I regularly check blogger’s stats to see how many page hits I get and how people landed on my blog, and over the years I noticed a few puzzling search engine phrase that lead me there to say the least.
First there are all the weirdoes out there who have an Aunty fetish of some kind typing the word along with some borderline if not x-rated words. Well dear weirdoes I am sorry to have disappointed you, no raunchy Auntie material on my blog, in fact I am not even sure why Google lead you there because all the words you typed along with Aunty aren’t found on my blog…darn! And a piece of advice: leave the poor Aunties alone would you, it’s not fair to them and you could probably do better.
I’m quite happy however to see regular keywords about how to furnish a home, whether strollers are practical in India, or the availability of cloth diapers, or how does a kitchen in India look…there are clearly people seeking expat friendly info. And that is one of the purpose of that blog
Then there are all the pregnancy Google search, they are quite regular, and a lot of them is about people wanting to know some old wives tales…been there myself, old wives tales are hilarious to read about especially when you are expecting.
What is however rather disturbing in this department are the regular queries about “Will harm come to my unborn child during a solar/lunar eclipse”. I said it once, I can say it a million time, this must be one of the most utterly crazy BS out there. NO it will NOT harm your unborn child, NO solar eclipse aren’t giving bad radiations, and if you really think about it why oh why the light in an eclipse would harm ONLY your unborn child? Wouldn’t the supposed harmful radiation harm you first? The baby is protected inside a sac filled with fluids in the comfort of a uterus lined with strong muscles hidden behind the digestive system, a layer of fat and a layer of skin! Be scientific in your approach please! And for the record, there was a solar eclipse while I was pregnant, 4 months pregnant to be exact, my MIL advised me to stay inside, DH and I said screw it, went shopping, and then ate snacks on my terrace during that time. And my daughter is fine, no deformation, no ugly marks, no health problem, nothing. Pregnancy issues aren’t related to how the moon obstruct the light of the sun, or how the Earth pass in front of the moon…period.
Still in the pregnancy topic and equally disturbing are the many search that lead people here about “How can I ensure my child is born with a fair complexion”. Again I know which blog article you landed on, that was the old wives tale one. No sesame seeds and tea won’t make your baby dark skinned, and you can drink all the milk you want in the world, it will NOT give you a fair baby, skin complexion is ruled by genetic, not what you eat. Milk will give you a solid intake of calcium, if you can’t stomach it like I did, then eat yogurt, but don’t force yourself to drink milk simply because someone told you it will make baby the fairest of all. My antenatal class was full of people asking that same question to the doctor giving the class, she laughed and told them to just stop thinking that way because there is nothing one can eat that will change how the baby will end up looking, instead of asking what you can eat to affect the complexion of a child, I urge you please to Google “Healthy diet during pregnancy” so that both you and your unborn child get all the nutrient you need, which we all agree is far more important than skin colour!
Very recently I had someone that entered not once but TWICE the key words “Dora cake bad” in Google. That one made me scratch my head, who would want to Google about BAD Dora cakes, and I admit I did try it, and whoever googled it…I admire your patience, because I went as far as 10 pages of search that didn’t show my blog, and I scrolled through a lot of image search in vain too.
Anyway I hope you found what you were looking for, rest assured that even if you think the cake looked bad (my daughter disagrees) it tasted awesome, I never had such an amazing moist chocolate cake in my life.
And last but not least, there are all those who Google “Cyn’s adventure in India”, clearly you have been there before, you remembered the title enough to run a search, you can save yourself some time by bookmarking the site, adding a feed in your Google reader, liking my Facebook page, and even follow me on Twitter to make sure you’ll not miss a post and won’t have to endure a Google search to find me back, all the details you need are found on top of that page on the right side column…but thanks for remembering my blog enough to want to run a Google search to fine it back in the first place.
So after launching my new series with the original Maggi Masala noodle, here is another ramen noodle type you can find in India: Prawn (shrimp) flavoured ones from Koka.
They aren’t available as widely as Maggi, the first time I saw this particular brand and flavour was in Bangalore in the Food World supermarket chain, but they weren’t stocking it regularly, the now defunct supermarket Monday to Sunday also had it, and Big Bazaar had some of their other flavours on occasion.
In Mumbai my local supermarket has almost the whole range, and Big Bazaar has the mushroom flavour and a few others. The prawn flavour is priced at 25 rupees an individual pack, it’s an imported brand but at this price, it still won’t break the bank.
Taste wise this is my absolute favourite, I used to like them back in Switzerland in other brands, I love shrimps in general, and if I can get my hand on something flavoured with it here in India I’ll take it.
Compared to Maggi noodles, Koka ones are thinner, way less starchy (and I mean it, because my main issue with Maggi is the starchy feeling) and the flavour is blending very well with the noodles as well. Koka has a whole range of flavours to choose from which rest assure I will review too, but I started with my favourite. It is also my daughter’s ultimate favourite and when we do this one we can’t just share a pack and call it a snack because she will almost gobble a whole pack all by herself, be mindful though that this particular one has MSG in it, so it’s not something to give to child below they age of 1 and should you be sensitive to MSG don’t go for it.
Of course as with every ramen noodles I will review, this one is not healthier than any other, they are a nice treat, but definitely not a balanced meal, but as comfort food goes, this particular brand and flavour scores high.
In our home we actually make sure that it’s in the cupboard at all time along with Maggi masala noodles, and of course I go by the logic that as long as people in my local supermarket raid the Koka noodles that means they will keep stocking it, which will ensure we will not be without it like it happened in Bangalore a long time ago.
The past two weeks has seen an increase of heat and humidity, so typical of that time of the year.
When I try to explain seasons in India to my friends and family back home they wonder how that just work, because spending over half the year with not a single drop of rain falling seem surreal to them. They also feel strongly puzzled when I say “Summer has arrived” by the beginning of March, when they are all watching the first few trees bloom and grow leaves and exclaiming “Spring at last!”
Summer in India is that season that start with dry heat and progress to insanely humid heat as the monsoon comes near, that time when you go from blissfully lethargic to practically begging for rain to come pour down on you by the end of May, floods and mold be damned!
In Bangalore the process is actually a more gentle one, the climate there is kinder and decent enough to grace people with a few Summer storm to help people patient until the monsoon, and even said monsoon does occur in such a way as to not make people hate it with passion as it rains in intermittence with fair chunk of cool yet dry weather.
Mumbai seem to be a whole different thing, I heard Summer storm CAN occur but that in general it just start pour down buckets with the monsoon and not before, and once the monsoon comes it’s here to stay until September, with days of almost continuous rain and permanently overcast sky for almost it’s whole duration.
Within weeks most people hate it, everything inside the house gets mold, the sky is painted a depressive hue, everything outside the house is green with moss, and roads get damaged thanks to the rain, if not waterlogged during a heavy spell of rain.
While most people in Bangalore will make do with an umbrella to keep dry, the heavy artillery is taken out in Mumbai: Umbrella, plastic overcoats, plastic bags to cover anything from head to your wallet, mobile phones stores selling waterproof covers for your precious phone…nothing is too petty to consider to try to keep somewhat dry.
The monsoon in Mumbai is dreaded as much as people welcome it when it finally comes.
Right now, most of people have their eyes looking up the way I do, looking at the clouds that are now more common, and I know we all have mixed feeling about what is to come. I’m pretty sure that all long for some cooler temperatures the way I do, but while I end up pestering as the fungus grow inside my home there are some for who the monsoon is more than having to deal with a little mold. I know my maid must be glad she made the repair to her house on time not to be flooded, and that less fortunate than her will find themselves waddling in water, or without even a decent roof above their head. Malaria will become rampant once more, and we all will do our damnest to keep the menace at bay, easier done in compounds that have a proper drainage system and gets a visit from the pest fumigation people every other days.
