Quirky Travels

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting an esteemed blogger, Rachna from Rachna Says. Apart from the fact that she’s smart, savvy and fun-loving, what I admire in her is that she isn’t afraid to speak her mind; be it simply to share her thoughts on myriad experiences of life or to stand up against injustice, or even to take the first step in resolving a conflict. Her posts reflect this very nature of hers. Today she writes on some funny and interesting travel experiences, her observations about fellow Indians abroad and what it means to carry certain rituals back home!


Travel tales and quirky incidents
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I love traveling. I have done loads of solo traveling across India in my job in brand management. For a single girl, I traveled at odd hours and walked miles every day with my Sales Representatives traveling through Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab, Karnataka and Delhi. I loved exploring the cities in the bargain and have multiple tales from my journeys that I look back upon very fondly. The SR at Amritsar took me home where I witnessed some hearty Punjabi hospitality in the form of piping hot ‘Alu Parathas’ fed to me lovingly by his grandma. He also took me to Golden Temple and Jalianwala Baug, which was a surreal experience.  Punjabi men are the most chivalrous.  I regularly encountered men helping out with the luggage and then walking off not so much as waiting for a thank you. Their women love colors and make up. I once met a Distributor’s mother wearing a fluorescent green ‘Patiala’ with bright makeup in the day time. Ah, the delights of traveling!   

After marriage, I went to live in the US. My husband is the type who is permanently infected with the travel bug. He is your essential backpacker. But, I am the organized type. I can’t live in shoddy places or travel impromptu. I prefer well-planned outings. But this is not a travelogue. This is about my experiences while traveling and living abroad. Now, haven’t we heard time and time again about how Indians stare at foreigners? Yes, it can be quite irritating. I can’t imagine how exposed the white-skinned and black-skinned folks feel among the “staring” Indians. 
Now, as a culture, most Americans and Europeans smile at a person they see on the street and acknowledge you with a hello or some small talk. When I first went to live in the US, I was quite baffled when a burly man gave me a big smile and yelled, “How are you doing?” I smiled back very apprehensively. As you know, good Indian girls don’t smile at strange men ;-). My husband was quite amused, and he explained that it was part of cultural etiquette there. From then on, I took to it like fish to water; smiling and talking to everyone I met – in the supermarket checkout lines, on the streets, in the doctor’s clinic, at the book store etc. It is actually quite a lovely gesture. But I can only shiver to imagine the repercussions of doing it back home in India. 
Imagine me giving huge smiles to the watchman, plumber, electrician, driver and other helpers. For all you know, the neighbors’ antennas will go up, and some of them might come reporting to hubby. I may also end up giving wrong signals to our helpers who might take madam’s smiles a bit more seriously than required. Smiling or talking enterprisingly to your friends’ husbands will cause malicious rumors spreading like wild fire; and their wives cutting you off from their social circuits. And smiling at a total stranger, God forbid, can get good Indian girls abducted or much worse. So, you understand why we don’t smile at strangers or sometimes even people we see day in and day out. The funny part, coming back to my US stay, was that the Indians would be super enthusiastic yelling out their hellos to foreigners but with other Indians, we went back to our gloomy selves.
Now, let’s get back to the staring bit. Yes, we stare when we see white people. It is hard for most of us to comprehend how someone can look so ahem white. I mean do they bathe in Surf or Nirma? But guess what? Even browns get stared at!  I was subjected to loads of staring myself. A few years back when we visited the Netherlands, a country that is really unused to seeing browns, we had some rather hilarious experiences. Now, in the US, we lived in California, which is almost overtaken by Indians. We do everything there that we do in India including wearing Indian clothes.  You can gauge the comfort level of Indians there by the fact that I was greeted by a lady dressed in a nightgown in the laundry room. I came back complaining to my husband about her decency, when he patiently explained that “nightie” was a ‘dayee’ for many South Indians. Of course, I experienced that first hand when I came to live in Bangalore. Sorry for digressing, so I had carried a few salwars with me on the trip to the NL. I had even carried a sari on impulse. Every time I wore a salwar kameez and went out, I had a few people staring intently at me not even bothering to blink. I clearly remember one guy walking past and then retracing his steps to fall in line with me all the while staring at me with a smile. The bindi used to fascinate them a lot. For them, I was this exotic creature straight out of a museum walking on their streets. Besides they were quite simply baffled with browns. Now where have these people originated from, I could sort of hear them thinking. A few people tried speaking to me in Spanish too. A friend who had taken us around on some sightseeing was asked about the origin of ‘these’ exotic people. My husband certainly did not enjoy all the staring and pointedly told me not to wear salwars and stick to the basic western clothing. But, I did not find the staring offensive. It helps that Dutch men are really good-looking, and it was not derogatory; it was mostly out of curiosity. I actually loved my stay there. Most people were genuinely friendly and nice. And, I was not uncomfortable with the attention.
But when we lived in the Scotland, I recall an experience of once having a family having breakfast at our hotel. Their young son pointed a finger at me and yelled “Moslem.”  Yes, I remember wearing a salwar kameez. That unnerved me a bit. I turned around to see the family looking at me very oddly. I have generally found foreigners pretty well mannered, but these guys did not seem very friendly. The overall Scottish experience wasn’t so bad. Scots are not as friendly as the other Europeans or Americans. And there was this stocky man at British immigration who was downright nasty. He kept me waiting in line even though I was traveling with a toddler. And, he exhibited the stiff upper lip attitude of the British while speaking to me. But before that in the flight from Bangalore to London, I had a wonderful young British man, who was seated with my son and me. He was getting back home from a vacation in India. He was gushing to me about the lovely time he had. He also helped me with Sid, playing games with him and teaching him how to color while I caught a nap. The flight was very pleasant because of his company. So, can we really slot people as nasty or good, starers or non-starers? To my mind, what makes a difference is our own exposure to all the amazing people and cultures that our wonderful world offers that offers us an insight to look beyond the obvious. The more we partake of the exposure, the more tolerant, friendly and worldly wise we become.
Does this deter me from traveling? Hell No! I love going to new places and meeting new people. I guess being aware of cultural quirks is helpful when traveling away from one’s country.  What have your experiences been?

I would love to hear your views!