Sunday, June 22, 2008

Travails of living in a foreign country

Living in a foreign country can be difficult. Here I enumerate some of the problems you can face when you decide to call a foreign country home. Especially when that foreign country is much closer to home than the other foreign country where you have lived last 6 years of your life.

(Yeah Sankar - the foreign country I am referring to here is South India - rejoice!)

Language problems:
Friendly advisors informed me that more than 90% of the people in Hyderabad would speak Hindi or English. I'd say I have it confirmed empirically. You wonder what this language problem I'd be referring to then? Bear with me.

The problem is in guessing whether to use Hindi or English with the object of conversation. The Airtel Rep speaks Hindi and Telugu (and tooti-footi angrezi). Two representatives from my cab company speak English and Telugu (and tooti-footi Hindi). The third rep likes to speak in Hindi exclusively. The guy from pharmacy who attended to me speaks Hindi and the one he referred me to speaks English.

What is worse is that if you start a conversation with someone in Hindi and he does understand English, he might either take umbrage at the insult or even look down upon you.

For example, yesterday I had gone to Hyderabad International Convention Center for this World Music Day concert. It was a free thingie and I was wearing my usual torn jeans and a simple T-shirt. Thankfully I had shoes on (commentary on dressing in India some other time).

As I did not have my cell phone (see why) I needed a public phone to call my cab. So I walked out of the hall and as I walked towards him, I looked him up-n-down and started guessing whether I should start the conversation with this doorman in Hindi or English. I decided Hindi was better. I asked him "Yahan koi public phone hai kya?".

Now it was his turn to look me up-n-down. He must be thinking (dunno whether in English, Telugu or Hindi): "Phone hai nahin, Kapde dhang ke hain nahin, free show pata chala to aa gaya...". Almost rudely he replied (in English): "No, there is none". Its a separate issue that the reception 10 feet from us actually did have public phone facility for which they charged an exorbidant Rs.8 per minute for local calls. My friend, Mr. Doorman might have guessed it is not something I would be interested in.

Food Problems
I'd be the first to admit I have always been a wuss when it comes to spicy food. Moreover, over last few years I have developed a liking for light soups and salad or soup and sandwich (no cheese) kind meals. So when it comes to nawabi food here with tons of ghee and extra red chilli powder - I seemed to have lost the palate to appreciate it. I have not yet had a chance to offend anyone with a comment about food yet (unless you count the mini-altercation between me and mom about ghee on chapatis) - I am sure that is just around the corner.

(Yeah Mohit - sahi mein nahin pach raha hai ghee.)

Information about stuff in general
So your parents always worried about you having to leave home and live in a foreign country where you did not know anyone. You never felt a pinch. You thought your parents did not know enough and you were the tough kind, right? Wrong!

In their world, without world wide web, living in a different city without any locals to help is plain incorrigible. And in comparison to US, finding information about stuff for things in desh is much more difficult. There isn't enough information (from product reviews to apartments for rent) on the web.

Plus you have been warned by friendly advisors, "Do not tell people outside that you work for Microsoft, if you don't want to be fleeced". Now when you need information from someone, you are not sure how much to divulge about yourself and your needs and how much to trust this person's advice (since just looking at you he has surely already classified you as a rich IT kid).

For those of my friends who started working in Hydy or Bangalore right out of college, at the risk being accused of giving excuses, I'd say our cases are different for two reasons. Firstly, you did have somewhat of a support structure in terms of moving to the new place with a group. These things are always easier in a group. Secondly, I believe one's expectations from life change with age and experience. At 22, I would not have given as much thought about things like which apartment/locality/car I like as I would now.

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At 11:50 PM, Blogger Varun Katta said...

Agree with your food comments. I cannot savor the food in a lot of restaurants I used to, 4 years ago in Hyderabad.

Hope there are good restaurants now in Madhapur area. A few years back it used to suck.... I still cant believe you are in Hyd now :-)

Good for you!

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Mithun said...

Actually found a couple of pretty good places for food now. Angeethi and Ohri's in Banjaara Hills, Punjabi Rasoi in Madhapur - all three North Indian places though i.e. fatty but not as spicy as native Hyderabadi. I am getting there...

Yep man, the resolve is to give it a fair shot (2 years) before making any decisions :)

At 11:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I remember the 7 layered burrito from taco *ell in grad school...


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