Yes we are all watching the clouds anticipating what’s to come and getting ready in our own ways.
The things I look forward the most to is to be able to spend days with my curtains open, and sitting on my balcony with a cup of steaming tea between my hands watching the downpour, and finally be done using the AC at night.
The way things are looking right now we have a few more days before the first rain, and a week or so before the monsoon start settling in for the season.
A couple of months ago I wrote about what one goes through being an expat. What I left out there is that the stages listed are also the stages in dealing with culture shock. Yes there is a honeymoon phase, yes there is a phase of disorientation and frustration, and yes there is a phase during which all falls into place.
The truth though is that you can’t skip a step, whether you like it or not you’ll go through them all. There are of course various intensity levels to each phase, some are affected by stage 2 a bit more than other.
Stage 2 is the nastiest phase, because it’s a crash to reality, in the honeymoon stage, one is still new to the place, exited about it all, want to embrace it all, because it comes as a change of scenery, but the first few weeks or months chances are that the reality of LIVING there hasn’t even sunk in.
The question is why do everybody hit the expat wall and spiral into a form or another of culture shock?
The answer is actually very simple: Culture is pretty much part of any society’s backbone, it goes to the core and affects every aspect of life, much more than one would expect it to be.
You can prepare yourself before moving to a country as much as you want, you will still find yourself confused by little things you never really imagined would be so different.
In the case of India, I hear many people telling me “How what a wonderful place, I love the culture, and the food and the colours, and the smell, it’s must be awesome to live there”. I even had expat to be contact me saying that they can’t wait living there because they already went on a few trips on holidays and loved it.
Yes the food, the festivals, the colours, the smells, and the approach to spirituality are all part of the culture, this is the culture package one need to familiarise themselves with when visiting on a holiday, and in preparation to live there. The difference is while you are a tourist, you can label it awesome, if you are going to live there, you need to learn that it’s as awesome as it can be nasty, India is a land of sharp contrast, that would be lesson number one.
But these big obvious changes is NOT what is going to make you go into culture shock, because these are the ones you can prepare for in advance.
What is most likely to send one over the edge is a accumulation of small everyday things.
On the top of my head I remember a few I dealt with now. There was the fact that shopping for everyday things isn’t the same, some stuff that are available in certain places back home aren’t available in the same places in India and will have you roam around to find it. A month or so after I moved to Bangalore I felt completely lost and confused because I could not find a glue stick in the supermarket, which I needed to glue my Christmas greetings envelope shut, because I found out that they don’t come with self adhesive flaps. I found the greeting card shop, assumed it was a stationary shop, but they had no glue, had to ask a friend about it to be sent to what a real Indian stationary shop is. I felt stupid asking for such a petty thing and blushed.
There is also the fact that certain things don’t have the same name in India, even if you speak English, it will take time to familiarise yourself with local idioms and accents. Tomato sauce is almost always Ketchup here, and I once found a big bottle of tomato sauce thinking that it was pasta sauce, and when I cooked with it, I nearly gagged and forced myself to eat it because I am against wasting food, but what happened was that the nice imported pasta I bought to cure a bout of home sickness ended up being doused in ketchup, sickly sweet at that. I had no idea that if you want tomato concentrate sauce you need to look for tomato PUREE. Needless to say I sobbed silly over my spoiled pasta.
There is the fact that you need to know how to deal with cockroaches, even in a house you keep spotlessly clean, the fact hot water in your tap comes only if you have a water heater installed and switched on (they are often just in the bathroom). You also end up having to deal with learning how to cross the road in a lawless traffic, have to learn the price of everything not to be cheated because as a resident you can’t have that happen every time you want to buy some food. You need to learn to give approximate direction to your cab driver and then stop often to confirm said direction along the way because no one knows how to drive to one specific address. Your food will never taste the same, it will take ages to put together a meal that would have taken half the time back home…but most important you will need to develop a thick skin, because otherwise India is going to eat you alive, discrimination, poverty, corruption, having to deal with the nastiest stereotype about your own culture spat at your face, and possibly being accused of being a liar for daring to tell these know it all that no it’s not like that at all, learning that privacy is pretty much a foreign concept in India and learning how to cope with it, all these and then some more will just be more than you can handle on certain day.
My advice? Vent, VENT away, find a support group, an expat community in your city, an online group, start a blog, speak up, and get it out. Bottling up is the worst thing you can do to yourself.
I know, I did it, I even tried to delude myself into thinking I just had to adjust harder, to the point of loosing the sight of who I was.
No you will never be Indian, and guess what no one has to, and no you one should not stay passive when they think something is wrong, India like all countries and all culture has some good and bad and the bad needs to change, and yes some locals will have the same complaints you have and want to change them. No Indian food isn’t superior to your home food, it’s as good and as bad as what you grew up on. If you find yourself saying stuff like “Who needs a lasagna when dal and rice is such a healthy yummy hearty wonderful meal” that means you are already down the delusion path. This is pep talk to kid oneself into trying that much harder to shed all that they have been simply because things are different. This is pep talk to just prove oneself that they are just better than the rest and are above culture shock.
Who said one has no right to feel frustrated in the first place? And nobody is a failure for simply having to deal with culture shock, one become a failure deluding themselves into thinking they are so much better and won’t be affected. One is a failure when they think that the only way to adjust to a new culture is to be more local than the locals themselves (the locals might even grow to dislike you for it).
If you can’t have one thing, you can always work toward getting it.
So in short, culture shock is normal, nobody can fully escape it because culture defines everything we are and what is around us, and we all have a threshold of tolerance beyond which we snap, and while preparation and learning about a culture can help, one should prepare themselves feeling frustrated as part of the process to make it easier.
That’s what 8.5 years of expatdom, many mistakes and a lot of stumbling upon the path has taught me.
Back home they were the stuff from the Asian products aisle in the supermarket, they were imported from China or Hong Kong and they tasted yummy, They were of course not a staple in the Swiss diet and definitely not part of my culture, so the choice was limited, but with 4-5 basic flavours I was fine.
What I found funny coming to India is how much these noodles are part of ones buying habit. You find a lot of brands and flavours, and for a country that I associated more with spicy food in gravy that was puzzling to say the least.
Ramen noodles are Japanese, and have version of them in China, where noodles are common, but India?
The one that started it all is Maggi with its 2 minutes noodles. Maggi which ironically is a Swiss based brand known for it’s instant soups and sauces in the homeland. I have never even seen Maggi Noodles in Switzerland, I didn’t even know they did them, they sure didn’t do pasta either.
But Maggi Noodles, or Maggi for short have invaded every corner of the subcontinent, you will find them everywhere, including on the snow slopes in Manali where locals will cook them on the spot for you on a mobile cooking cart. I don’t think I have been in a single home where there isn’t at least one pack of Maggi in the kitchen ready to use for a quick meal or snack.
This has prompted me to go and review all the different type of noodles you find on the market, not just the good ole Maggi in all its avatars, but other local brands, or international ones, if it is noodle I will test it at one point or another, I have a happy assistant would will be glad to help too, she calls them “Gaggi” regardless of the brand, and because most of these noodles have around 400 calories for a pack, it makes sense to split it in two (some brand actually tell people it makes for 2 servings).
So first thing first, let’s review the Original shall we?
Maggi Masala! The name could not scream India any louder, the taste is the perfect blend of spicy, not too hot to please those with sensitive taste buds, but still with enough tang to it to suit the Indian palate. It’s the one that started it all 25 years ago, the one you will find everywhere, the one food that is likely to unify all of India. From North to South and East to West, this is a household name. Some pimp it with veggies, other douse it in tomato ketchup, some like it plain…it’s vegetarian and it can be seasoned with just about anything.
