Thursday, March 14, 2013

Quality of Life - a Vast Difference Between Indians and Westerners

We all know about the things you can have while in India but have you thought of the things you may have to do without? Have you thought of the things you may have to adjust to?

Before I get to my main point, it needs to be stated that both the US and India each have their own quality of life standards. The climate, social structure and many other factors affect quality standards. My point here is not to compare and contrast as if the systems are equal but to highlight differences an expat may not have thought of. Whether or not they are good are bad are the decision of the reader.

There are also no set standards that everyone follows. There are always exceptions to the rules but these are things I or the people around me have dealt with. 

Doing Things the Hard Way
Many modern amenities are available in India. However, there is an overpowering perception that one must suffer, or do things the hard way, in order to prove their emotions. So it is not uncommon to see washing machines set aside and laundry done by hand or food prepared at floor level when there are counters in the kitchen. Many times these harder traditions are carried on because of the belief they are better. Regardless of why, they are the hard way of doing things.

Lack of Modern Conveniences
Whether it be frugality or for reasons mentioned above, most Indian homes are not loaded with common western amenities. This includes the electric coffee pot, heated blankets, universal remotes, etc. You won't likely find seat covers in the cars or cigarette lighters. Most homes don't have their own printer or geyser, etc.

Western-style mattresses are available but come with a hefty price tag and are hard to find. It's the same for recliners, rocking chairs and gliders. Kitchen tables are fairly easy to find but not a hutch or buffet. These can be built to order, you just have to be able to communicate your wants to the furniture store.

Holding the Rupee's Hostage
Indian's didn't get the rupee-pinching stereotype for no reason. They are well known for going without so they can save their hard earned money. Bargaining is a distinctly cultural aspect and so is denying themselves of creature comforts. They don't go without everything of course but they are selective with what they spend money on. Long term goals trump any fleeting spur of the moment purchase.

Recycling Until It Just Can't Be Recycled Anymore
This one I personally applaud. Yesterday's newspaper is today's shopping bag. Things are not thrown away until they can't possibly be fixed or recycled anymore. Even after things are thrown out, people go through the trash and sort out what can be recycled. (Usually the plastic bottles and such since there is no separate recycling pick up.)

India Can't Be Bought in A Day
America is an instant gratification society. If we want something done, we go out and do it. This is not how things work in India. Most tasks take longer in India. Either you need to involve a friend, ask someone, go to multiple offices or something of the sort. There is very little opportunity for instant gratification under the current socially interactive system.

As an expat, it is likely you will need the help of an Indian familiar with your area. To get things done, you need to work around their schedule. Then they will in turn need to work around the schedules of others who they must interact with to complete the tasks. Working around peoples schedules could mean waiting for days, weeks or longer. Bribes may be involved to get some tasks done or you may have to wait until they can find someone capable of delivering your purchase.

What are some cultural differences you had trouble dealing with? Did you get frustrated with any of the things I mentioned?


  1. Even having a geyser isn't all that convenient. We have 3 bathrooms (all have geysers) and there's a geyser in the kitchen as well. But it's kind of a pain to have to turn it on and wait 15 minutes before having a shower.

    We also have 5 AC units (one in each bedroom and two in the living/dining area) but it's still a pain not to have temperature control.

  2. Hi

    The differences that you mentioned in the post have their roots in our past. Modern technology came to India very late and also made its presence felt gradually. In the 1980s when I grew up anything mechanical TV, Fridge, telephone etc. was like space age technology for us. There was only one TV in the entire neighborhood. Every evening people gather in the house of TV owner and the drawing room resembled a mini cinema hall.

    People were amazed that the fridge could produce ice and telephone could be used communicate with someone sitting at a far off place. TV was the most amazing invention. About recycling, I remember the rubber slippers were taken to the cobbler for stitching till they looked ugly with all the stitches and had to be thrown off. Buying new things were deferred till it was absolutely necessary. There were very few things in the market to buy and never enough money. All good thing came from abroad leading the to the term "imported". People bragged about imported items. The fact whether you have arrived in life was determined by whether you were using a gas stove instead of kerosene one and also whether you have graduated from cycle/bus to scooter.

