Category Archives: culture shock

Home Sweet Home

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Technology makes it much easier to keep up communication with loved ones back home. Through Vonage, Todd can call me for free. With Skype we can even see one another when we talk. And email allows us to share information instantaneously around the world.

Sometimes the technology has been just what we needed to boost our spirits. For example, the day that their dad left for home, the kids were feeling sad and homesick. That night, we Skyped with both of their classes back home and their spirits soared. They saw the faces of friends. They heard the encouragement of other kiddos reminding them what a special journey they were taking.

Other times such close connection with home reminds us more of what we are missing. Last night Carson and I Skyped home and we took a tour of the house with Todd. We saw our bedrooms. The kitchen. The flowers blooming out in the garden a month ahead of schedule. Carson saw his toys on his shelves and the new shelving that his dad had hung in his room. While it was comforting to see home, it made us long for it. We saw things we had forgotten about. I longed to curl up in my corner chair and watch the rain outside the window. Carson wanted to dive into the Lego sets he could see on his shelf. We looked at each other and said, “Home.”  “I miss it,” said Carson. Me too.  Reminds me of that Paul Simon song. “Home. Where my thoughts escape me. Home. Where my love lies waiting silently for me.” Ah the melodrama of homesickness.

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BBQ expat style

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We had a lovely afternoon today on the rooftop terrace of one of my yoga mama friends. TGoing to an international school where folks travel from all around the city, it is a rare treat to get together with a large group of friends.

We had BEEF burgers and steak, a huge SALAD, tzatziki sauce, delicious drinks. A really nice vacation from typical meals in Bangalore.

The kids had a ball playing with friends from school.Here is the boys table.

     

Kaden was having fun with the girls enjoying all of the channels on the TV–quite a change from our handful of channels on our set. Here she was watching the best waterparks in the U.S. and planning our next vacation with her good friend Kaya.  Carson was having a shoot ’em up game with his new friend.

  

While we chatted about silly things, we also had a fascinating conversations about ethnicity. We talked about the distinctions within the Indian culture among darker and lighter Indian people and how much this is emphasized and discussed, much like in the African-American community back home.

The discussions also got me thinking about identity. This was really a global group. Among the couples present, one couple was one Greek person, one American. Another couple was one Australian and one German. Another couple was Trinidadian and Indian-Canadian And on and on.One family is moving to Northern California this summer. Another to Germany. Another to Toronto.  I posted on Facebook that Kaden asked me, “If I am 25% German, 25% Portuguese, 40% Polish and 10% Croatian, then what part is American?” Add in spending more time among Indian cultural events than most other cultures back home. And then if you layer on top living in yet a different country for years at a time really makes you a citizen of the world.

On another note, I am happy to report that the package sent by Todd’s parents finally arrived to us–a good month after they sent it. This package had a much smaller hole in it, but it appeared the animal (a rodent perhaps?) got in there much better than the dog the last time. All of the food was nibbled aside from one bag of gold fish crackers and a Reese Cup. Thankfully the clothes and toys and jewelry were spared!  Doesn’t this package look like it has been through hell and back?

Driver woes

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Our driver quit at the end of February. It is very sad and frustrating. All of a sudden a new guy started showing up instead of Srinivas. A guy who spoke little English and slammed on his breaks too hard replaced him. He was nice enough, but no Srinivas.

I don’t think we’ll ever get the full story of why Srinivas left. His boss told us he found a better paying driving job. But then off hand said later that he told another driver that our kids were not sitting properly in the seats and leaving too many food crumbs.  It is hard to have a family in a car that is not hours. Road trips and day to day issues are hard on cars, but when it is not our car it is hard to live comfortably and not show some wear and tear on the car. Like today, as I was getting out of the car, the boss driver told me I needed to please shut the doors more gently on the van. Sigh. I know these cars are their livelihood but it is like walking through a store full of breakables with kids–next to impossible to not have something go wrong if given enough time.  I think we will keep the full time driver for this month and then shift to an as needed basis next month with the kids not in school after the 6th. That will save on costs and reduce the drama of the driver issue. But it will increase the volatility of when a car is available and if the driver knows where to go.

I wonder too if there was a problem with the fact that we actually used the full 12 hours of our time at least a few time a week. The arrangement is that we have the driver for 12 hours and that we pay for 12 hours whether we use them or not. More than 12 hours and we pay more. But the days that we have used the full 12 hours the drivers seemed surprised and a bit annoyed. They act like they have places to go, things to do. Maybe it’s a cultural issue but I just don’t get it. I think part of it is that we are probably not firm enough. Don’t want to offend.

I also often need to go to some strange places. Little schools on dirt roads in the middle of now here. None of our drivers want to be shown a map. They have no patience for a map. They want the village name, the road name, and landmarks. Always landmarks. And then a mobile number when they inevitably get lost. At my last school visit my driver had to stop and ask directions 5 times and finally I got through on the mobile and had the person explain how to find the little place.

