Disclaimer: These “Fun Facts” are based on our experience in rural South Gujarat as well as limited experience in larger cities like Udaipur and Mumbai – in addition, these fun facts are all in contrast to America. India is an incredibly diverse country, and we have only seen a sliver of that culture. That being said, for the simplicity of writing, we will use sweeping generalization throughout this blog both for dramatic effect and ease of writing ;D This does NOT mean that any fact is true for all of India or Indian people, but we still wanted to share some of the fun differences with you. If you think we may have gotten something wrong or misinterpreted an experience, please let us know your thoughts in the comments. Let’s start the fun!
1. No Pandora 😦
Pandora radio does not work in India – or in most countries outside of the U.S. for that matter. Currently Pandora is only available in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand “to comply with the requirements and protections offered by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. (Wikipedia)” The take away: If you are a music lover and going out of the country, make sure to bring an MP3 player.
2. Pizza With a Side of Ketchup
In America one might dip their pizza in marinara sauce or even ranch dressing if you’re from our home state of West Virginia, but guess what every restaurant in India brings out with Pizza? That’s right, Ketchup. Yum. I guess its hard to blame them considering the American obsession with ketchup on all kinds of stuff (burgers, fries, onion rings, meatloaf, chicken nuggets, eggs, potatoes of any form, etc.).
3. Spicy Tolerance
If you visit India, be prepared to hear the question, “You can eat spicy food?” about 1000 times. Every time we eat with someone they are blown away by the fact that we actually enjoy spicy food.
4. NO PDA
You better not kiss in public! PDA is unheard of between a man and a woman, but holding hands between friends for extended periods of time is common. The idea of homosexuality (at least in rural areas) is completely unknown, which makes men holding hands less taboo.
5. No Time for “Please” or “Thank You”
There’s no time for niceties in India. Words for things like “please” or “sorry” are nonexistent in Gujarati, and when we say “thank you” people just give us strange looks. There are ways you can show additional respect through your tone and language, but it is generally believed that you express gratitude through your actions, not words.
6. Common Household Lizard
One day Austin was checking our car insurance policy through Geico, and someone saw him logging in – they pointed and said, “Common household lizard.” It took him a second to realize they were talking about the Geico lizard – Ha! The Household Lizard is indeed common, we see at least one (if not multiple) daily in our apartment.
7. At the End of the Meal – We Order Rice
Rice is treated like dessert – eaten at the end of a meal, and not served underneath dishes like in America. At the hospital cafeteria, people will often mix their rice into a kind of paste with a soupy daal or buttermilk stew called Khadi. The rice we order at Punjabi restaurants is delicious, with all kinds of mix-ins; personally, we’d prefer to order it with our meal, but everyone gives us the look if we try to.
8,People Don’t Smile in Photos. No, Seriously.
We are by far the cheeriest people in our group photos. Sometimes, the photographer will even say, “Smile!” Yet noone will break their serious composure (until they finish the photo, at which point everyone will break down in giggles because they took a photo with us).
9. 1 Dollar = 60 Rupees = 1 Purse
The American dollar to Rupee conversion is highly in our favor. We took 12 people out to dinner at the nicest restaurant nearby – it cost a total of $35 US dollars. We think we know our back up retirement plan now.
10. Left-Hand Traffic
Indian’s drive on the left side of the road. We actually thought this was more common than using the right side, but according to Wikipedia (the unequivocal god of all knowledge) 35% of the world lives in Left-Hand Traffic countries and the other 65% live in Right-Had Traffic countries like America. Check out this sweet map!
11. Fatty Bagged Milk
We don’t know about you, but when we were in elementary school, our milk came in bags (which led to a lot of messes from “milk cannons”). Well, it’s grade school all over again, because the Milk in India comes in bags. It’s the most delicious milk we’ve ever had, which we assume is because it comes from those happy cows we see roaming the streets. The lowest fat milk we can buy is 3.5% fat MINIMUM. The “Gold” brand of milk is 5.5%..mmmmm.
12. 2 Carriers – 1 Phone
Cell phone coverage varies widely from provider to provider, so many of the phones come with dual sim card slots (some even have 3!); these phones are called “Duos” and allow you to use multiple cellular providers at the same time. Can you imagine asking someone who their provider is in the US and their response being “ATT AND Sprint…” Say whaaat?
13. Forget the Fork
Want a quick way to show you aren’t from India? Eat your food with utensils. Serving spoons might be included with dishes, but food is primarily eaten with a bread like roti or one’s hands. Things can get pretty messy 😀
14. Appliances are a Privilege
We take our appliances for granted in America. Refrigerators are uncommon here and washing machines are unheard of. Next time you throw in a load of laundry, or drink ice-cold soda from the fridge, just go ahead and give your Maytag a hug.