Don’t be fooled by the tag line “Taste Bhi. Health Bhi” (tasty and healthy), it sure is tasty enough, but it is definitely NOT healthy, no matter the claim and the added calcium and protein, and indulgence? I’ll give you that, but better not to make it an everyday thing, plain old pasta pack less calories per 100g than the 80g pack of Noodle does.
Maggi Noodles are also the most starchy of all the brands out there, if you leave them out too long after cooking, or refrigerate the leftovers, they coagulate into a less than appetizing goo.
The masala version exist in individual packs, 4 packs, 6 packs, 8 packs and even “chota pack” (half the portion size of the individual pack).
Frankly over the years this grew to be my least favourite brand, if I am going to indulge in a guilty pleasure of junk food, I want the texture and taste to please me better, and now with all the choice there is in this department, I am more likely to sink my teeth in something else.
We still buy them, because DH loves them (he grew up with them), but even Ishita prefers other brands and flavours.
So with this first post a new label is born: Just Noodling, I will gradually post about what’s out there in the Ramen world in India.
Please, bear with me, I seem to be on a updating spree, not only do I have a Facebook page, I also finally decided to get myself to Twitter. And since I designed a cover photo for Facebook that I find quite fancy, I decided that it might be time for a cleaner layout for the blog using said picture.
All pics in the header are mine of course, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, My dog jasmine enjoying Panchgani, my Mumbai wall clock, and an Hibiscus flower that if you must insist knowing was snapped in Yercaud.
If you want to flame me for all the changes, well I got the inspiration from one of the blogs I follow : The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking
She is writing a series on blogging this week that is getting me inspired to give my blog extra TLC
So in short:
Yes I have a Facebook page, so please go Like it
Yes I came out of the dark age and decided to get Twitter, you can find me at Cynadventure
And Yes I kicked the old layout out, so don’t scratch your head too hard, instead, feel free to tell me what you think about it.
And of course I promise this is the last update post today, and sorry if your feeds are going crazy if you subscribed, I’m back to normal blogging tomorrow.
I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, writing a blog for 8 years isn’t a short period and I definitely am past the stage of it just being an experiment, it is at the most a serious hobby, I get way over 1000 page hits on any given week, have quite a few followers, and regulars who comment almost on every posts. So if others can do the Facebook thing, so should I.
Here is where you can find me, and like me :
A while back I wrote about what to expect when you rent a place in India, and the fact that some landlords will not let you do much alteration, and that painting the walls might not be ok. Hanging pictures is fine, but those living in rental properties often dream of colourful walls and treatments that would cost too much when you take the risk of leaving on short notice because of your work never to see the place again.
Fortunately a recent trend has fixed this problem once and for all: wall stickers. I never heard of them until 2-3 years ago, and they are now the big rage in online shopping, snap deal, first cry, baby oye, fashion and you….they all have them, a lot of them kid themed but many in more grown up designs as well. And while I am not quite sure about using them in my bedroom or living room because I love my own paintings, I took the plunge for Ishi’s room:
We never did anything for her room since she was born, we’ve moved too much to really have time to think of it, beside she started sleeping in our bed when she was 9 months old suddenly hating her crib with passion. But now both DH and I would love for her to start feeling at home in her own room and eventually sleep there.
Sure her bed and toys have been in there all along, we even tape her drawing to the wall, we go through a lot of sweat clearing toys almost every day to make it a nice pleasant space to look at, but in the end it’s pretty much just her stuff in there and no personal touch, nothing that makes her feel like this is a cosy space for her (our bedroom being all pretty with paintings and a colour theme now).
So I first painted an old table lamp for her which was one of our old bedside table lamp, one ended up in the living room still in its original avatar, the other one just got a fresh look this weekend:
But back to the stickers shall we? I just can’t believe I waited that long, they are sturdy, look nice, and provided you have a wall that has been painted correctly with a good paint will not leave marks (the old salmon pink walls in Bangalore might not have worked with them). Ishi already figured out she can peel off some of the elements and reposition them, and yesterday she even tried sleeping in her bed because she wanted to watch her pretty new wall (she didn’t make it the whole night though, but one step at a time works fine for me).
The only thing is that not all come cheap, some of these sets can be pretty expensive and set you nearly 4k. The one we bought is priced 1499 rupees, and is available at First Cry, the online kid and baby store, but you can also find it on other websites, some with a small discount, since I was registered at First Cry already and that the discount offered in some places was so small I didn’t feel like creating a new account somewhere else to get it, beside I know how reliable First Cry is which makes me want to stick with them.
Living in a rental property often mean putting with blah walls, or even cracked ones like it is the case in mine right now, and thinking of it, paying a few thousands for some wall stickers still comes much cheaper than having a paint job done in a place that you don’t own. Once you leave the place you loose only the stickers. If you stick to one place longer than a few years, you take the risk of getting bored with the same wall treatment too, and stickers are just what the doctor ordered, once you get bored with them, or they look worn out, you peel them off and put new ones on your wall, problem solved!
.Lasagna! That is one of these dishes that just scream comfort back home, one of these that you pop in the oven on a lazy day, or after a hard day at work when you don’t have the energy to do anything else. It’s still far more healthy than running to Mc D or dialling a pizza, and it’s equally easy to pull out.
Back home that is, like all moms, my mom had her stock in the freezer, and like most moms it meant store bought frozen lasagna. Migros (yes still them) has a killer “lasagna verde” with beef filling and green lasagna noodles that I grew up on, it was winter time favourite, and since Lunch time in Switzerland is long enough to allow people to go back home my mom made sure there were some easy stuff for us to put together so that who ever came first from school or work could start lunch so that nobody lost time.
What I liked the most about that lasagna wasn’t the filling, or the green noodles, it was the thick velvety béchamel sauce that went in it and how it bubbled on top in the oven. , For that the Migros lasagne ruled.
Why not home made you may ask? Well my mom tried once, borrowed a recipe from an Italian friend, calling for ricotta cheese, loads of fresh peeled and seeded tomatoes, and a nearly whole afternoon of work because she was new to it. The end result was good of course, but my mom just decided that was far too much work and mess to be worth repeating, so like most moms she stuck to the store bought variety and I was left with the idea that making lasagna is a pain in the butt.
Of course that was before I moved to India. One of the dish I find myself craving the most around here is lasagna, and believe me I looked online quite a lot for easy recipe, the only ones you find call for ricotta cheese which in India is ridiculously costly, and I just refuse to try substituting it with paneer. There is times when comfort food should not have substitutes in, beside ricotta cheese lasagna is not what I grew up with. There was also the fact that lasagna noodles are costly too, and having about 500 bucks worth of Ingredients on my plate was a repellent. When we were living in Navi Mumbai I found a ready made lasagna brand, and tried it, it’s an Indian brand, with a recipe strongly suited for the Indian palate (spicy filling) has regular pizza cheese in it and is microwavable, it’s not by any mean outstanding in anyway, to be frank it’s edible and that is the highest commendation I can give to that one, but in a desperate moment and a mad craving for lasagna, it will do…somehow.
That is when I decided to get myself some lasagna noodles, I found some that were fairly priced in Bangalore just before leaving for Mumbai, and since pasta is a typical pantry staple that keep fresh for a very long time I kept them until I figured out what to do with them, which was yesterday!
The mad craving for lasagna stroke, I had ground chicken in the freezer, a opened jar of Ragu pasta sauce in the fridge, and enough motivation to give it a try, and that is just then that I remembered, my childhood ones had béchamel sauce in them, not cheese.