To replace Srinivas, the owner of the driver group drove us around until he found another driver who speaks English well. but I think he just gave up trying to find someone good.  The new guy arrived–driver number 6 for us so far. And no, he doesn’t speak English well. And I had to start all over in terms of giving directions for how to get to school, my office, yoga class, our favorite grocery store. I sent him to recharge two cell phones. He came back with only one phone recharged. With six weeks left I just don’t want to have to start over again adjusting a new driver to what we need.

The second day was even worse. I had my friends Kim and Leti visiting from Penn State. We were a half an hour late for yoga because he went to the wrong side of town. Then he tried to take us to the wrong palace for some sightseeing. Then we asked him to take us to Commercial Street. One of the biggest landmarks in Bangalore. He tried to stop at two other streets before we just gave up.

I called the boss man and said that I was not willing to have him drive us again. Next morning, there he was. So I let him drive us to school, but then called a cab for the rest of the day. The boss man came back to drive again for us, but with a huge attitude. Not willing to help us find stores. Not helping to carry packages. Making it very difficult to get trough the day. I finally fired him. He seemed relieved.

We still have six weeks to go. No driver. My friend Vini has graciously offered her second driver while her husband is away. She recommends him, he knows this neighborhood, and he speaks English well.  He is wonderful. He knows the back roads. He is a kind, decent person. I am hoping that this bit of grace will get us through the end of schooling in the first week of April.  With school, we need a driver at 7:30 and again at 2:30 or 3:30, so basically we need full day help. Once the kids are out of school, we can rely on hiring cabs for 4 or 8 our stretches.

I am tired of worrying about transportation!

Waterparks, safety and childish men

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Todd went home on Monday the 12th of March. We had promised the kiddos that while Todd was here we would go to an amusement park. I had some people on the Ex-Pat website recommend Wonder La, a huge amusement park on the way to Mysore. We looked at the rides and discussed what we would do. Then I told my yoga moms about the plan and they told me I was nuts. The water at the park is dirty and the crowds are too big for safety.  Last week a 12 year old girl drowned in two feet of water during a school trip due to the crowds and lack of supervision. So, we nixed that plan.

   

Instead, we found Club Cabana-a resort very close to our house. You can buy day passes to resorts in B’Lore. For $20 US Dollars for adults, $10 US Dollars for kiddos, we had admission to the park plus lunch and high tea. And if we wanted,  we could add bowling, archery and other attractions. We just stuck with the water park. The facilities were clean and well-functioning. The park had three water slides, a wave pool, a lazy river, and a waterworks. Plus shaded little cabanas for resting. Perfect! It wasn’t five star luxury but everything was in good shape and running order.  The kids had a blast on the slides. The food was good. They even made French fries for the kids. They came home tired and a little sunburned and I am quite certain we will return before we leave India.

  

      

We were the only family there on a Saturday. The place was rented out by corporations that arrived in large luxury busses. We though the corporate execs would be busy in meetings and team building activities (Saturday is a work day in India). But by lunchtime they had all moved over to the water park.

I have decided that male Indian corporate types are the bane of my existence. When my  dad asked how things were, I told him “Fun place, but there were 400 corporate men there.” “Yuck,” he said. “They are the worst.” Indeed.   My children acted far more mature than they were acting. Imagine a group of six year old boys. Or a drunk group of 16 year old boys. Total chaos and annoyance.  I saw grown men playing in the waterworks area.–swinging on the swings, sliding down the slides. And while people may do stupid things like that in the U.S., if they saw actual children heading their way toward a child-oriented activity, they would step aside. And maybe act a bit embarrassed. Not here. They’ll elbow my kids out of the way. We encountered them on our Safari acting just as juvenile.  Here is a photo of the kids trying to climb the nets and the men taking them over.

Mom thinks that part of their childish behavior might be due to the fact that they never had waterslides when they were kids. Or climbing nets on a safari. Even if they came from wealthier families, such locations simply didn’t exist a generation ago.  I think it also has to do with being boys in a culture that spoils them rotten. In a traditional Indian family, the boy eats first, then the father, the mother and then the daughter.

While times have changed, the gendered roes in India seem to be the last to shift. For example, a recent Penn State grad acquired a tenure-track position in a business school here in town. Top of her class, great job, rising star in her profession. And all her family does is nag her about when she will get married. The pressure is so intense that she is considering moving back to the States just to get away from the pressure. The need to “marry off” a woman continues to persist even when they have Ph.Ds.

