Things This White Girl Learned While In India

I didn’t get to ride an elephant or dance and sing about love/ heartache in choreographed Bollywood style, but during a little trip to India to attend my boyfriend’s cousin’s wedding, I did learn some things about Indian etiquette. Here are a few lessons for girls of the Western world if you ever find yourselves sari-wrapped in India.

Lesson #1: The Price is Never Fixed

You can haggle for literally everything in India — even when there are signs saying “Price is fixed.” The process is like interpretive dance: prices hang in limbo while unresolved arms sway and strike poses to the rhythms of sari fabrics brushing through sultry dust. The choreography ends only when one partner promenades away or both acquiesce with side-to-side nods of the head, like metronomes syncing to the tempo.

On my way back from Elephanta Island, a land of tiny, very buff monkeys and ancient carved-out caves, I saw an elephant statue I knew my mother would love. It was my last full day in India and I hadn’t experienced a good haggle yet, so, driven with Jewish prudence and a new found love for the game, I decided that this would be my time of great barter.

“500 rupees!” the seller yelled with a hungry accent.

“100 rupees!” I quacked back, receiving a humiliating laugh from my opponent.

“475.”

“470?!”

“…. Alright.”

SUCCESS.

Lesson #2: Delhi Belly is Inevitable

You’ll opt for ice-less drinks and spend all of your rupees on bottled water to brush your teeth, wash your hands, and cleanse the crust from your touristy eyes. You’ll even choose to skip out on all those beautiful platters of watermelon they sell in the market just because they have the word water in the them. Still, you’ll positively, without fail, get a case of the super gross “loose motions,” also known as extreme diarrhea.

Luckily, “Delhi Belly,” as it’s also called, only affected the last two days of my trip. I remember how quickly I ran from the Gateway of India to that one McDonald’s many kilometers away when my loose motions decided to strike. How I wish I could remember the Victorian architectural exploits that I ran past, holding inside whatever I could with whatever strength I still had as I ran, ran, ran, trying in earnest to keep my bottom intact.

I made it to the toilet, if that’s what you’re wondering. And I kept making it to the toilet for three weeks back home in Brooklyn.

Lesson #3: Forget the Puppies

I was going to write something about how awesome it was to have cute street puppies follow me around everywhere ‘cause I had cookies in my pockets and was eager to feed them all the time — IT WAGGED ITS LITTLE TAIL AT ME — but I have changed my mind because they actually didn’t want my cookies. So, instead, let’s talk about the goat.

The goat: poor, sweet, simple-minded, wispy-bearded, round-eyed; allowed to frolic around for a bit and believe in independence, but oh, how that knife strikes close and the basmati rice is really begging for a kebabed friend. Destiny for a goat is a sharp spear, but man, it really rocks to be a cow ‘cause no one will ever eat you — even though your caboose always blocks traffic and your poop’s all over the street.

Lesson #4: Hitler is Everywhere

For serious, he’s everywhere: in commercials for a sitcom about a cranky woman who goes by the nickname “Auntie Hitler”; showcased in every bookstore in Mumbai that’s selling his classic right next to copies of Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation.”

Aside from Hitler popping up all over the place, swastikas are everywhere too. I understand that it’s a symbol of good luck in the Hindu religion and how it was co-opted by the Nazis. I also understand that Indian people aren’t Nazis, but even so, it’s weird. It was especially weird when the lady doing my henna for the wedding decided to draw a fat swastika on my forearm.

P.S. I’m Jewish.

P.S.S. She covered it up with a clumsy potted plant.

Lesson #5: Shahrukh Khan is God

Before I knew anything about India, I knew about Shahrukh Khan. He’s the Indian version of Brad Pitt but better, with killer dance moves and hot Indian lady co-stars. His fine looks fill the dream spaces of men and women in his native country and overseas.

Advertisements for his then new movie, Ra.One, had been splattered on every second billboard and the music video promoting it featured the musical capabilities of Aliaune Damala Badara Thiam, better known as Akon. Yeah, that Akon. TC mark

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  • http://twitter.com/toerristenzom Tenzom S.