That sauce is one of the basics of continental cuisine, so much so that back home you find it in cartons, ready made, but making your own isn’t that difficult, so I googled around, and found this one. It’s easy, all the ingredients for it are easily available in India and it tastes AWSOME, I actually felt so exited when I saw it thicken and smell the way I remembered Béchamel smelled.
The lasagna chicken stuffing was another of these easy bits, in fact you can even cook it in advance, all I used was ground chicken, and “sambar onions” sautéed in a frying pan and then poured the tomato sauce on it and added freshly chopped basil to it. And before you shoot at me for using store bought sauce…the tomato sauce is what takes the longest to make from scratch, if you want quality you need heaps of tomatoes, peel them and seed them as these give a nasty bitter taste to the sauce, and then simmer for nearly an hour to turn the pulp into sauce, my mom used to make Bolognese for the freezer on rainy days when I was a kid, she had the option of buying canned peeled tomatoes I don’t have, so the next best thing is using Ragu sauce, because Dabur’s tomato puree doesn’t cut it (tried making pasta sauce with it in the past).
The only tedious job in making lasagna is boiling the noodles not all the way through, small batches at a time so they don’t stick together, and assemble your lasagna. Then it’s in the oven for about 15 minutes if you are baking them right away.
The end result was….BLISS…I kid you not, despite not being beef and being white noodles it tasted just the same as my childhood lasagna, the béchamel alone took me there. I would have taken a picture of the dish before eating it if the urge to sink my teeth in had been less strong, because I want to once share that recipe on my other blog.
Lasagna being a very freezer friendly dish, I have one made with the other half of my filling stuffed in there already, ready to pop in the oven on a mad day, the only thing to take into account is that a frozen Lasagna will take 30-40 minutes to bake, but then that is about the time it takes to order a pizza and have it on your table around here, so no biggie.
And now that I found a way to really get something to satisfy my cravings, as soon as the monsoon strike, I’ll buy ground chicken in bulk, and will spend an afternoon preparing them for my freezer stash so that I’ll always have them around, the rainy months are bound to make me long for comforting taste from home, better be ready.
A while back I was telling you about my maid here in Mumbai and how I made her day with a big Diwali Bonus.
Well a few months short of a full year working for us, she is still the same hardworking, conscientious, professional maid. She still do not shy from a chore that has to be done, she still goes the extra mile do make sure my place is spotlessly clean, she plans big clean up afternoons when she decided my windows need a scrub before I have to ask. All in all she is the only real professional maid I’ve had in 8.5 years in India.
And I think it is fair to call her a PROFESSIONAL, she is in total command of what she can have control upon in her life. Like every Mumbai maid she has the same tariffs : 500 rupees a month for each chores, 2000 for the cooking (comes twice to make fresh chapatti). She lives in a nearby slum-ish area in a house that her husband and her own apparently. She has two kids in their pre-teen years, one girl, one boy, born a year apart, her husband has been in Hospital and in rehab since we hired her, so it’s pretty much her all alone manning the house, the finance and the kids, with her hubby not working at the moment she is also the sole bread earner too. If she slacks, she has only herself to blame, not that it would happen, she juggles 4 housekeeping/cooking jobs a day, and still makes time for her kids, she hasn’t dropped the ball on any of her employers, she always warn if she has to take a leave, and her positive outlook on life means Dh and I are happy with her, and even chit chat with her too. Her positive attitude is what makes people want to go the extra mile for her. But she doesn’t want pity, she keeps her chin up. And after having to deal with 8.5 years of maids playing on the “I’m poor have pity” and their begging for more leaves, more money, extra money to pay their kid’s school fees, I have now a maid who just leaves her troubles at home and does her job.
Recently though she came to DH and I really embarrassed having to ask, needing money as her house seem to have taken some damages and would if unfixed become a hell of a place to live in during the monsoon thanks to the down pour Mumbai is known to go through during these months and how poorly planned slum area can be. The total amount of the work to be done in her house to make it dry and monsoon proof: 30,000 rupees, she quickly told us she enlisted the help of relatives as well, but that she is struggling to come with the whole sum upfront to get the job done on time and that she would appreciate any help and promised to pay us back, she also told DH that if this repair didn’t come right smack before the start of the school year she would have had the money, but her kids education matters big time (big applaud to her). DH curious about her finances started asking how she manages being all alone at home and the sole bread winner, she told him that thanks to her 4 houses job as a maid she makes 12 thousands a month, Dh asked her how she keeps that money safe, and turns out they have a person collecting money from all the maids and putting in a joint account and then write chits to them stating the amount they are entitled to, a sort of bank of the poor system. DH told her that she should open her own account and get the interest on her hard earned cash herself and even volunteered to take her to the bank one Saturday, the offer still holds but the past 2 weekends have been hectic both for her and for DH. She also told DH her husband has a life insurance policy made to protect her and the kids in case something happened to him, a thing that DH was impressed with and congratulated her for having one.
All this explain her behaviour, unlike many maids, she is aware that a job is a job, and that it’s better for her to be a maid, than maybe earn less as a factory worker, she is in charge of her income and working hours, and smart to know the power she has in her hands. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself, she works hard to get herself and the kids a better life. She could have taken the easy option of just educating her son, but she sends both kids in school, what’s more she is raising her daughter to be a modern strong lady too, she showed me pictures of her kids she had made by a professional photographer for her son’s birthday last May, on the occasion she used the bonus I gave her then to get her kids new clothes too and wanted to show me that as well. What actually pleasantly surprised me is that her daughter was all dressed in a new pair of jeans and a sleeveless still very decent shirt, not a traditional salwaar suit, nope a western style outfit like her brother. My maid probably prefer salwaar suits over anything else, but from that picture and her attitude it is clear she is a woman of her time, a woman who knows that things change and that you have to move along with it.
In the end we loaned her 15k toward the house repair, and she promptly took my calendar at home and wrote the amount she took on which date, and even her repayment plan, explaining it to me, stating as she wrote in bold in my calendar that we are to not pay her her salary until August, not a single rupee because she wants to finish it off and not stay indebted too long.
I don’t know about you, but to me a woman who acts this way, and just refuse to let life and its circumstance bring her down, or uses such circumstances to not try to get out of it by herself first, is a lady that commands RESPECT.
Sisyphus was a Greek Mythology King that has been punished and compelled to push a huge rock up a hill only to have it roll back down for him to push back up again and again and again with no end to it.
Even today we refer to a Sisyphean work or chore when we speak of an endless, and rather repetitive task.
Now I’ll give you the New Age Sisyphus: Mothers (or fathers) who are compelled to clean their kid’s room, because a kid’s room has to be neat, clean, and a happy place. The problem is that kids don’t care what parents think is happy, neat, and clean. I don’t know a single mom, me included who doesn’t spend hours trying to make their kiddo’s room presentable and clean enough to play in, only to have their kiddo rush back into the place, and turn it upside down 5 minutes after the last book has been placed on the shelf, to end up with the exact same chaos that has been cleared in the first place.
Sound familiar? Then welcome to the club! My own mother had been there with me and my sister, and now I am in the same boat, and like my mom before me am coming with tricks to just cut the chore short, we all have, because in the back of our mind, we all so the picture perfect kid’s room in a magazine or a book, and we want our kiddos to have that same serene cheerful colourful heaven, free of clutter and crayons marking…but then of course in the back of our mind we all know that no clutter is not gelling with kids.