At the water park, thankfully the male corporate exec tended to move in clumps, so when they went to the wave pool, we went to the slides and vice versa. But they were obnoxious. And many were quite drunk.  They shrieked like children as they came down the slides. Kaden thought they were hilarious. I heard two nodding in Kaden’s direction and saying “American’s are quite brave, aren’t they?’ as Kaden came barreling down one of the slides without a peep out of her mouth.

Worse than the childishness, they didn’t follow any modicum of safety. Not that there seemed to be any rules or at least no enforcement of rules. After riding down a water slide, they would sit in the pool at the bottom and float in it, often right in front of the slide.  At one point there were ten men floating in at the bottom of the slide. Then a monkey ran buy and scurried UP the edge of the water slide. Ah, India.

   

I hollered at the “life guard” to get the men out of there. But let’s be realistic. The “life guard” was a man in navy blue trousers. The only thing he seemed to be policing was making the men take off their shirts to go down the slides. Women could wear whatever. Most had on t-shirts and pants. Some of the men seemed to be in their underwear. But as long as they took their shirts off they were okay.  And the lifeguards/staff were few and far between. They let the kids and I slide down the tubes holding hands—something strictly forbidden in the U.S. My cousins and I got thrown out of an amusement park in Ocean City for doing just that years ago. This Club Cabana was mostly an unsupervised water park. Which is fine since we watched our kids closely. It was really fear of others making stupid decisions that worried me.

Todd commented, reading my mind, “The reason why we have such safety standards in the U.S. is fear of litigation.” And a lack of a justice system that would allow the park any real authority to throw people out/give many consequences for in appropriate behavior. I think the U.S. system is way too litigious. People sue for anything these days and we all pay the price for it. But India shows the other extreme—whither some fear of sanction there is little incentive to monitor safety issues closely. No wonder that girl drowned at WonderLa. And the park still keeps running. Nothing was shut down for an investigation. Is a modern society necessarily a litigious society? No so in many European countries where trust is much higher and community is strong. But with trust being low here anyway, I suspect that the litigation will continue to increase as the infrastructure is built for the justice system to enforce concerns.

Follow the money

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We faced the daunting challenge last week of figuring out how to pay our first round of monthly bills, and especially the internet bill. The choices appeared to be online, by voucher or by courier.

We tried online first, of course. The website appeared to be broken at times. when it was working, we ran into the problem of having a foreign credit card. Some websites won’t accept a foreign credit credit card at all. Others do but the credit card company rejects the charge as fishy. We did not have any success paying the internet bill by credit card.

We opted for the courier option as we did not see any address on the bill or online where we could drop off the payment. For an extra 50 rupees ($1), the courier was to come and pick up the cash. Of course, the courier didn’t come on the appointed day, or the next day. And then we were heading off to Goa for the weekend. We left the bill with the head security guard. Luckily the courier called when we were near the phone in Goa and luckily also RAn was nearby to speak Hindi and give directions, because the man spoke no English.

The voucher option might be something to explore. It sounds like a money order. You go to certain stores and can purchase payment vouchers that can be used for specific purposes. Then there are apparently payment boxes for the vouchers that can be found about town. I’ll save that adventure for next month!

Notice that paying by mail was not one of the choices! The postal system in India is not trusted or reliable. Important business here occurs by courier or by a company such as DSL if going internationally. I have mentioned before that stamps are not trustworthy because it is assumed that someone will cut them off. But since then talking to colleagues it seems that the mail itself only has about a 50% chance of arrving unless you pay for registered mail or some sort of explicit tracking service. So running a business dependent on the mail services is foolhardy. And no one trusts that the mail will get money where it needs to go.

I’ve realized that how money changes hands is a big concern in India. People prefer to deal in cash, even when it is the equivalent of thousands of US dollars.  And there seems to be an expectation that money theft will occur and it affects how business is conducted. For example, in local grocery stores, first you check out your food items and receive a receipt. Then you go to the money guy. It is often a bit chaotic since you have people from several check out aisles converging on one money. He’s where you give the cash or the credit card. Then he stamps your receipt. You then go exit the store where a security guard checks to make sure that your bill is stamped. Now, often this process occurs within a few feet of one another and it is very frustrating to me when the security guard puzzles over my bill after he has watched me check out and then walk over to the money guy. Then, interestingly, fruit is sold separately outside of the store and they collect their own money.

This concern about theft and money helps to explain why building relationships is so key to conducting business in India–the assumption of trust is not there initially but needs to be established through gestures and time.

The lack of trust is also clear with our maid, or her fear that we don’t trust her. She won’t even touch dishes if they aren’t right by the sink because she doesn’t want to be accused to taking anything. She even scolds us if she sees something sitting out that she feels should be locked up. We never let her stay in the house if we are leaving and she doesn’t want to be there for fear of accusation. And yet we know she wouldn’t steal from us, or at least she would be a fool to do so because her entire family works for the apartment complex. Her husband is on the building crew. Her daugher cleans houses. Her grandson gardens. If someone in the family screws up, they could all be fired and be in big financial trouble.