15. There is Only One Time in India
Ever forgot to set your clock back? Well, not a problem in India because there is no such thing as day light savings time. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Know what else they don’t have? Timezones. Turns out, lots of countries don’t have time zones. Most of the time, these countries are small and don’t experience a dramatic effect from their single time zone. However, in China this leads to sunset at midnight on the west edge of the country!
16. Toilet Hierarchy
Toilets in America are pretty consistent, but in India there is a wide range of toilet experience.
- No toilet: 50% of Indian citizens (600 MILLION people), have no access to a toilet and defecate in the open.
- Basic: Squat toilet with a bucket of water and cup to “wipe”
- Nice: Porcelain toilet with bidet and handle like a water faucet to flush (don’t forget to turn it off!)
- Super Swanky: Porcelain toilet with toilet paper and a water storage tank.
17. Praise Your Right Hand
If someone offers you food, especially at a temple or festival, make sure you take it with your right hand. The right hand is considered holy, and is used for everything religious. The left hand is not sacred (and is used for wiping your bum).
18. Buttermilk ‘Erywhere
Buttermilk isn’t something you come by often in America (except in Biscuits), but it is a huge staple in the Indian diet. It is so common in fact, that in addition to asking about water when a server seats you at a restaurant, they will also ask whether you want a glass of buttermilk. If you see an “Alfredo pasta” on the menu at a restaurant, watch out! That pasta’s base may be either mayonnaise or buttermilk.
19. Hinduism is Kind of a Big Deal
Hinduism has the world’s third largest religious following, and primarily thanks to India is the world’s largest polytheistic religion. According to a 2001 census, 80.5% of the Indian population are Hindus – for reference, Christianity in America is 73%. Though this number does vary widely from state to state with 3.6% in Mizoram to 95.4% Himachal Pradesh.
20. Metric Mania
Indians use the metric system of measurement (grams and meters). Think this is weird? Turns out, America is the weird one. The only countries left that don’t use the metric system? USA, Liberia, Burma.
21. People on People on Motorbikes
Cars take two things that are hard to come by in India: capital and space. But Indians are quick to find a solution to any problem, so motorbikes have become the prevalent mode of transportation. These may be smaller than cars, but don’t think they carry any less people. Motorcycles commonly carry 3 people, but the most we’ve seen in person is 5.
22. Rain, Rain, Not Goin’ Away
Rain is a huge part of being in India (especially from July to September). There are 12 different names for rain in Gujarati, and there are only 3 seasons: Summer, Winter, and Monsoon season. A friend here asked, “What is monsoon season like in America?” …”Uh. We don’t have monsoon season – unless you count ‘April showers bring May flowers’”
23. Don’t Put a Ring On It
At Hindu weddings, the bride and groom do not exchange rings. Instead there are other symbols of a woman being married (sindoor, mangala sutra, toe rings, solah shringar), but there are no outward symbols of a man’s marriage commitment. This used to be the case in America before a push by the jewelry industry at the end of the 19th century for men to start wearing wedding rings as well (they advertised male engagement rings too, but this never caught on due to the need for secrecy on the part of the wife). And by the 1940s, 80% of American wedding ceremonies involved a ring for both the man and woman. You can see this same push beginning to happening in the large cities of India with wedding ring advertisements.
24. Everything Takes Longer
The speed limit is lower, ethernet internet works half the time, cellular internet is 2G in many places, and lots of people walk or use bicycles for transportation. At times this can be frustrating, but most of the time you appreciate the low-key attitude of everyone 🙂
25. Technicolor Trucks
America has a lot to learn about truck decoration. All of the “semi” type trucks that are used to haul materials across India are outrageously decorated by their drivers. They are often painted in neon colors, covered in ornamental trinkets, and stamped with “please horn”, “horn ok”, or “blow horn” painted in giant letters across the back.
26. Cheese Monotony
When we got to India, we asked a friend, “Can you get cheese here?”
He said, “Oh yeah, we’ve got cheese.”
We asked, “What kinds?”
His response, “Huh?”
Yes, you can get cheese, but only one kind – white cheese (American). It comes in four forms: Slices, Bricks, “Chicklets”- white cheese squares, and a 400g circular tin. Well, at least we can still make delicious grilled cheeses 🙂
27. Neon Light Affinity
You know what makes anything better? Strapping some neon lights onto it. Indian people love everything with neon lights. Regulations on cars are less strict here, so they will often have rainbow neon lights on the front of cars. During festivals, they bust out these awesome neon kaleidoscope-esque rainbow light bulbs. We wanted to bring one back to America with us, but the light sockets are different 😦
28. You May Now Hold Hands
At wedding ceremonies, the couple holds hands instead of kissing. When someone saw that we kissed at our wedding ceremony they were shocked! When you consider that most marriages are arranged, it makes this fact a little more understandable. Not many people are interested in kissing a stranger.