Ah I remember the days I was on the other side of the fence, a kid, who didn’t see why my mom would scream at my collection of muddy rocks, and the entire crate of Lego turned upside down in the middle of the room, I didn’t get why my mom would grin manically while vacuuming the wall to wall carpet in our room whenever she heard a cling-cling sound of a plastic object going up the pipe, all I could see back then was a monstrous tyrant marching in with a garbage bag threatening to throw everything if we didn’t have the place clean in 15 minutes (and no she was not kidding, we once thought she was bluffing only for her to put all the stuff we didn’t clean in a bag and later donate it to charity).
Now of course as a mother, I know why she was grinning while vacuuming, because the cling-cling sound was most likely a tiny Lego piece, or a Barbie shoe, or one of these Kinder Joy plastic crappy toy parts that was getting everywhere….cling-cling up the vacuum cleaner pipe meant “Yay one less piece of crap to step on” The problem with plastic crap is that you throw one out, you have 10 that comes in to replace it! See told you it’s a never-ending task.
Moms of toddlers have both the advantage and the disadvantage of being alone at work, toddlers wont help cleaning, but then that means you can also pick a moment while they are in school to break the garbage bag and purge without them screaming and whining about you throwing stuff away, truth be told they might not even remember all the crappy stuff they have. The other problem is that older kids can somehow understand to some extent that, toys need not to migrate in the whole house, they also get that balls, get stored with balls, and building blocks with…well you know…building blocks. Toddler don’t get it, and don’t care.
My parents solved the issue when my Aunt lent them a huge old wooden travel trunk of yesteryears in which all my toys would fit, along with both me and my cousin when he came visiting, that’s how big that thing was. This was easy then, the toys would come out in the day, my mom would throw them back in the trunk at night. they had to give it back though, but then they had hopes my sister and I would have a bit more of a clear perception of the advantage of a tidy room…ahem! That’s when they found stackable plastic crate at the hardware store to sort out the Lego from the Barbie Dolls…but that was pretty much a fail, each crate ended up containing a mix of everything, and we used to turn them all upside down to find the right thing.
Ishi is no better with her toys (why would she, kids are kids), so every day I end up with mess everywhere. I have no toy trunk, but I have boxes and a big funky basket to toss it all in.
Today I was yet again cleaning her room, while she was in school, threw away a lot of tiny stuff she never plays with, stored away bigger nicer toys she is too old for or never play with, got rid of everything broken and thanked myself that I actually refuse to buy toys just for the sake of it, in fact I told my mom to bring books only with her last time she visited, no toys, she has enough of that, that like every kids she play with once and then ignore. Even with a rather conservative filter on toys, there is still more than she actually plays with. The thing I consider before buying a toy is how it can be played with, typically toddlers like to explore and be creative, they like to pretend, and they like freedom. A toy as educative as the manufacturer claims it to be will be shunned if all it does is say “red” when you press the red button and drive you parent batty with loud noise, annoying music and crappy voice. But worse are the pretend play toys that talk and come with dozen of accessories that will end up everywhere…yes we have one or two of these and YES they drive me crazy, and Of COURSE I regret buying them, and the only reason I’m not making them disappear is that Ishi still plays with them on occasion, and I spent enough money to make me feel guilty about getting rid of it, but I am no longer a rookie, so I don’t buy them anymore, and more important I don’t go ballistic each time a plastic cookie disappear…Good riddance!
What my daughter can’t get enough of are art supplies, that I’ll never really buy too many of, plus they encourage creativity. She loves carrying purses around the flat, which gave me a perfect opportunity to offload my old wallets and all these promotional freebie pouch and handbags on her, she loves them, they cost me nothing, talk about win-win. Ditto with jewellery, I have enough old bead necklaces and even old bangles set she can play with.
Books you can’t get enough books, there is no restriction on books in my home, I’m a bookworm myself and if my daughter turns out to be one, it won’t be the most harmful thing in the world. She also loves water toys to play in her plastic tub or in the shower with…they encourage fun play and discoveries…that I don’t mind having around. Same with balls, because we can play indoor and outdoor with them. A few stuffed animals don;t hurt either, they are easily washable contrary to these stupid battery operated toys, and she loves to snuggle them, pretend feed them and play Doctor with them. And that is about it, that’s what she loves, and that is what I shall keep around above anything else. The plastic crap still comes in, and it comes out after a while too, I don’t think anybody is completely immune to trinkets accumulation.
Meanwhile I’ll continue my Sisyphean task: I clean, she trashes, I clean she trashes…she’ll grow older, but I’ll still pick bone with the hygiene level of her room, and she will still want it untidy in rebellion, so I’ll clean and she’ll yell at me for doing it and then trash again…until she’ll go to college and I’ll then wonder what to do of that sudden freedom from not having to pick up fight about her mess…which thinking of it is as daunting to think about as the thought of having to pick up toys from everywhere in a couple of hours.
I realized last week that I never really blogged about my Wedding, I planned to back in the days, but then a pending possible temporary relocation to Finland that never happened, a new dog, and life caught up with me and I forgot, but what would my intercultural relationship and expat blog would be without a little more about what is said to be the biggest even in a girl’s life?
Ours was a Hindu ceremony that took place in DH’s native place: Lucknow because he was the last son to be married and all the relatives wanted to be there, I think all in all the reception saw about 400+ guests, in India that is often considered small, in Switzerland that is a big fat wedding. But the planning and organization is much different which makes it possible. The actual wedding ceremony took place on the 6th of July 2006. But we all arrived in Lucknow on July 1st, my family and I (a party of 5) stayed in the Taj Hotel there until the wedding, did some shopping and sightseeing and enjoyed the pool. On July 4th we had an engagement ceremony, DH and I both wanted it to be small and not costing a fortune, so only the immediate family was present and it took place in my plush hotel room which thanks to it being a 5 star hotel was big enough to accommodate my little party, here is one picture to show what it looked like:
At this point the ceremony is almost over, I’ve been presented with gifts, and offering in a symbolic gesture to wish me wealth and prosperity in my marriage, my MIL picked me a super cute gold necklace and earing set, which is still by far my favourite fancy wear gold ever, it’s not to big, but still fancy, I still wear it on special occasion, I love that necklace tremendously, not sure you can see it properly in the picture. I was fed my favourite sweets: caju barfi, then after this bit is over we exchange rings, fortunately my mom never got to take a good picture of it, we had no professional photographer for that even, and her camera had some issue with the flash that made all pictures blurry. After the rings were exchanged we invited my in-laws to the hotel restaurant for one big nice meal. It was by far my favourite part of the wedding, it was simple, only those who cared where present and we all had fun.
the next day came the Mehendi, I have no good picture of that, again it was simple, in my room, kidding with my family, no big production, because I’m not a big crowd girl, and really what is the point of throwing money on that thing? The pics I have aren’t really good to share, so none, but the next morning when the beautician came to make me up and dress me for my big day here is what the henna on my hands looked like:
A nice dark shade of reddish brown, that got even darker as the day got hotter, a saying says that the darker the mehendi on a bride’s hand the more intense her love is…I’ll leave you to ponder that. Dressing me took time because the dupatta coming with my lehenga was heavy and needed to be pinned on my head properly not to scalp me or fall apart mid ceremony.
And that is me about ready to leave the hotel, in DH’s family the bride has her head covered at all time.
The ceremony as such was preceded by the flower garland exchange, I have professional pictures in an album, but for some reason the CD they gave us doesn’t let us see the pictures and upload them on a computer, there is only a musical slide show on it, so these are all my family’s snaps of the big day:
Notice how kids are dressed casual, most adults were also in casual outfits, it was a day time ceremony, following the garlands, we had to sit on thrones for nearly 2 hours during which all guests took turn to take pictures with us…that was a good prep for what loomed upon us at the reception…things to know about India wedding, the bride and groom are the one with the less fun in a lot of places.
