Musings on certain Indian eccentricities from one sheltered, semi-ignorant English girl. WARNING: may contain sweeping generalisations.
As we were travelling around India, like a good little pretend-journalist I noted down any little things that peaked my interest and I have listed them below. I don't know whether these idiosyncrasies are exclusive to India or whether or not I just haven't noticed them elsewhere before.
- In the hotels/hostels/guest-houses we stayed in, one very small roll of toilet paper is provided which between two people lasts barely a day. You have to ask for more toilet roll and even then they will only give you one at a time.
Obviously this will be related mainly to the fact that most Indian's do not use loo roll and instead use the 'bum gun' or, as we saw more often, a tap and small bucket arrangement to clean themselves. I also presume that because of this (and the fact India is a poor country), toilet paper must be relatively expensive. The other explanation is that the plumbing systems perhaps can't handle much if any paper and Western tourists like us are notorious for clogging them up.
- The staff at hotels (concierges, cleaners etc.) seem to live in the hotel's corridors and landings. In many of the places we stayed, when we came back late in the evening, or if we left early in he morning, there were men sleeping on the corridor with a few blankets and some food around them.
- There were many more trees in India than I expected, especially in the cities. The trees are also painted near the bottom of their trunks so that people don't cut them down and try and sell them.
- No two horns are the same. Whether it's a car, a tuk tuk, a bus, an articulated lorry or a motorbike, each horn has its own personality and flair. Whether or not this is down to vehicle manufacturers, age or wear and tear I don't know, but I like to think that there are big horn stores where people go to select their favourite model. Think the doorbell shop from that Simpsons episode.
- Everything is cheap (at least compared to Europe) but for some reason, laundry is expensive.
Perhaps it is only expensive to us tourists but the system that seemed to be the norm was you pay a price per item of clothing. So different clothing items have a slightly different price; regardless of their weight. This means that a very thin linen jacket will be the same price to launder as a big heavy coat. We only had laundry done for us twice, and to give you some idea of the expense, we had one medium sized paper bag's worth of clothes washed in Goa and it cost us £15! And, when the clothes come back, they're not 'clean' to our standard anyway - stains are still present and they don't smell great.
- The coffee-shop phenomenon has not escaped India.
There's a chain called Café Coffee Day that is fairly ubiquitous in most of India. We went in a few and they're really basic, with a few coffee options along with some breaded items (not fresh) and a few soups etc. The ones we went into were always pretty empty and had no atmosphere. I'd guess that they're still building custom - although they must be doing ok otherwise they wouldn't keep popping up everywhere. Costa and Starfucks exist too, especially in Westernised areas.
- Indians love to decorate things.
Whether it's their car, their house, their baby, the tarmac outside their house, Indians certainly aren't afraid of adorning their possessions with all the colours of the rainbow. We often saw babies with dark kohl under their eyes which I hate to admit made them look even cuter. They're also fond of personalisation; the taxi drivers particularly like to put their names and a little phrase or saying on their back window.
- Even though there are (approx.) 2000 rupees in £20 and notes start at 10 rupees (i.e. A LOT of notes), no one ever seems to have change. We were forever trying and often failing to 'break' 500 and 1000 rupee notes. This meant we often overpaid (not by much) for things just because it was easier.
- There's a whole language in head bobbing.
We didn't get chance to research this body language but we definitely immediately noticed the side to side (ear to shoulder) head bob which means yes. It was a little confusing at first because it's a bit similar to our negative head shake. There is a whole alphabet of head bobs in Indian interaction and it's fascinating to watch and also quite contagious!
- Indian's use A LOT of sugar in their food.
Whenever we got any drink, whether tea, coffee, juice etc. we would always be served with a bowl of sugar and/or honey. This would be on top of the sugar that was already in the drink. The masala chai tea was sooo incredibly sweet (which is probably why we loved it so much). But it wasn't just drinks, food was often sweetened (curries too). It was also incredibly difficult to get diet or 'light' drinks like Diet Coke - and when you could get it, it cost anywhere between 50 - 100% more than 'full fat' coke (I'm presuming the demand is a lot lower). It's also worth noting that Pepsi is much more common than Coca Cola in India. We did see a lot about diabetes being an issue and I can see why. However, for someone with a sweet tooth like me it was pretty amazing!
- Barcadi Breezers are the go-to bottled drink (besides beer).
This was very nostalgic for us and our early clubbing days. If only they also had my favourite (but extinct) alcopop; Reef.