29. Communicability is NOT a Given
Unlike in America, each state in India is like its own little country. When traveling in between states you pay cellular roaming fees, and most states have their own unique language. Sure, Hindi is the national language, but many people only speak their “mother tongue” – local language. The dialects of a language vary so much from region to region in a state, that you may not even be able to communicate well with someone who even speaks the “same” language as you. A physician friend of mine from North Gujarat told me yesterday that none of the Kitchen staff here can understand his Gujarati!
Local taxis are small 3-wheeled vehicles called rickshaws. They comfortably seat 6, but we’ve been in one with 13 (both including the driver). All of the drivers take pride in decking their ride out with colorful interiors and giant speakers – sometimes the seats in the back are just on top of the speaker boxes!
31. Don’t Let That Bottle Touch Your Mouth
Another way to give away that you’re from America? Drink directly from your water bottle. Indian people pour water from their bottles into their mouths (like a cup).
32. Luke-Warm Juice Please
No need to go to the refrigeration section looking for juice (if the store has a refrigerator) because all juice is unrefrigerated and from concentrate. The biggest exception are awesome juice stands where they throw a quarter of a pineapple into a juicer for $.50 (visit Paps Juice in Udaipur).
33. Giant Bats!
There are giant bats. That’s right, gigantic bats. The standard “Little Brown” American bat has an average wingspan of 10 inches – the “Short-nosed Indian Fruit Bat” averages 20 in. but can become much larger. Austin thinks they are cute, but I don’t think he’ll be getting one for a pet any time soon (especially if I’m around… which I will be).
34. Remove Those Shoes!
Shoeless is the way to go! Before entering a space (the office, meetings, someone’s apartment, a hospital, a temple) everyone removes their shoes and leaves them outside. At popular tourist temples, you will often pay to leave your shoes outside with someone – and watch out, they can get pretty aggressive about making you take them off too.
35. Don’t Forget to Chew Your Fennel Seed
Fennel seeds are treated like chewing gum or after dinner mints. After a meal, a restaurant will bring out a dish of rock sugar and fennel seeds. You throw back a handful of fennel and voila, no more smelly breath! (at least that’s what they say)
36. And I Threw It On the Ground
If you think littering is bad in America, you would be blown away by India. Due to a lack of trash service, some rural villages have a pit where they deposit and then burn trash, but many people just throw their trash wherever they like. The same issue is prevalent in larger cities due to a lack of public trash cans, so the streets are often lined with trash. CLICK HERE
37. Need a Miracle? I Know Someone…
Need a miracle? Go to your local Bhagat. Every village has a traditional healer, called a Bhagat, who can make you a lucky item / miracle. They also practice some superstitious traditional forms of healing such as branding. Branding may not sound fun, but it is believed to treat many problems such as infertility and pneumonia.
38. Vegetarian Friendly
You probably know that India is vegetarian friendly, but did you know that they have their own symbol for it? Everything vegetarian is marked with a green circle/square symbol. It’s even on the outside of buildings that only serve vegetarian food!
39. 97 Degree High Announces Arrival of Winter
It’s officially winter in South Gujarat. Yesterday’s high temperature? 97 degrees. We still have our windows open and a fan on at night!
40. Phone Ringing Off the Hook
It’s become common courtesy in America to silence your cell phone in common spaces, but this trend hasn’t caught on yet in India. Phones commonly go off in every circumstance – from meetings to patient consultations. Instead of ignoring the call, the recipient immediately answers like the call didn’t just interrupt a patient examination.
41. Digestion is Key
Good digestion is a key component to daily health – like exercise or brushing your teeth. Someone may avoid practices like drinking liquids while eating, or they may eat various herbs to improve digestion after a meal. Foods like buttermilk, ginger, and fennel seeds are all thought to improve digestions (not a coincidence that these are consistent parts of Indian meals).
42. My Plate is Your Plate
When sharing a meal, it’s as if everyone has one big plate. What’s mine is yours. Don’t be surprised if one of your friends reaches across and silently takes something from your plate (or dumps something else onto it).
43. 2:00 PM = Nap’o’clock
What’s the one thing I’m going to miss most? Daily naps! Almost everyone takes a break from 2-3pm during which they rest or nap. If you go to the hospital Kitchen at 2:30pm, all the workers are sprawled out on the floor with towels over their eyes.
44. Watch Where You Put Your Hands
When meeting a new woman, watch their hands. If they extend their hand to shake, reciprocate. However, if they do not extend their hand it is rude to shake hands without prior permission. Austin almost made this mistake once, but barely caught himself based on the visceral response of the woman.