    I can’t stand Sharukh Khan. He’s nicknamed ‘King Khan’ in India, only second to the ‘Big B’ – Amitabh Bachchan. ‘Ra.one’ was a massive flop, from what I’ve heard. The tap water in Delhi tastes horrid. Stray puppies and dogs are found on streets everywhere around Nepal and India. It’s a heartache how they’re always hungry and always friendly. ‘Swastika’ in Sanskrit means ‘all is well’ and is a widely used symbol for luck and fortune in the Hindu religion. After Hinduism and Islam, Bollywood’s the second biggest religion practiced in India. And I can’t stand Sharukh Khan. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/t.jason.ham Jason Ham

    470 rupees for something worth 500? C’mon girllll, you can do better than that. I guess when things are relatively very affordable, haggling is somewhat silly…

    When my fam went to Istanbul my mother really wanted to buy this suitcase that had a $70USD price tag… after 15 minutes she walked away only paying $20. She kinda terrifies me sometimes.

  • Ashish

    This doesn’t translate well as an Indian experience.  For how long were you there?

    • http://twitter.com/angelamelamud Angela Melamud

      3-4 days of playing tourist/tour guide. My boyfriend and I took to exploring India on our own. 

  • Bob

    Enjoyed the article until part on Swastikas.  Borderline offensive to the Hindu religion.

    • http://www.twitter.com/ArvSux Arvind Dilawar

      Borderline offensive? You have the constitution of a 21st century Victorian.

    • Wdeanis

      To summarize, “There’s this thing I was taught to associate with evil all my life, and something similar was all over India. I recognize the differences, understand it’s a peaceful symbol here, and that the bad guys took it from the good guys. However, I’ll admit I was still initially jarred”.

      Well how dare you Angela. How. Daaaare. You.

    • http://twitter.com/angelamelamud Angela Melamud

      Offensive? Did you actually read it? Can you not find the humor in a Jew getting a swastika accidentally drawn on her body? 

  • Manojwowie92

    Nice! Seriously, thats it? I mean India’s lot more than that. Goa, Ajanta caves, shimla, .. so on and a endless list! 

    No offence but next time, have a tour guide!

    • beatrice

      Oh Goa and it’s beaches…

  • Sherlyn Hong

    what about the cleanliness?? I heard that India is one of the most stinking places on Earth! 

    [P.S I’m not racist!]

    • hannah

      you can’t even fathom the smell

    • Human

      they smell like humans.

    • beatrice

      the smell is not from the ‘dirt’ per se but rather the oils that they use, you’ll get used to it

      • Douceur

        I’d say that’s being a little too optimistic lol

  • CertifiedJatt

    I can’t

  • http://twitter.com/Picsanya Picsanya

    I am an Indian and I hate Shah Rukh Khan.

    • hannah

      you’re soooo ~edgy~

      • Pooja

        SRK’s lost out on his popularity to a large extent, but to give him credit he still manages to make money even from the crapcake that Ra.One was.

    • nhr

      omg me too. I’m an aamir girl, myself.

    • http://mycrazytruth.tumblr.com/ Kat

      Word.  He’s charming onscreen, but there is absolutely no physical attractiveness to speak of.  Yuck.  And now he’s who knows how old and he’s still doing some pretty…close choreography with comparably young actresses.  Gross gross gross.  He was a heartthrob, and I get that, but…too much.

      • Pooja

        He’s 46 and the youngest actress he’s worked with is about 23. How is it any different from Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara or worse, Mickey Rourke and Megan Fox?

      • http://mycrazytruth.tumblr.com/ Kat

        Oh, it’s not.  I am equally disturbed by those other pairings, if not more so in some cases.  

  • Guest

    test

  • Jacqueline

    well if you read the article she does mention she was there for a wedding…so she wasn’t trying to go on a tour… also, I’m Jewish too and it would totally freak me out to see swastikas everywhere…i think its an innate thing, sort of hard to get over when you’ve been taught your whole life to be afraid of it. interesting read though I’d love to hear more about the wedding!

    • http://twitter.com/angelamelamud Angela Melamud

      Thanks! 

  • http://twitter.com/__Farhan Farhan | Official

    30 rupees off a success? Err ok.

    • Douceur

      That’s the point.

  • Yingyu87

    The swastika has different meanings depending on whether its clockwise or counterclockwise. Also, it has different meanings in different cultures. Lovely read Angela! Considering I’ve been to India myself. Poor goats.

    • http://mycrazytruth.tumblr.com/ kat

      poor American cows.

  • Guest

    no grand conclusion on finding yourself in the color-saturated subcontinent? i thought that was why white people went to india.

    • http://twitter.com/angelamelamud Angela Melamud

      Alas. 

  • Vianca Pandit

    I’m Indian so I can’t help but get all defensive as I read this. But I think everyone experiences things in their own way so what you’ve written is justified. Although there is way more to India than loosies and stray cows.

    • John

      Angela, if you have to go #2 in India, you can just squat along the railroad tracks like everybody else there.