    All these changed with economic liberalization in 1990s. The middle class went for the consumer good with vengeance like they wanted to make up for lost time. Our generation was amazed how India changed in the last twenty years. I guess we were living in stone age then. This is what I think as an Indian.

  3. In most houses I've seen here the interior looks slightly old and out of fashion. Families don't normally throw out their furniture, they keep it or refurbish it...whereas in the west, we want new, up to date furniture and will simply throw and replace...

  4. In some ways a geyser can be good (money saving possibly) but I agree it's not always convenient. Our geyser was well outside of the bathroom for safety reasons and thus if you forgot to turn it on or it didn't work right you had to get dressed again and go out and fix it. With AC units you have to have power - which as we both know the power companies can't always give you. Lol.

  5. Our family is the same. We still had 1 whole floor of the home set up exactly like their grandfather had it. It was so they could remember them. So the furniture was mostly outdated.

  6. luckily, we live in a complex that runs only on diesel generated electricity--so we're not reliant on the government for electricity (which would have been miserable). But it's INSANELY expensive. In the Western world, basics like gas and electricity is affordable for everyone (like even for public school janitors). In India, only wealthy people can afford these things.

  7. The sitting/squatting on the floor to prepare food is partly because the generation who may be doing it didn't not have the tops and may still not in their homes if they are maids etc. Also Westerners do have back problems due to too much sitting at desks - apparently squatting is better for you! However I agree, we've argued with my mil re a dishwasher and she thinks why do we need it but she uses one in England!

  8. I don't think I got as puzzled by these, because in Switzerland we go by the "make things last" motto, fast food never really took off back home and while we have more kitchen gizmos than in India, compared to some of my friends in US it seems we depend less on them. When one of my friend say they bought this and that in the US I find myself wondering if it is really as great and usefull as it is made to be and this not because I lived in India for 9 years but because in Switzerland we tend to ponder these things carefully.

    I think the thing that really stroke me in India is that despite flats and houses having more surface area than any given urban area dwelling space in Switzerland there seem to be a huge problem of space managment in India. With flat looking crammed despite being bigger with even less belonging that what your average Swiss family has. And I noticed the difference, when you go into an expat home, things are organized much differently, even if the furniture is basic and very desi looking, in many of my indian friends' home there is a sense of chaos in the way things are stored away you will not find in pardesi's living quarters. Not sure how I can explain this one better. But yeah as you said it seems that the indian way has to be more complicated just because, so when for example my wardrobe which is smaller than the ones at my in-laws you will find everything segregated neatly in old paper bags or shoe boxes so that when I need a belt I know where to find it, in my SIL's home finding one item could take ages because things are all piled in odd ways.
    In many of my desi friends kitchen's you find old appliances boxes that are kept just in case crowding the space and then all the spices and stuff jam packed in a tiny cabinet with the result that if you need a less used spice you might end up having to bring down the entire content of said cabinet to find it, while in a western culture household we keep the kitchen usually super neat and ultra organized to save massive amount of time while cooking because yes even if you use the taragon once in a blue moon it still need to be accesible on the spot. When I first started living with DH he liked keeping all the appliance boxes too, until relocation stunt number 3 and he got fed up with them, since we are now at relocation number 7 you can bet that we just junk everything that is not going to be on any use on the spot :), which lead to us gaining a massive amount of storage space in our home too.

  9. I understand exactly what you mean about the chaos. I've seen random items stored in large stock pots and shoved in cabinets and cabinets that are well over normal height be used to store important items and then you need a ladder to get them down. I have difficulty with the cupboards being crammed with everything and, like you mentioned, having to pull all of it out to find one item. I can't live like that lol.

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