45. Okra is the Bee’s Knees
We’re not sure we had ever eaten Okra before coming to Gujarat, but in our area it is one the most commonly used vegetables. For the first few weeks we were here, we had no idea what it was because it’s locally referred to as “Lady Fingers.” Our neighbor, Nandini, bragged to us one day that she could eat 1Kg of “Lady Fingers” all on her own – 2.2 lbs!
46. Honking is Habit
Honking is used as a 24/7 courtesy when passing anyone on the road. Since all of the bigs trucks and buses have fun & musical horns, this makes the highway sound like a poorly tuned electronic symphony. At night, they flash their lights and crank up the neon lights as well, turning the road into a techno/disco show!
47. Labor is Very Cheap
The cost of haircut is a common complaint in America (especially from guys). Well, the next time you need a haircut, just come to India! An affordable restaurant meal for two costs 10 times as much as a haircut (300 rupees vs. 30), and this trend is consistent for most services or labor. I’ve yet to research why – maybe this will be a future blog post 🙂
48. Optimum Cranial Utilization
In America, if you need to carry a bunch of stuff, what do you do? Pick it up. In India, what do you do? Put it on your head. People push their heads to incredible limits in India, carrying more than I could ever imagine carrying in my arms.
49. Appy Fizz
Of course, Coca-cola products have taken over the world, but everywhere still has its local beverages. One of the most popular soft drinks here is called “Appy Fizz”, a carbonated apple juice. It’s delicious and has a fun mascot that says things on the bottle such as, “I like weekends, blind dates, and being a superstar (in front of the mirror)”
50. Shopping Carts Are Called Trolleys and Roll in Every Direction!
51. Axe, Axe, and More Body Spray
What kind of deodorant do you use? Axe bodyspray? Perfect, because the only deodorant you can get here is aerosol – no roll-on or sticks to be found.
52. Floor Meetings
Indians are much more comfortable on the ground than Americans. Meetings and meals are often held while sitting cross legged on the ground. Despite this, someone will inevitably pull out a chair and offer it to us alone because we are American (we always decline and sit on the floor too).
53. Resist Ripping Off Wrapping Paper!
You may need to exhibit some self-control when receiving gifts. If someone gives you a gift in India, it’s polite to wait until you are in private to open it (unless directly asked to open it then). We didn’t know this initially, so Wende’s birthday was a bit of a gift opening fiasco.
54. Let it Rip
Body functions are treated like they are a natural thing every human being does – radical! No need to apologize or be excused for burping, sneezing, farting, etc. Plus, women can breast feed in public without a cover and without being given dirty looks – Free the nipple!
55. Holy Coconut
Every religion has its sacred symbols – the cross, the star of david, the kara. Well, for Hinduism a couple of these symbols are the coconut (representing sacrifice or selflessness) and fire (the eternal witness). You can expect these symbols to make an appearance at every Hindu ceremony, including weddings and festivals.
56. Domino’s is All About the Corn
There are a number of American fast food chains that have made it across the world to India. One of the most popular and fastest growing is Dominos (turns out India loves Pizza just as much as America does). While Dominos is still delicious, it offers quite a different menu from the one you may be used to. One of the most striking features was the use of golden or baby corn as a topping on 8 out of the 14 “signature” pizzas.
57. Trees that Grow Potato Clubs
When coming to the GST hospital, you have a chance of being killed by falling potatoes outside the gate… Ok, technically the “potatoes” are the fruit of the Kigelia Africana, a tree that grows giant potato like fruits that hang from vines. The “potatoes” can grow up to a meter in length and weigh between 10-20lbs!
58. Don’t Mix Your Genders
You think women are treated differently from men in America? India takes it to whole new level. At events, at temples, at security checks, women and men are separated. There are even special seats for women on trains and in movie theatres.
Almost everyone is terrified of dogs. When we walk our neighbor’s dog (the only pet we know in the area), people will literally run out of its way. We asked a friend about this and he said, from childhood parents teach their children, “If you’re bad the dog will come and bite you.”… He said they also teach children to fear homeless monks and policeman (both of which will abduct them if they misbehave).
60. The Third Head Nod
So you can nod your head up and down (yes), you can shake your head side to side (no), but you can also pivot head your from shoulder to shoulder (like a bobble head). Go ahead, give it a try. This third head nod is so prevalent in India, that if you spend any amount of time here you’ll find yourself doing it. This ambiguous head nod can mean no, yes, or simply acknowledge someone. It’s going to be one awfully hard habit to break when we get back!
61. Everyone Backs it Up Like a Dump Truck
The privilege of producing your own reverse noise is no longer reserved for trucks; in India, each newer car plays a little unique tune when reversing (We often get them stuck in our head).