I've lived in US for a while now, but I sometimes feel (and treated on certain occasions) as an outsider over there...although it's not that extreme or bad as you face over here. I remember going to a small town in Kansas and when I said I was Indian, they thought I meant Native American. Driving through certain parts of Mississippi and Louisiana was a challenge too. I guess it depends on the area and what part of the country you are in..Amritsar might be a bit more challenging for you as opposed to say, Delhi or Bangalore.

    No matter how long you stay here or adapt to the local culture, you'll always feel like an outsider. Even if it's a small thing like the way your name is pronounced, color of your skin or your accent. That said, would you like a slurpee? It's berry phresh and juicy.

    And, even though I'm back in Delhi now after a long time and can't relate to many things I grew up with here, I still don't feel like an outsider. I can blend in (even though I do get those "NRI?" looks) and I don't feel out of place. That's why it bothers me when shopkeepers try to rip me off..though it gives me an opportunity to showcase my talent of knowing Hindi and Punjabi choice words

  4. I lived in South India all the time and am now in Mumbai, so yeah going alone is a non-issue, women do it far more easily than in the North. Bangalore has some annoying power issue and load shedding I am glad not to have at all in Mumbai.

    On the outsider thing...I've been in India for 8.5 years, and I'm divided on the issue, yes an outsider compared to traditional communities, but then it didn't take me long to see that hey I don't have to associate to these communities, there are others grops where i am seen as a peer. I mingle very well with returning NRIs and Indians who have been abroad, we have something in common: we've been exposed to 2 cultures.
    My residential enclave has a couple of playschool, and sending my daughter to one I got to meet other ladies who are moms like me, in India, many have been abroad and I have been invited to join a kitty party group, I'm the only non Indian there of course, but at the last party we had a new member who asked me where I was from, I said Switzerland and then she asked me how long I have been in India, and I told her over 8 years, and her reply was "Oh so you are Indian! Who cares what the passport says". None of the ladies in my kitty group could relate to let's say Rural India.

    My advice to all those planning to relocate to India, is to pack an open mind, don't go thinking that India is all this and not at all that, and that you have to be an exact certain way to fit in, because there is no such thing as the cookie cutter mold to perfect Indian (just like there is no perfect cookie cutter Swiss, or American or anything).
    Set personnal boundaries to avoid loosing yourself, and yes the honeymoon stage of expatdom is 6 months, unless you have been 6 months in a country you can't fully grasp what it means to live here, because the the first 6 months are recognised as the "Honeymoon stage" everything is new, exiting and you don't see why expats that have been longer than you here complain about certain little things, you are in that stage where you think you'll do better than the others because you have a more positive mindset...yadayadayada. been there, we've all been to some exent, truth is you can't avoid hitting the wall. The wall is called culture shock. Some say the honeymoon stage doesn't last past 6 weeks, but then no one I know realised culture shock hit before the 6 months mark, because one of the first aspect of it is to delude ourselves into thinking that all is well. Not much meat around...who care everything is so delicious and healthy around here, it is stupid to miss a steak, Imported goods out of price...who needs them, local goods are so glorious and beside you help the economy.
    This is that denial stage of culture shok in which you just don't want to admit that you are just like any other expats and start missing things from home. And generally by the 6 months mark the reality of living there has truely sunk in.

    here is an article that describe the stages of expatdom and culture shock:


    My best
    advise if you want to live in India: forget the life you got in the West and
    stop comparing. Forget that you used go out on a saterday evening for a movie
    and pizza. Forget that you can walk so much. When I’m in the west I walk a lot in
    Punjab it's almost impossible to get some exercise or walking done. Be prepared
    to go mentally braindead at some point especially when there is powercut and
    the internet is not working or the kabel tv. Forget the variety of food like
    Mexican, Chinees or Thai food. Get use to that people can be very hypocritical
    and its totally normal!  Get used that
    gossip and creating fights for now reason is a nice pass time for some of
    Punjabis/Indians. Forget that planned life works in Punjab. It works in the West but not in India.
    Besides that: just enjoy your joint family as much as you can. Enjoy the
    gurdwara/ the mandir. Enjoy your partner who is over concerned and obsessed
    with your safety. Enjoy the fact that you are not in a rat race for paying your
    bills and building you’r career like in the West. 

