7 cultural Observations of India

It is better to be blind than to see things from only one point of view. — Indian proverb

To experience India through the eyes of a local let me see the daily life of the Indian people. My hosts were a Japanese couple transferred to Delhi because of employment. I would like to thank them for the opportunity to walk the streets, eat in local eateries, and observe the culture. I don’t think I would have had the same opportunity if I were on a tourist bus.

1. Types of Transportation

Bicycle rickshaws, tuk-tuks, buses, private drivers, and motorcycles all compete for space on the roads in Delhi, India. Bicycle rickshaws transport fruits, vegetables, and eggs to the shopping stalls and small supermarkets. They also carry loads of bricks, steel rods, and freshly cut hay. Tuk-tuks transport as many as ten people hanging from both sides of the vehicle.

Buses are mostly old and rusty with no air conditioning. People are packed onto the buses with their heads and arms protruding from the windows. Private drivers are employed by most of the middle-class and upper-class. Motorcycles are a very popular form of transportation. They are the easiest to squeeze into small pockets of traffic. Traffic in Delhi moves very slowly.

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Family on a motorcycle

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Can you find four types of transportation in this photo?

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Transporting loaded boxes by bicycle.

A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.

Mahatma Gandhi

2. Employment

Employment in India is composed of mostly men. Men work in places where women shop. They sell dresses, saris, perfume, jewelry, shoes, accessories for the home, and food. Many of the men do the shopping. Employment includes working in food stalls, selling fruits and vegetables, restaurants, providing transportation, and security.

Women who shop usually have a man with them. There are foreign women who work in some of the “foreign shops”. Foreign shops are for people who are not Indian and can’t bargain. Women of the lower class work as maids and cooks in homes of those more fortunate. Indian women don’t work outside of the home.

India has a large proportion of unemployed young men. Men from the ages of 20 -35 hang out on the street corners chatting with their friends, playing traditional games, drinking masala, and talking on their cell phones.

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Food stalls

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Making sugar cane juice

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Fresh fruits and vegetables

The second fundamental feature of culture is that all culture has an element of striving.

Johan Huizinga

3. Bargaining

Bargaining is a very big part of Indian culture. There are no prices posted in the local stalls. You must ask the price.

Excuse me, How much is that bag of peanuts?

Salesman: 30 rupees

Indian buyer: How about 25 rupees?

Salesman: I will sell it to you for 28 rupees.

Indian buyer: OK

I am with my Japanese friend who doesn’t really get many bargains. She can’t speak the language or knows the art of bargaining. Indians don’t like to bargain with foreigners. I try a couple of times in English. I am turned down. I walk away.

Shops that cater to foreigners post a sign “fixed prices”. No bargaining in these stores. The fixed prices are visible at shopping malls and supermarkets.

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Handicraft stall

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Clothing stall

4. Holy Cows

Cows are not worshiped as Gods. They are deeply respected by the Hindu religion. It is illegal to eat or possess beef. The cow is recognized as a “caretaker”, a maternal figure. The cow is a symbol of wealth, strength, abundance, and selfless giving. There are more than 44,900,000 cows in India. The highest in the world.

Cows wander the streets of India eating garbage. They cause problems. They step out into the middle of traffic and everyone must stop until the animal decides to move. Sometimes men will get out of the cars and coax the animal to the side of the road. Hit one of these cows and you could go to jail and pay a hefty fine.

Cows get sick, injured, and old. Some of them are rescued by gaushalas. Sick and injured cows are taken to these rescue areas. The cow is treated and lives the rest of his life as a happy cow.

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Rescue for injured and hungry cows

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Cow ambulance

5. Food

Indians who follow the Hindu religion don’t eat meat. No chicken, pork, or beef. Indians who are Muslims eat everything but pork. Eggs, cheese, and chapati a type of Indian bread are the staples of a Hindi diet. Food is spicy. I loved the food. I ate so many styles of curry and dishes made with cheese. We frequented the local restaurants and were always rewarded with great food.

I must confess that I did get a case of “Indian baptism” which lasted only one day because I was prepared with the right medication. India has a few American fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Burger King. The menus in these restaurants are very different than the ones in the USA. I stayed away from American restaurants because I was looking for local food. India is paradise for vegetarians.

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Grilled Paneer

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Dal

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Not sure. It tasted great.

6. Traffic

Traffic in Delhi includes cows, pigs, dogs, scooters, tuk-tuks, buses, private cars, taxis, motorcycles, bicycles, and bicycle rickshaws. Everyone is competing for the same space at the same time. Traffic lights don’t work. Stop signs are ignored. People are trying to squeeze in everywhere possible. There are no alternative routes. Streets are narrow and full of potholes.

People are crossing everywhere. There are no designated crosswalks. Young children, dirty and poorly dressed, knock on your windows and ask you to give them money. Older children and adults are walking through the traffic selling balloons, coconuts, ice-cream, roses, and water. Most of the people ignore the vendors. One man with no legs is riding a skateboard. I can’t see him until he comes next to the car.

There is some progress in building wider freeways.

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Bumper to bumper

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Motorcycles, bicycles, and tuk-tuks compete with cars and busses.

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Nobody is going anywhere

7. Security

Security is everywhere. Bags are checked and both men and women are scanned with a wand for entry into supermarkets, museums, malls, restaurants, and all visitor sites. Military police stand on every corner with their rifles. Security waits at every entrance to gated condo areas.

I found monkeys hanging out at the Ministry of Defense. The security prevented me from taking a picture of the monkeys. It was really the only place with so many trees in the whole city.

Security at the airport begins on the sidewalk. No one is allowed to enter the airport without a ticket.

Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of security or monkeys!

Written by

I am a retired ESL instructor. I am on a journey which includes writing, blogging, taking photos, and getting to know other cultures.

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