Coping with anxiety whilst travelling can be difficult. Having coped well for several years, without a breakdown in sight, I (Dale) had had several within our first two weeks in India.
You might say “You would’ve enjoyed it more if your anxiety didn’t flair up”. No. You would be wrong. Whilst anxiety and depression can make it harder to deal with new situations and limit experiences, I pushed myself and spent quite a while reflecting on the days once they had finished.
India is different, not bad
India is different, and just because our first impressions weren’t great, it doesn’t mean it is bad. You could come to India and instantly fall in love with it.
Most of the locals we interacted with outside of our accommodation and restaurants were either rude (shoving in front of us in queues), dangerous (driving at us) or downright annoying. This wasn’t expected.
We did have good experiences – our hosts at our first hostel were amazing people and at Agra train station, a local travelling on the same train informed us where we could find the pre-pay taxi stand if we didn’t want to get taken advantage of by the sharks outside.
On one occasion we went for chai with a Goan we met on the street in Jaipur. We talked about the differences between Indians and Westerners (later clarifying that he meant white people in general, and why we don’t like stopping to speak to Indians). It was a productive and meaningful conversation (to start with).
Towards the end of the conversation he spoke of a place to go shopping (about 4km from Jaipur), where we could see the locals making products and save a lot of money. He could even tell a taxi driver how to take us there if we wanted to go. Whilst starting out as a good (yet slightly unnerving) experience, it left us feeling confused – was he doing all this to try and get commission or did he want genuine human interaction?
We’ve decided to add this to the good list and not the bad – he wasn’t pushy and was pleasant to talk to.
I think the main issue we have is that it seems only people who want something approach us, leaving us confused and unsure about trusting further interactions. Of course, we could try to approach others (and have on occasion), but with the exception of the children in poorer areas, and the selfie hunters, the majority of people seem quite unapproachable, perhaps it’s us?
There is only so many times I can hear “Tuk Tuk?” or “Where you want to go?”.
We realise the auto-rickshaw drivers want to earn a living, but they seem mostly unable to take no for an answer. We always replied with a polite “No, Thank You”: often several times, but 9 times out of ten, they would ask again or continue following us along the road.
When I got annoyed at one driver after he was being infuriatingly persistent (telling him that “No means no”), he turned to us and said, “This is my India, who are you to come here and speak to me like this” . We didn’t reply and kept walking to avoid confrontation.
When we were in Thailand, we experienced similar, but they were nowhere near as pushy and annoying.
Everyone who speaks to us wants to supply us with a service
We get it, people need to make money. What they don’t need to do is constantly badger people and try to extort extra money from them because they are white (they just assume white people are all rich westerners).
Another person who was in a Tuk Tuk pulled up alongside us and said “Hello”. We greeted him but carried on walking. He then pulled up again and asked why we didn’t want to speak to him. We responded that we were fed up with the amount of rickshaw drivers that were constantly attempting to stop us and get our business.
He said he just wanted to talk: he’d just finished work dropping kids off on the school run and saw us. This ended up with an offer for a tour of Jaipur for just 400 Rupees. Yet again, our time was wasted by someone wanting to ply his trade instead of a genuine conversation. This is a common theme that we came across during our time in Northern India, whether it was shop owners or drivers.
Disclaimer: We came to India in the “off season”. With temperatures soaring, there are less tourists, and even many locals choose to head north to the cooler regions. This could explain the overbearing attitude of both the rickshaw drivers and the shop owners. What it does not do, is excuse their behaviour.
Everywhere we went, the roads were manic. We expected this and had also been warned but we were still not prepared. It took us nearly a week to learn that once you start walking across a road, you shouldn’t stop. The drivers would weave around and bib their horns repeatedly, but it was probably the easiest way.
Whenever we would stop halfway across a road, it was as if the drivers were at a loss and pretty much aimed towards us…
Traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, when they were working, were mostly ignored unless there were traffic police orchestrating the flow of vehicles. We later learned that pedestrian crossing lights are merely suggestions.
In Mumbai, we got the best tip ever – just hold out your hand – it shows the driver that you are definitely crossing, so deal with it.
In almost all places where we have had to queue, we found that many people push their way in front of us. This ranges from teenage boys to old ladies. You might think, “Well this is their country, they do things differently” and I would say, maybe, but it is still downright rude.
No one says thank you unless they are staff/ have sold us something.
Instead of a simple thank you, we are often met with glares. This includes any time we have let someone go ahead of us, or maybe held open a door, or moved out the way so someone could pass us. I’m not expecting everyone to speak English (even thought a majority do in the cities), I’m in their country, but a nod of the head or smile maybe?
Before you say “it’s the culture, you should adapt!”: we have.
We have put up with it, but no amount of cultural differences should be an excuse for rudeness and blatant racism. (Yes, it is racist to treat someone differently based on their race– even worse than the clear disregard of white people is the fact that India still has a caste system and Colourism (the act of discrimination because of the difference in skin colour) is still around and in play.)
We know this may be a touchy subject and plan to add more articles as our time in India progresses. By the time of posting, we are already heading south and have enjoyed ourselves so much more in Mumbai and Goa.
We feel it is important to show the good times and the bad times, even if it might be controversial.
If you think you can explain any of the behaviour or cultural differences we have experienced, go ahead. We are always happy to learn.
Let us know what you think down below or start a discussion with us on Facebook.