India is widely famous for the delicious food, the bright colours, the vivid music and the absolute kindness of its people. Before my first trip to India I read a lot about these and I was eager to witness everything. But I was still unfamiliar with the real Indian culture and was therefore unknowingly making many mistakes during my first stay.
Let me tell you about some of my first “culture shock” experiences.
- Everything can be finger food: Of course I use my finger to eat fries, a burger or a sandwich in Germany, too. But I was quite astonished by the way most of the Indians use their fingers to eat all the curries and most of the other dishes.
Ripping apart my roti just with the fingers of the right hand was a skill I had to practice a lot and during my first trip I put more food on my face and my clothes than into my stomach. Once I managed it, it became quite natural and most of the time I don’t use cutlery. But I am looking forward to seeing my students struggle with their first dishes and to watching them handling the Indian food better from day to day.
- The direct way is not always the shortest: “Being German means to be pragmatic, direct and therefore to be efficient.” How wrong I was! I learned this lesson the hard way, that in India it is seldom the best to say frankly what you want or to expect a short “Yes” or “No” as response to a simple question. It is not only incredible rude to shout out your wishes and demands straight from the shoulder, it can also lead to awkward and embarrassing It was hard for me to understand this and I am thankful I had so patient hosts. In the meantime I learned to relax more and to accept an indirect answer. Only when again I insist to have everything done my way I slowly notice I still have to learn a lot about the Indian way of communication.
- Half an hour can be quite a long time: Time zones in Germany and in India are different. In India there is the IST. For a long time I thought ITS stands for Indian Standard Time. It took me a while to realize it’s just an abbreviation for Indian Stretchable Time! In my first exchange year my host told me that we will leave the house in half an hour.
You can’t belief how fast I took a shower, got dressed, had breakfast and packed my rucksack for school only to sit in front of the house for an extra half an hour. Time is relative – Einstein knew that and the Indians do definitely trust him. Nowadays I often leave my watch at home when I explore an Indian city. What is it good for anyway? Things happen, when they are supposed to happen. An understanding I am happy to have learned in India.
Of course there were many more situations that left me puzzled when I experienced them the first time. And I can easily imagine how strange it must have been for my Indian friends to deal with that German teacher who was obviously making a habit of putting his foot in it. I still have to thank them for all their patience!