  6.  Thats so right! When you'r husband is at work.... you have to have something for yourself to do. It can be anything: writing, religion / whatever. Otherwise you get braindead and miserable for sure. Well sad! You gave the best advise ever !

  7. You know I think Xenia is right-
    'gossip and creating fights for now reason is a nice pass time for some ofPunjabis/Indians.'
    Seriously,that's the way my Kashmiri husband's family is too, they've given up trying to pick fights with me as I either don't respond or immediately slam them- so now they're all at each other's throats. It's like a form of entertainment in their dull and dreary lives.

    "get a credit card with a couple thousand limit and make certain to have that in case you ever want to leave"

    I'd add to that 'just in case' you wish to check in to a 5 star hotel for a bit to regain your sanity after dealing with Indian family drama, some sense of 'western' privacy and 'western' hygiene.

    If you are a woman marrying into an Indian family- please be aware of the Indian family 'hierarchy'. Your new Indian family may put on a 'good show' at first- but 'daughter in laws' are LOW status in this hierarchy. Eventually your extended Indian family will try every trick in the book to control you- nasty and demoralizing comments, your private belongings will be searched  daily(and things may go 'missing'), everything you say can & will be used against you, no gift you buy nothing you could ever do will ever be 'good enough'. Granted not all Indian families go to these lengths to let you know you are a worthless piece of crap, but in my experience most will. My advice- be a snob, a bit 'icy' and a cheapskate. Forget your 'western' good manners & graciousness.

  8. You've mentioned all very good points. The Northern parts of India are vastly different than anywhere else. It's quite difficult to adjust to most of these issues and I'm not sure I'll ever adjust to some of them either. I second pretty much everything you've said!

  9. Great advice. I would also have to say that something shouldn't be completely online. I brought work with me and it takes up a lot of my time but doesn't help with the mental distress of living here at all. I had the impression I was going to work until I got my PIO card and then I had some things I wanted to do offline. Getting to the PIO is taking too long and those things are taking longer than I would have wanted.

  10. Amritsar is definitely more challenging than Delhi. I have been to Delhi 15 times now and never feel uncomfortable, there is considerably less staring and I can wear what I want freely without feeling like a target. I imagine Bangalore would be even better as I have friends there who thrive.

    Lol on your slurpee comment. My dad's friend Nirungen always makes a joke just like that - but he owns a hotel...the other common Indian business hahaha.

    I too know a few of those choice Hindi and Punjabi words and I'm learning more every day. My southern upbringing hasn't yet allowed me to use them but I'm getting very close lol.

  11. That's a great point Cyn! You don't have to blend into the communities and it's unlikely you ever will fully blend in so it's important to be yourself. I know in our neighborhood I don't get any trouble and everyone knows me and from my understanding most respect me. But that doesn't stop them from watching my every move, staring and such.

    It's even better advice not to expect that India is or isn't something specific. It's not better than any other nation in any way. It's different. As always great advice Cyn!

  12. Like you I walked a lot back home. I loved walking. But here, I can't get out anywhere but the terrace on a daily basis and going in the same circle gets boring by round 3. I've lost a lot of muscle tone in this last 16 months.

    Great advice, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  13. You're absolutely right on the choti bahu bit. I was told that as well but to a much more extreme degree. I was basically told I would wind up a slave to the family in a few short months. That hasn't happened thank God but they did begin to change after a while and not in a good way.

    I've been channeling my inner bitch as well. I don't like her but it's definitely necessary.

  14. So glad you
    understand me. I can survive with everything in Punjab; the gossip, the laziness,
    the 3x a day eating roti, people throwing stuff on the floor like it’s one big garbage
    can, mother in law constantly recycle the stuff I clearly have thrown away
    (like old deodorant/bottles/make up ). But my body can’t survive the lack of
    walking, the lack of being fiscally active. I just don’t understand why it’s
    such a big issues to walk here LOL. And nobody will take you for a walk to. It’s impossible to go out alone –
    especially for us ; gauri's. But nobody will take you for a walk;
    cause they are too lazy / not used to walk. So I sit on my rooftop in Punjab
    enjoying the view of the fields – and just imagining how great it must be to

  15.  LOL again you are so RIGHT! In the beginning I was to nice. But you have to become more Bitchy to survive. Sad but true !

  16. Thanks for your tips. I think a lot of those apply to most of India and some apply to the world as well. Especially the part about the maids. That's universal but since maids are more common here than in the west, most may not think about them. Thanks for sharing!