Thanks for posting your questions everyone! I thought they were all really good, so I’ll answer them all (plus there were only two actual queries – haha)! Click on the link below to see my answers!
One of the biggest changes I’ve had to deal in regards to culture shock would be the different way that Indians view time and customer service. It isn’t considered as big of a deal to be late here (outside of Infosys) from what I’ve been told/seen. I was going nuts at first when they told us to show up 30 minutes ahead of the real start time in training, because they were used to the Indian trainees being late. However, we’ve come to a bit of a happy medium (they tell us the exact time, we show up right at that time).
With regards to customer service – it is a whole different ballgame here. They seem to be big on multi-tasking. You’ll see cashiers ringing up multiple orders at once, all while talking on the cell phone and yelling to a coworker across the aisle. Even in non-traditional retail outlets (like the tailor I go to for my custom clothes) – they will be helping multiple customers at once, switching between them dynamically. It is a little unnerving at first – I wanted to yell “HEY! I’M THE CUSTOMER, PAY ATTENTION!”. However, I’ve come to realize that with so many people, they need to get stuff done as efficiently/quickly as possible. It’s also just how things work here – so you better get used to it.
To answer your second question – I’d say I feel pretty safe, both on campus and off. Granted, I live on a gated compound guarded by armed security officers and ride in taxis everywhere – but even when I’ve shaken off the shackles and tried to blend in a bit, like by walking down the street in a non-touristy part of town, I feel relatively safe. I mainly get stared at by people, particularly in Mysore (a small town of only 1.3 million) – which is harmless. Granted, I’m a very large white male – so my experience might be unique.
To answer the second point, the English language news seems to be primarily focused on Indian issues and doesn’t have a major slant. Most of the headlines have to do with government (corruption/etc.), business, cricket and Bollywood. The nuclear deal ths US signed with India is a huge topic – as the far-left and far-right are going berserk about it.
The part(s) of India that I love the most is probably the food and the people. The food is amazing here – I’ve had a lot of Southern Indian food, but I’ve also had Northern stuff as well as Indianized Chinese food, which puts Americanized stuff to shame. The people also seem, on the whole, to be very friendly and very laid back. A lot of people have never met anyone from America, so they are often pretty inquisitive about stuff. The hired staff (landscaping, housekeeping, etc.) here are very polite and they care a lot about their work. A lot of the Indian trainees ignore them, but I try to be nice and wave (many only speak Kannada) whenever possible. I’ve also found my dealings with Raju, proprietor of Raj Dresswear – the local Grasim Showroom here in Mysore – to be some of the best customer service I’ve had. He has me sit, serves me coffee, makes sure my clothing fits perfectly, etc.
In terms of the things I don’t like – I’d say some of the rigid focus on process/paperwork and inefficiency that is still prevalent in many parts of Indian government. I’ll just illustrate a few examples of how dealing with them can be a real treat. One, we had to register as foreign nationals with the police – the Indian consulate put the wrong city on our employment visas, so we had to drive 3 hours away to Bangalore because the Mysore police wouldn’t do it (can’t deviate from the process!). Read in the archives to see how that 36 hour debacle turned out. Second, to do a basic wire transfer – I had to fill out 5 pages of paperwork, sign about 10 times, etc. – mostly due to government regulations. Third, back to the first point – we had to provide about 6 copies of our original offer letter, a copy of the head of Infosys HRD’s passport, 4 copies of our own passport/visa, two more copies of a letter from the company, two copies of a notarized form that says they’ll pay us, 6 passport photos, etc. We had everything together, but the police commissioner turned us away because some of the offer letters weren’t on original blue letterhead – regardless of the fact that every single other letterhead was correct.
If I were to give advice to people travelling here, I would say bring your patience and a sense of humor. The country is very beautiful and the people are great – but there are times when you just need to sit back and let things happen, as you can’t control them. Also, be ready to go out of your comfort zone. If you are willing to try new things, you’ll experience some things that will be very memorable.
As always, please refer to the disclaimer on the right hand side – these are my opinions, no one else’s – my corporation and alma mater take no responsibility for my words.