One of the bazillion family pictures taken during that time. the finally the ceremony, my family forgot to take snaps until the ceremony was over, plus they were not quite sure it was ok to do so, see in a church, you sit in reverence, in Hindu wedding…people chat, eat, come and go and such, my family wasn’t used to that bit and didn’t want to do anything offensive at first, so here is one of the few I have, us already married:
Don’t ask me or DH what this blue bundle means or what we were doing, we have no clue, we just know it is done that way. Notice that sindoor on my head is orange, this is something done in DH’s community it seems, the first year the sindoor has to be orange, then you can switch to red, though often my MIL still wears orange too. The Mangalsutra done in many other communities is NOT done in in DH’s women rarely wear it if they have one at all, a married woman wears any necklace she wants as long as she wears one.
The ceremony ended at around 4pm, with us feeling tired, sweaty and so ready for a shower, that had my MIL prompt that my head should not be wet, the Sindoor had to stay on (it actually survived 5 days of shampoo afterward…that’s how much there was), we had more puja and function in my in-law’s home and then a quick power nap before the beautician came to dress me and make me up for the reception that started at 8pm. This time I wore a simpler outfit, a maroon and gold kancheepuram saree that my Mausi bought for me in Chennai when she herd her nephew was getting married. I love LOVE LOVE that saree, I still wear it on special occasion, this is how we looked at the reception:
Sorry for the funny faces, but we were dead tired, and from about 8pm until past midnight we were seated on this sofa waiting for guests to take pictures with us and bring us gifts, surviving on the munchies the waiters sometimes brought our way while we kept watching everybody having a blast, at one point we stood up to go dance for 5 minutes so both the videographer and photographer could have a few candid snaps, I alas don’t have them on the computer but in my wedding album. By 12.30am DH actually yelled at his mom because he was hungry, fed up and she was trying to persuade him to stay seated for picture and hour more, but he won the argument and we were taken in the dinning hall to grab a bite, still with our paparazzi professional and not in tow, eager to grab the first bite we shared as a couple, seriously at this point I was glad my family didn’t take picture and respected the fact I just about had my share of flashes and clicks, beside it was getting ridiculous with us holding food in mid air for 5 minutes for all to snap their food pics. It actually felt like those presidents that shake each others hand for ages for the benefit of the press. Once home we didn’t care for the canopy of jasmine all around our bed, and the rose petals all over the mattress, we undressed and just crashed down for the night, knowing we had to see guests off at 8am and be fresh.
In my previous post I listed what I adjusted to coming to India, but how one adjust widely depends on what background they have and what they got used to prior living in a different country. This post focus on retail and food rather than cultural things.
The Switzerland I grew up into in the 80’s was not a market of big international brands, it was not even that much a big market for brands coming from our immediate neighbouring countries. Back then there was two major supermarket chains: Coop (pronounced co-op as it is short for cooperative) and Migros. The both a very different culture, Coop sold branded goods as well as few in house brands, Migros was anti-brand, everything found in their store came from their own factories with their own brand names at the exception of 2-3 products from big brands for which they bought the exclusive distribution rights (read Coop their rival could not sell them). There were few smaller retail outlets chains and family owned grocery stores too but they were struggling, not because Migros and Coop made an effort to crush them, but because in Switzerland the notion of Maximum Retail Price dos not exist (yes even today) which mean every independent store owner can price a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes as they wish. Needless to say that the independent mom and pop store owner just has to price it higher to be able to make ends meet having to pay the rent of it’s store based on only one store, and because they are operating on a smaller scale, they don’t get the advantage of wholesale discounts to be able to sell at a lower price.
Coop could sell and still does sell a box of Kellogg’s corn flakes cheaper than the other because they are a massive nation wide chain, Migros didn’t sell that brand as you can start to guess, they had their own corn flakes brand like they had for everything from bread, to cosmetics, and they didn’t open themselves to outsourced products until the second half of the 90’s, and even still today still sell more of their own brand than anything else, I would estimate the ratio to be 90% Migros and 10% outside labels.
The two retail giants have been at the base of a household and political battle, the left wingers and syndicates preferred Coop for their cooperative nature and free market policy, while Migros was preferred by everybody else, at least on the surface, because the fact remained that Migros could sell goods of same quality as a branded one cheaper because they had control over the whole production and distribution chain, so even the syndicate lovers would shop there but preferred not to admit it, or be seen doing it, so was the “war” in the 80’s (and even before from what I heard).
My parents having a tight budget back in the day, it was obvious we were Migros Fans all the way for years, which means that I didn’t grow up being brand conscious since brands were moderately advertised on TV and papers (the good old times where we had so few TV channels to begin with!) Then sometimes in the late 80’s my parents got introduced to the concept of shopping across the border in the pre-Euro era. A friend of theirs told them things like meat and wine was cheaper in neighbouring France, and because my parents like many were penny pinchers, they gave it a try, we lived 10 minutes away from the French border after all. Going to France to shop became a monthly or bi-monthly affair depending how much there was to buy and to stay within custom regulation limits, that’s the time my parents also invested in a separate freezer unit for the kitchen to store their loot. And of course this is the time where we first got to see what an Hypermarket looked like, because back then Switzerland had very few of these and none near our place. With it, we got to discover brands too, something we never had back home due to cost factors, but in France a box of branded cereal was cheaper than the Migros non-branded one, needless to say that my parents not only saved a lot of money on their grocery bill but also managed to get most of the pantry and freezer shopping out of the way in one single trip a month, leaving us just having to deal with buying vegetables in Switzerland every week. In their effort to pinch pennies on daily expenses even further so that we had money to spend on fun vacations in the Summer, my sister and I suddenly got a lot of our clothes coming from French brand factory outlets and yup even generic stuff from the Hypermarket as well. until we became outfit brand conscious as teens that it, period during which my parents made it clear that they would cover the basics but any frivolities had to come out of our monthly allowance…which pretty much put labels like Levi’s out of reach, no matter how cool certain of the posh kids in school claimed they were, when you have to buy your extra fashion clothing out of your own pocket…you suddenly think twice about brands, fortunately the posh kids were small faction in school and there were many other kids who had the same deal as us, and H&M the Swedish garment store was the only brand most people shopped at to be cool.
On the fast food front, contrary to what people think not all in the West are exposed to it, Geneva had it’s first Mc Donald opened in the 80’s and the price of a value meal was almost as costly as a “Du jour” (meal of the day) in a local cafe. People used to go there for fun, but never made it an habit because they had many other option for the same price or even lower for their lunch. For the longest time that was all there was. Burger King tried to rival the red giant, but it never really took off, and I’m not even sure it was still there when I visited in 2008. Pizza Hut was the other American giant to make it there, it is still in Zurich, but apparently it left Geneva altogether from what my mom told me, they had 2-3 outlets at their peak, and they were always deserted, and home delivery was even less of a strength, Swiss as a rule don’t see the point of home delivery for food, and even today they are at the most more likely to go to a restaurant of take out joint, order in person and go back home with their packed food rather than have one do the job. Back to Pizza Hut, it pretty much flopped because Italian family owned pizzerias are all over the place, and you could get a huge pie completely hand made, with flat crust and baked in a clay oven for about 15-20 CHF when the cheapest medium pizza at Pizza hut would set you around 25-30CHF and would be a deep pan greasy monstrosity…a no brainer as to why it never caught in my homeland huh? But KFC had to bow out faster than Pizza Hut, people didn’t see the point of fried chicken, we are a oven roast chicken nation, so a bucket of greasy poultry at a high price…no thanks.