      • Pooja

        And if you had the guts to say that IRL then I’d land a left hook.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathon-Ferrari/100001319787228 Jonathon Ferrari

        I’m not being trying to be rude, because honestly I have no experience with the country and it’s culture, but would you punch him because it’s true or because it’s false?

      • Pooja

        False.

      • Pooja

        Because
        a) we have toilets (shocking?)
        b) the sweeping statement of “everyone else there” is rude and makes this person sound like a presumptuous ass.
        c) if he’s ever visited India, he would know who and why sit at those railroad tracks and defecate.

        When people don’t know facts it’s quite easy to sit in the comfort of your warm little studio and type discriminatory remarks on websites.

      • Guest

        HAHA i’m indian and that’s hilarious. 

  • nhr

    actually, the Swastika is an inverted version of the Hindu Om sign. just thought I’d put that out there. I actually miss the summer vacations I used to have to spend there.

    • poop

      nobody said it wasnt

    • http://www.twitter.com/ArvSux Arvind Dilawar

       “actually, the Swastika is an inverted version of the Hindu Om sign” <- Factually incorrect.

  • Guest

    I do see the humor in a Jewish person having a swastika being put on their arm but I’m sure a Hindu would find it very offensive to see someone freak out at seeing the ‘svastika’ symbol. There is really so much more to India than cows, goats and haggling

  • guest

    i think it’s more sad than weird that a sign that symbolizes peace, the eternal cycle of life, and good luck was inverted and tilted counter clockwise (against nature) by the Nazis to promote hatred.  It might seem like the same sign to you, but it is not, and you cannot expect a religion and people who have promoted the original sign with positivity for thousands and thousands  of years before WWII to simply abandon a symbol that has meaning and significance to them.

  • guest

    i think it’s more sad than weird that a sign that symbolizes peace, the eternal cycle of life, and good luck was inverted and tilted counter clockwise (against nature) by the Nazis to promote hatred.  It might seem like the same sign to you, but it is not, and you cannot expect a religion and people who have promoted the original sign with positivity for thousands and thousands  of years before WWII to simply abandon a symbol that has meaning and significance to them.

  • Pooja

    It’s interesting how almost every white person who comes to India has the same experience. There’s always talk about haggling, having a bad stomach and Bollywood. Since you weren’t on a “tour” I would’ve expected a slightly different account of your experience here. Also, Shahrukh isn’t considered as big as he was anymore, just fyi.

  • Tdove

    Yeah, this kinda sucked.  Routine Vice-like headline.  Then just blankly vanilla (but oh so bewilderingly self-satisfied) insight thereafter.  The thing that got your eyes widest in India was your own under-educated confusion at an age-old symbol?  You sound 12.  Keep it in your sh*tty little diary.  

  • Doij

    Eh. I get why you came to India and only saw cows and poo and whatever. Nice writing. But equally, being Indian and all, I wish you’d done something slightly non-touristy.
    FYI,

    Sharukh is no longer god.
    An om does not equate to a swastika.
    These strange Aunty Hitler billboards freak me out.

    =)

    • lalala

      I think she was actually referring the reverse swastika than that of the nazis. But seriously–it was so naive and poorly researched to assume that the nazi swastika symbol is all over India…

  • m14

    I wish people from the west noticed things beyond “haggling”, “Shahrukh Khan” and “water issues” about India. Because there is so much more to it. 
    Also, for the record, “Gateway of India” and “India Gate” are different.

  • beatrice

    Ahh yes the thing about the hitler posters haha. Oh how I love indian politics as well. Apparently, on election day they would roll up 100 rupee notes into 1 rupee pens and then give it to the poor in order to garner votes etc. etc. Frankly, india is hilarious  and though your time there was stereotypical for a white girl, i’m sure you enjoyed it. The next time you go though, definitely check out the diverse sceneries of india as mentioned above (don’t forget the milk waterfall). You should defo try your hand at the trains and jumping off them as well (not recommended if not with one experienced).

  • Jamal

    Im from  India  myself. I hope you enjoyed your stay here. Did you get to watch  Ra.One and Don2? Shah Rukh Khan Rules!

  • Roy

    A lot of people have commented about the svastika.. being Indian with a Jewish step-family, I understand the shock. I also get that India can be a massive assault on the senses – the colors, the decibel level, the chaotic traffic and, if you were at a wedding, the insane need of the people to feed you… we call all of that “warmth.” Oh, and you could’ve got that elephant for a 100 bucks :)

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