Turns out the Holyman across the way got robbed last weekend. He had Basama, our maid, as his house cleaner, but replaced her with a live in servant. The servant stole from him this weekend. They found all the stuff under the guy’s pillow. By they, I mean Basama’s family and the workers who live in the garage area of our complex. Since the lack of trust also extends to the police, they beat the guy up and brought the stuff back. Justice served, the Indian way.

The photo above hows a policeman in this strangely elaborate tented area on the side side of the highway. The tented area is next to the new toll booths  set up near the airport. The drivers in town are furious about the new tolls and Todd and I got to see their rage when I picked him up at the airport. People getting out of their car and shouting. Cars honking loudly. Turns out they are really mad about the new tolls.

Kinj and Janet arrive!

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My brother Kinjal and his wife Janet arrived at the end of last week. It has been fun wandering about town with them. It also has helped me realize that we are starting to acclimate when I hear Janet say, “Cows! There are cows on the road!” And Kinjal says, “Look how many people are on that motorcycle!” Such scenes are not as shocking after a month!

It has reminded me too that even going to the grocery store can be an adventure. Today we needed to buy a dozen eggs. They had eggs on big flats but I guess were out of small cartons (I guess they transfer them into cartons at the store). So they said I couldn’t buy eggs, but with seven people in our house, we needed eggs! So I got a dozen eggs in plastic grocery bag.  I also got a chuckle out of the Valentine’s Day adds in the store–love cards available here!

   

We’ve had some excellent food during their visit including this restaurant called Tandoor. Amazing ceilings and amazing kebabs!

  

  

Some flags flying around town because the Congressional (?) political party is in town?

Slowing down the pace…..

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Sitting in traffic on our holiday weekend to Mysore, I feel the need to whine a bit about how long things take. As someone who is used to multi-tasking and getting places quickly, it is weird to a lot large chunks of time to getting something done.

I wanted to use the gym at our development. On the way through the courtyard, I encounter Carson who has gotten bruised up in the local soccer game. Comfort him, send him upstairs. Then I run into Mr. Yadav, our head security guard. He had given me the electric bill an hour before. The electric bill had 10 different numbers on it and I had no idea which of these numbers was owed. Yadav says he will speak with the manager, Promod.

Now, to actually access the gym, I have to go to the front security desk. At this desk, I say I want to go to the gym and the security guard on duty shuffles between about 10 different little notebooks. The notebooks have covers that include crayons and Ben-10 (You just can’t make this stuff up!). When they find the gym notebook, I must sign in and then someone will walk over with me to open the gym. This process takes at least 10 minutes.

Today as I head to the security office, Yadav is standing next to it waiting for Promod the manager to get off the phone. He tells me to wait and we will talk to Promod together. We wait a long time for Promod to get off the phone, and Promod explains the bill, and tells Yadav that I should pay him and that he should then write me a receipt.

So then I follow Yadav to the security gate hoping to sign in for the gym. Instead he takes out the receipt book to settle the electric bill. It is clear we will not be finding the Gym crayon notebook until we finish the electric bill project. So, back to my house to get the cash (all bills are paid in cash here, even bills for thousands of dollars—kind of hard when my ATM only lets me withdraw the equivalent of $200 a day). So I pay Yadav and then he gets confused about the receipt, calls Promod back. We complete the receipt.

Then we fill out the gym book and he opens the gym for me. I turn on the lights (it’s dark by now), and get on the treadmill. As happens about 50% of the time, when I try to go above 9 km/hr, the treadmill trips the circuit and all the power goes out. Pitch black in the gym.

Back to the security desk, but Mr. Yadav has taken his break and no one else knows how to fix the problem. “He is coming,” they say. After 10 minutes I give up on the idea that he is coming and start running up and down the five steps at the entrance of the complex. I know they think I’m weird and at this point I don’t care. I am going to get a work out in even if I cause a crowd. I think start jogging back and forth along the corridor between the buildings. Just as I start, Mr. Yadav arrives, cheerful as ever. He truly is very helpful and always willing to go out of his way. For all I know he was done for the night but he came up to help me.

He ambles his way to the gym, sees the blackout and says he needs to go and find a chair to reach the circuit breaker. Now I see where the breaker is and I quickly move the weight bench to use as a chair. I help Mr. Yadav up on the bench and he flips the switch.

Finally, 45 minutes later, I can start my workout!

Some street scenes:

this family is gathering firewood for the day. they live in a shanty on the street here. A little girl about 9 or so was hustling back and forth to carry the wookd back to their house. The girl clearly wasn’t attending school.It still shocks me every time I see a kiddo like that.

      

  

Little one bicycling in the field behind our house.