This is the most common question I have been getting since we came back to the U.S.
Describing India in contrast to the U.S. is nearly impossible. It is an amazing place – full of culture, history, and fascinating people. It is also so very different from everything I am used to. Some of those differences weren’t even clear to me until I returned home.
Some of the things that are so very different really have nothing to do with India – but encompass more the differences between living in a house and an apartment. My husband has always wanted to live in a city – rather than the suburbs. That is what we are doing. I don’t care for it. It is hard to be in a 3-bedroom flat when you are very used to a 3-level home with a yard and a drive way and friends all over the place. There were times I frankly felt a little claustrophobic.
Doing homework is hard when you have 3 kids and no where to go. Having friends over is hard when you just don’t have the room to entertain. The kids in India don’t really seem to be outside playing a lot. I am not sure why – but we just don’t see it that often.
Having staff sounds like a great gig if you can get it. But again – if you aren’t used to it – well, it is also a big adjustment. I don’t like explaining everything to other people when I am used to doing it myself. But I like going into the closet and pulling out an ironed shirt that I had nothing to do with getting cleaned – if only they would wash it and iron it somewhere else. Cooking and cleaning might be a little difficult to accomplish somewhere else – but that would be nice too.
We have two people who work in our house. And after some trial and (some very big) error, we have people that are a really good fit for us. But it is still someone in your house – your little house. I calculated that our staff works for us for almost 80 hours a week. They work hard and they work almost the entire time they are there – really only rarely stopping for tea. So that is 80 hours of work I do not have to do. Yes, I am very thankful for that!
One thing my husband always says is that there are nice people everywhere. That is true. I have met some kind and generous people who I hope I will be friends with for the rest of my life. I have met some people who are more interesting than I will ever be. The expats who live in India are adventurous and smart people. They soak in the world.
I am writing delicately on this one – but parenting is different in India. And on this issue, I am talking mostly about expat parenting because that is what I have been exposed to. Some of the parents I have met depend on their staff a lot. Drivers drive kids to and from parties. Not everyone is that concerned with meeting the parents on the other end. Ayahs (babysitters) supervise play dates. This is all about comfort level and, again, if you are used to it, surely this is easier. But I cannot let go of my parenting long enough to enjoy this benefit of India. I like being the one to take my kids places and I want to meet the parents any where I might be dropping them off. I know this is all about balance and I am a little heavy on the side of caution. But it is who I am and I do not want to let India change that part of me.
And this is not the friends that I have surrounded myself with. I gravitate toward people who think more like me. I roll like that.
The expat children I have met are confident and outgoing. They all seem to find their niche and thrive in their own circles. They are comfortable talking with adults and don’t seem too affected by moving around the world. They are impressive in that regard. They will surely accomplish great things. On the down side, some of them are a little entitled. I mean, really, if you have a driver, a cook, a house cleaner, a gardener, and an ayah – yeah, you might feel a little more than special. But a lot of parents I have met work hard to keep their kids on an even keel.
I have written a lot about shopping. Haggling is fun. Very fun. But I do miss Target and Costco and the grocery store. It is just so convenient in the U.S. But I have gotten some very fun Indian items that I probably would never have found in the U.S. – even at World Market – and I negotiated good prices for them.
The best way I can think to describe living in India is that it is like living in the U.S. about 30 or 40 years ago.
People do not have answering machines – well, I guess technically they have human answering machines. Everyone has a cell phone but nobody leaves messages. It’s all about texting. I stink at texting so it takes me a really long time to do it. I am usually about half-way thru my message when the person I am calling calls me back. Augh.
I am not used to electricity and water being sporadically available. Although we are really fortunate that we will have not been inconvenienced by the outages.
And I know many Indians are not thrilled with the portrayal of India in Slumdog Millionaire – but honestly – it is a dirty place. Pollution is abundant and it is dusty and in many places, very dirty. You see people working hard to sweep the streets and move the garbage – but there is just so much of it. There are lovely places that are not dirty – in fact, they are meticulously maintained. But there is a hazy sky almost everyday. It’s just not what I am used to.
Delhi is less organized than my little corner of the U.S. And India is less predictable. Which makes everyday interesting. You really, truly never know what you might see.
In some ways I feel we are living in a little bubble of expats. We really spend most of our time on the school campus. Most of our activities are there. We have not met that many Indian families. The Indian people we have met thru number one hubby’s work are delightful and kind. They are generous with their support and thoughtfulness. They certainly have made me more comfortable about living in India.
So – what’s it really like – it’s very different. I miss all my routines and friends and family and conveniences. I am enjoying my new friends and experiences. It’s a mix – it’s a great adventure that really makes me homesick.