6 Discoveries from my 6 Weeks in India

The following post is a collection of six random realizations I made while traveling through India for six weeks.

Shaking your heads means yes.

I don’t mean nodding up and down, which is done here too, but I mean shaking side to side. In the U.S. this always means no and is a widely known symbol of disagreement. That’s why I found it bizarre when I would talk to my friend Pragya, share an idea, and she would look back at me simply shaking her head back and forth (in what looked like complete disagreement.) I thought oh no, is what I am saying that completely wrong? Is she really disagreeing with every single thing I say? But when I stopped talking, she wouldn’t correct me, but just continue the conversation, offering another point of discussion. After a couple of such incidences, I realized that this head shaking, or perhaps described better as a “bob” back and forth, means general agreement and acknowledgment that their listening.

Indians don’t use toilet paper.

Now let me tell you, I have used quite a few bathrooms now in an assortment of houses and public facilities. Aside from the one connected to my room and the one at my professor’s office—none of them had toilet paper. I didn’t understand. Where do Indians poop? Do they even poop? It took a kind friend to clue me in. Indians use water and their ‘bare hands’ to clean their rears. Then they clean their hands with soap and water. Indians use their left hands to do all their dirty business from going to the bathroom to cleaning their feet and even taking off their shoes. This is why you should not eat anything, pass anything, or point at anyone with your left hand while in India!

It’s rude to not be insistent.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the woman I was staying with in Chandigarh and her servants were very pushy with food. I’ve learned that this is actually a politeness in India. You must ask your guests if they want more food. You must ask more than once, typically two to three times to be certain. Sometimes Indians will say no on the first request out of courtesy, but expect the second or third offer to accept and grab more food to eat. Furthermore offering your food to others is a politeness in itself. Neena, the woman I stayed with in Chandigarh, was telling me about how she saw two women sitting together on a train in London. One woman pulled out an apple and didn’t offer to share it with the other. Neena said she was shocked and said that you’d never see someone behave like that in India. America—it looks like we’ve got some work to do on sharing.

Salt and Pepper go in Lemonade.

Yep, that’s right. Salt and pepper is mixed into lemonade .and they actually find this refreshing. I understand salts are needed to replace those one looses from sweating under the hot Indian sun. But it doesn’t make drinking lemonade with salt taste any less gross to me.

Never eat Indian sandwiches.

I have had some horrible experiences here with sandwiches. Just thinking about sandwiches in India makes me feel nauseous and this is hardly an overstatement. I am going to try my best to try and describe them in a way in which you can understand how horrible they are, but I don’t think my descriptions will ever be able to match tasting one for yourself. The first few days in Chandigarh  I was served “sandwiches” for breakfast. The first was made of plain, crust-less white bread that was filled with coleslaw—cabbage, carrot, mayonnaise and vinegar. This one was manageable. I didn’t like it. I would never ask for it to be served to me. I’ll never have a craving for a coleslaw sandwich. But it was at least edible.

Only a few days later, I was served the worst sandwich-like thing I have ever had. It was again made with crust-less  white bread, but now the coleslaw center was made almost entirely out of raw, finely chopped onions. The onions were coated in mayonnaise and some sort of red pepper was also thrown into the mix. There were four of five sandwich halves placed before me on the breakfast table. The problem is, as a guest, I felt too bad to complain. So I sat there and ate three and a half onion sandwiches. It was the slowest and most miserable breakfast I have ever had and perhaps the most disgusting meal I’ve ever felt obligated to consume. I literally gagged a couple times when trying to down the bites.

In contrast to the sandwiches, when I was served Indian food it was delicious and very enjoyable. I mostly looked forward to my lunches and dinners, only slightly fearing I’d see a sandwich on my plate. In my effort to politely indicate I wasn’t enjoying my breakfast sandwiches, I told my host, Neena, that it didn’t sit well with me in the morning. I hoped to never see them again, but sadly they still managed to creep up in some dinners. I think Neena thought I preferred these “sandwich” meals, as they are closer to American food. Even though I told Neena that I preferred eating Indian food while in India, the coleslaw sandwiches continued to creep up at dinner from time to time.

Indians wear blue jeans.

All right. This is an embarrassing admittance for me. For some reason, I assumed people didn’t wear blue jeans in India. For that reason, I so intelligently decided not to pack even a single pair of blue jeans to bring on my six week trip. As soon as I arrived, I realized like everywhere else in the world, many people wear them. They are perhaps the most popular type of pants I saw in India and I would have fit in better and more comfortably if I had brought blue jeans to wear from day one.

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