When Indians Get Culture Shock

There is a fascinating thread of Quora where Indians are sharing their experiences of culture shock when first arriving to a new place such as the U.S. or Canada. I like how culture shock can bring to our attention strange aspects of our own culture that we have never really thought about. You can find the Quora thread here

“No Horn Please – In my 2 years in US, number of times I have honked my car is zero. Honking is considered rude here and people are very careful when to use it. In most cities in India, it feels like the horn is constantly on, and you need to press the horn button to stop it.”

 “People don’t need to be told to not urinate in public. Unlike our homeland.”

“Not sure if anyone mentioned about swimming pools, or to be more precise the change rooms attached to the swimming pools. The first time I entered the change room, I was totally unprepared for this rude shock. It was a complete sausage fest, if you know what i mean. The whole time i kept switching my eyesight between the floor and the ceiling. A big hall lined with open showers and lockers with dozens of naked men moving around isnt really something an Indian guy would have ever seen in India or ever expected to see in his lifetime.”

“People smile. All the time. The first few times I’d turn around to check if it wasn’t directed at someone else. My first one or 2 months I had sore cheeks from all the smiling. There’s also a lot more exchanging of pleasantries between strangers, and people passing by asking “How are you doing?” and then proceeding to walk past without expecting a response. A few years later I went to NYC and there was a lot less smiling and a lot fewer pleasantries, but still much more than in India.”

“There’s an immense level of trust built into the system. You can return most things within 30 days of purchase, even if it doesn’t still look brand new. This shocked me no end at first. I asked a colleague, “so what’s stopping you from buying a wrench, completing a repair, and then simply returning it?” It didn’t sit too well with him that I could even think like that. Well, you can’t just instantly switch off that part of your Indian brain that’s constantly wondering how you can ‘game’ the system.”

“Motorcycles are an indulgence rather than a beginning mode of transport. People who have them ride them in organized groups simply to experience the joy of riding, and are usually headed nowhere in particular. They also don’t ride between lanes and you’re expected to give them the same road space as a car. In parking garages, a single motorcycle usually occupies an entire car spot.”

“Obesity is inversely proportional to money – In India, we have fat rich people and skinny poor people for the most part. In US, most poor people are fat and it takes money to stay lean. This is mostly due to the cheap fast food and insane amount of pop (soda) that people consume. In most places the soda is unlimited.”

“Americans go to beaches to lie down and catch the sun. On hot days, they often do so in public parks as well. I’ve seen this in movies when I was in India and always assumed that the weather is pleasantly warm when they do this. Not so – it’s quite hot. If you see someone using a beach umbrella or a picnic umbrella, odds are pretty good there’s an Indian under it trying to stay out of the sun. As the sun gets less fiery in the evening, many Americans start leaving and Indians finally venture out of their umbrellas.”

“There’s a culture of steep tipping (relatively speaking) that is already assumed in the wages of service personnel. So you need to tip for them to make their wage. In metropolitan areas with heavy Indian presence (i.e. more than 5%), Indian looks and an Indian accent can lead to a presumption of poor tips and a lower priority in the service queue. I tip well, so this unfortunate stereotype affects me unfairly. Somehow, faking an American accent can bypass this phenomenon, so I assume second generation Indian Americans are good tippers – good for them!”

“Americans take schedules quite literally. If you tell them you’re having a party at 6PM, they’ll arrive at 6:05PM and apologize for being late, catching you in the midst of preparation. The Indians would start arriving in a staggered manner at a much more considerate 6:45PM. I was once visiting a client of mine who’d gotten very close to some of my Indian consultants in her office. She exclaimed to me that she’d finally figured out ‘Indian standard time’ after several faux pas. Her theory was that the stated event time when an Indian invites you over is not really the time when you’re supposed to ‘arrive’, but the time when you’re supposed to start ‘thinking about’ heading over there. She seemed relieved to have ‘finally figured it out'”

“Queue- It was my first day in Zurich, I had reached the airport around 6.20 am, and went to my place around 10 am (yeah, took some time to understand transport and converted my money). Went to the nearby coop, and just like a boss I took some vegetables and bread, and went to the counter, when, a German lady cried- ‘Scheiße (Meaning Fuck), Queue??’ I was like ‘Oh! I am in a developed country’, I said, ‘I am extremely sorry’, just when a man from back of the queue told me, it’s okay, come here, stand here. I was embarassed, but, another cultural shock.”

“Smiling faces- This was a shock, everyone had a smile on their face, strangers greeting each other- Guten Tag/Bis Bald, and everything, the whole environment was so lively. You do that here (India), people will think you’re some horny, crazy, asshole or something.”

“Traffic- If you’re about to cross a road, traffic will stop for you, without any lights. Try doing that here. Curse words/injury/death awaits.”

“Women Empowerment- Women driving trams, buses, trains, doing every job which men can do. And seeing 80-90 years old women driving their vehicles, that was a shocker.”

“Socially closed knit/individualistic society- That is bad, for Indians, I mean, here we’re surrounded by family, relatives, friends, neighbors, and so and so. There, people don’t even know who their neighbors are. Shocker!”

“Oh and the most important thing I would like to highlight – NO HONKING. Absolutely none. In fact, in my 1 and half years here so far, I think I have heard a driver honking only maybe 2 or 3 times. Many of my European friends said it is rude and sometimes can also be fined if you honk.”

“No shaming/being judged – I remember every time I bought a packet of sanitary pads at the chemist he would wrap it in a newspaper and give it to me in a black bag. And if I said I wanted a packet of whisper without feeling shy to the male salesman I was judged as being too modern/shameless. Here I can go to the supermarket/chemist to buy sanitary pads/tampons/condoms/lubes and no one cares.”

“No interfering in others matters – nobody cares if the person living with you is your boyfriend/husband/or someone else. Nobody cares about your educational qualifications or your job. To each his own.”







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