When Swiss think fast food, it’s generally donner kebab, the Turkish answer to the burger, surface grilled lamb or chicken paper thin cut from the grilling loaf put in a pita bread or wrap bread with a generous serving of salad, veggies and a dollop of sour cream and chilli sauce, no fries, no chips, when I went back in 2008 these were even more popular than when I left in 2003, and are now absolutely everywhere. The other thing Swiss consider good fast food is Asian fast food stuff: your meal stir fried in a wok on the spot with a serving of steamed rice, to be eating in the outlet of packed to go. Most of the Asian fast food and Donner kebab joints are family owned or are part of small local chains of outlet. And of course the ultimate fast food stuff is the half baguette sub sandwich fresh from your local bakery, it has been there for as long as I can remember and might as well be the original food on the go stuff in the country. Subway still exists there but in all the time I lived in Geneva I never went once to their outlet, friends complained about the prices, and the fact their subs are made out of soft bread, we like the crunch of the French baguette too much mind you!
When I came back in 2008 one thing that wasn’t on the radar when I left in 2003 was Starbucks, and they have managed to do well enough, not super popular but well enough. The reason being that coffee for the Swiss means a medium cup in a cafe, with a individually packaged put of cream milk to pour in it and sugar to taste, no bells no whistles there. At the most you could get a cappuccino in select restaurants. Those who new what a latte or a mocha coffee was in the pre-Starbucks era where most likely those who visited places like London were chains of the same vein existed in the 90’s. So quite obviously they have cornered a market that no one else has so far in the country : the speciality coffee shop.
Where it actually put me off and it actually repelled a few of my friends back home is that Starbucks has just exported their basic package and culture of disposable cups in country were people are mad recyclers and environment lovers, so while some of my friends venture that yeah a Vanilla tall latte is great, they are left a bit bitter at the fact that it comes in a paper cup with a straw even if you sit in the outlet to enjoy it, and that it actually cost a lot more than a regular coffee in a quaint old cafe who will serve it in a real cup. I haven’t tried Starbucks there, first because I’m not a massive coffee fan, then because living in India I know there is more to coffee than the “cafe creme” and there is no novelty to it for me, and then because I can’t justify paying that much for a coffee in the first place. In Zurich it seems MC D is offering them concurrence anyway, with their Mc Cafe concept, fancy coffee served in big ceramic cups in a sofa environment with a complimentary almond biscotti at still a cheaper price than Starbucks.
The Swiss are actually extremely conservative consumer that will look for quality and value before going for brands and fad, the reason why maybe so many fast food giants flopped or still struggle, a reason why you won’t find a lot of big brands clothes, and a reason why the fruits and vegetable section in stores still offers seasonal things rather than all year round strawberries. People if given a chance will still roam open air markets to find maybe slightly pricier veggies but at a much better quality, and every city still has a bi-weekly markets going on.
In this light, I never really got bothered by seasonal availability of fruits and veggies in India, my initial frustration was at not finding seasoning ingredients as easily in stores as I can find now to cook flavours from home, which is no longer an issue because as I said many Indian brands are tapping into the world food sector to cater to the new class of well travelled Indians who thanks to the IT sector is getting more opportunities to work abroad on short and mid-term projects.
For many things India actually had me introduced to some concept I didn’t know about such as home delivery of food stuff, themed restaurants, branded clothing, and affordability of services such as tailoring, and beauty treatments, back home even a hair cut is something you think wice about, and it’s always an “on appointment” only basis, you can’t hop into a parlour and say, I want to have my hair cut…Now But services is an entirely different topic I will leave for another time.
My friend and fellow blogger Kristy compiled a list of all the things she had to adjust to since moving to India a little over a year ago which you can read here.
I’ve been to India for 8.5 years, so for me lots of the things she lists are things of the past, plus I lived in bigger cities all the time, which does make a huge difference when you are an expat. In the beginning I tried hard to conform to a certain standard that I perceived as typically Indian, especially in my dress code which I learned over the year doesn’t even exist, because there is no such thing as a Indian standard of anything. So today you are more likely to find me roaming around in capris and t-shirt or short kurta, if it’s not shorts that I am wearing, Mumbai being a bit less conservative in this department.
So in 8.5 years here are the stuff I adjusted to if not completely got used to:
- Being stared at for no other reason than being a foreigner, the first year it was tough, embarrassing and I was trying all I could to minimise these occurrences dressing the part, not fully realising that no matter the outfit I would be stared at, I’m pretty sure people still do stare, but I don’t pay as much attention to it these days.
- Living quarters in India, they are much different than in Switzerland, not necessarily in size but the bathroom and the kitchen are the two rooms in a house in India that have a very distinct appearance and level of impracticability I never knew possible in Geneva, Kitchens while much bigger than the ones I got used to home, generally lack planning and have an inconsiderable amount of lost space. Bathrooms are generally wet rooms with not much planning put into them, a thing that fortunately is being corrected in newer buildings for both rooms.
- Cooking continental food requires ingenuity and a knack for substituting ingredients. I got used to that, in the first few years I could not afford anything fancy and imported, now I could occasionally but I refuse to give in to that system as much as possible, the imported products I buy are just the basic sauces and condiments I need to pull out a certain dish, everything else is Indian. The good thing is that over the years local brands have come with much more choice of herbs and produces so that I can cook them far more easily.
- I got used to feel a bit more limited in my movements due to several factors such as climate and impractical public transports, I don’t necessary like it, in fact I miss the flexibility I had back home there, but 8+ years later it is less of an issue, plus I make a point that we have to live in an area that offers me a range of service within reach without breaking the bank. The worst place was Navi Mumbai, there was a big mall, but I resented the lack of pleasant walk path and green spaces. The climate in Mumbai is still something I am getting adjusted to, and I actually hate the humidity we have right now that limit my outings further.
- Hygiene standards, not that I was fussy to begin with, I travelled a lot as a kid, went camping in places like Morocco in the 80’s, so icky public toilets, weird smells and piles of garbage, while still being gross, are not scaring me too much, I also have parents who believed in not over disinfecting everything and letting us get down and dirty in many places, result of which I have a fairly strong immune system which might have helped me get used to living in India, I think the sickest I have been was a 24 hour bout of Gastro during which I spilled my guts. ALl the other sick moments I had were common colds and flu like diseases, I would have caught the same back home. The other thing that has strongly helped in the health department is that living in our own place with no interference from in-laws meant I had better control over the cleanliness of my direct environment.
- Language, it might come as a surprise to a lot of you guys, but English is NOT my native language, I moved to India being already fluent in it but not sensitized to local idioms and accents, in the beginning in Bangalore there were days I had trouble understanding others and had trouble getting understood as well. I am still not fluent in Hindi, I understand a fair bit of it, and speak enough to get myself understood in Mumbai were people tend to prefer this language over English in comparison to Bangalore where English is spoken fairly enough even by the “dhud-walla” (milk man).
- Shopping, in the beginning I had the impression that a lot of things didn’t even exist in India simply because I had no idea where to start looking, or even the knowledge of how it was called locally. It had me frustrated big time on occasion, but years of experience later, I can certify that if you know where to look you will find almost anything around here, it just takes a lot of time to figure it out, and I mean years not months when I say lots of time. I also learned that small shops aren’t necessarily cheaper than big stores like Lifestyle, even if smaller stores have fixed prices, and the fact I know the prices of things to bargain in shops that don’t do fixed price, just to say that there is no point turning your back at big retail chains, but do like back home and compare prices if what you are after is a bargain.
- I got used to idiots trying to fleece me for the sole fact of looking like a foreigner, it’s still irritating, but I know the prices, and I still have the power to say no and walk away, in many occasions I don’t have to fight, autowallas in Bangalore did try to hike up their fare all the time, but they do it with the locals too, and the choice of agreeing to go at the quoted fare or wait for an honest driver is still mine, sure it takes more time but it’s part of IST
- I got adjusted to the infamous IST mentioned above, it stands fro Indian Standard Time, but in slang it stands for Indian Stretchable Time. Simply put, time has a far different value here than it has back home, Swiss are punctual, ON TIME is the motto. In India there is no such thing “Meeting starting at 6” generally mean something like 6.30 or 7, I’ve been to several interviews where I came on time only to wait for an hour or more in the waiting area. It is still rude and even some Indians will tell you how pissed they were having to wait forever in an office to meet someone, but it still is done. Over the years I sadly desified in this department and a Birthday party starting at 6 had me leave home by 6.15 to reach by 6.30 and still find it pretty much empty. There are still instances that irritate me with DH not getting ready on time, or saying we will go somewhere but leave only late afternoon when it could have been cleared in the morning…such as grocery shopping, but it doesn’t make me go hyper and fume like it used to several years ago.
- I got used to the fact that western wear mostly come in Asian sizes, and that while I would fit in a size M back home or at the most a size L, here I am rarely finding anything below a size XL. There are brand I avoid, others I can safely go for, but then that was also true back home where many labels design their line around the body shape of an anorexic 13 years old and claim it as a standard for a woman’s body.
- Still on clothes, I got used to actually buying branded stuff, in Switzerland the only big brand I was buying was “H & M” everything else came from department stores house brands, and sales by correspondence catalogues, preferably during sales. Brand like Levi’s and Benetton were out of my budget and even then, really not something I would feel like spending money on. In India clearance bin stuff is not necessarily good quality enough, and house brands are or in sizes I have no chance of fitting in or will break apart after a few wash, so I go for the basics in quality brands instead, keeping the fun casual not to important clothes in no-brands stuff that fit. I also totally got used to wearing colours, bright ones at that, things that when I wore back home in 2008 during my 2 months visit had people turn their head at to stare at me…is this lady really wearing a hot pink top? Safe to say I adjusted to flashier fashion over the years. What hasn’t changed though is that I still pretty much prefer casual basics over frilly uncomfy high maintenance stuff, and will wear a t-shirt until it looses shape and possibly tear apart before considering buying new clothes.
- I got adjusted to the lack of quiet nature escapes, back home I would often go to the country side on my cycle or by foot, find a deserted spot to just rejuvenate myself. Here it’s not possible, I still go for walks whenever I can, but it’s not the same, escaping the crowd in a city in India is impossible, so I guess it is also safe to say I got adjusted to crowded places too.
- Got adjusted to staying home more, it goes pretty much with the lack of crowd escaping plans, since walking in a deserted country side area or public park isn’t possible in urban India, my apartment has become a bit more of a sanctuary than it was back home, as a result I tolerate even less clutter in it than I used to, because I need a personal space where I can breathe, I found out that mess, and clutter actually has me tensed inside the home, it wasn’t that much of an issue in my tiny 26 square meter studio apartment in Geneva, but I now need clear space, lots of natural light and no mess inside more than I ever had in my whole life before moving to India.
- I got adjusted to being a foreigner, and interestingly that is when I accepted that fact and stopped trying to blend in to ridiculous extent that I felt more of an insider and had people around me consider me for the same. I am Swiss, and while I don’t mind dressing Indian, I am not Indian and if I want to wear cropped pants and a form fitting T-shirt then be it, no one actually expect me to not wear such attire in the first place. Ditto with the food, I lkie Indian food, I know how to cook it, but I love my food from home and people around me actually are more interested in knowing what traditional Swiss cuisine is like rather than hear about my wonderful dal makhani or abilities to make samosas, not that they don’t find it impressive, but they find my cultural background more interesting. That also had me realise that not all Indians meet the Indian ideal or mix well and feel integrated out of their social circle and class, so it would be silly to expect a foreigner to blend in let’s say rural India or traditional middle class urban India.
This was of course a slow process, and the first few years I felt like screaming and crying, and frustration often had the best of me, adjusting to a new culture and finding you place in it is a long journey. I think I started feeling comfy about India in 2008 when DH was gone on medium term assignment abroad which left me home all by myself getting over the grief of a miscarriage on top of it. I was in a place where I wanted life on my own terms once again, with no one to dictate me what I should be doing or not. 2008 marked the 5th year in India…that’s how much it took me to really feel a sense of being home and belonging as I was to it.
The other day my maid made a very good point about us getting a wall clock for the kitchen so that she can keep track of time more easily than running around the house looking for my mobile. In fact that has been one ot the things we planned to buy for year and always forgot about. So this Tuesday I decided to go look online for one, with all the online shopping sites you have around, you are sure to find one. DH didn’t like the ones I found affordable and nice, so after a while we looked on Snap Deal together and found this one :
This clock shows all things Mumbai: the local train, the Bollywood poster, the Auto Rickshaw and the Gateway of India, it even has Mumbai written in Hindi on it. How appropriate since we live in Mumbai huh? We aren’t big on desifying the house, but a few cute quirky pieces…oh yes! My only issue with this clock is that it is not wall mountable and is actually smaller than we thought it would be, but a little ingenuity “A la Mc Gyver” from me and it’s on the wall at a comfortable eye level for us to know what time it is in our kitchen without exposing electronic devices to wet spots and grease.
Now I can also add Snap Deal to the list of recommended websites for online shopping, they usually have great offers, a lot of articles in various categories and I have been enjoying e-window shopping there for a while. Their site is very user friendly, they offer all payment modes including cash on delivery for those not having a bank account or a credit card in India (perfect for newly arrived expats). Of course most online shopping portals in India do have the COD option anyway.
Their service is excellent, I had issue with my AMEX card to make my payment so I had to cancel the payment, within minutes of it I got an email from them asking me if all was ok because the immediately noticed that I had trouble with my order, and provided a link to place the order again, I clicked it and tried with another card and all was well. the immediately send a order confirmation to my email and phone (most sites do that no biggie). the 2 hours later sent me a text and an email telling me they shipped the item via blu dart and gave me the tracking number in the sms message itself telling me the parcel was expected to reach at the latest on May 12th. The parcel however came 24 hours later, since they are based in Mumbai and so am I. The clock arrived well packaged and in excellent condition. And just this morning they again sent me a text and a email telling me that blu dart informed them that the parcel was delivered…just to make sure I was aware of it in case someone else signed for it.
Way to go Snap Deal!
This morning a friend of mine shared this video on Facebook to spread the word about eve teasing. Mumbai women share their thought on what to do with eve teasers in a humorous way, to address a rather serious issue:
Eve teasing is a term used in India to refer to harassment of women that is sexual in nature, it includes cat calling, passing lewd comments, groping and touching women in a crass way, and generally make them feel like they are just wrong being who they are and what place they frequent. Eve teasing happens everywhere, in malls, in bus, at the market, in cinemas…clearly suggesting that a woman’s place is at home and not in the world. Last year two guys who stood up for their ladies friends against eve teasing lost their live in Mumbai, many women feel unsafe in big and small cities alike because of a couple of morons that just think they can get away with belittling women around them.
The country is starting to speak up, and this is why I am sharing this video now.
My family lives in Switzerland, DH’s in Lucknow and since we are in Mumbai that means we only see our respective parents once a year or so.
My mom comes to visit, and we head to Lucknow to visit my in-laws, on rare occasion do they come to stay with us, but it is a less practical arrangement, they have a big house and we live in a 800 sg ft 2BHK at the moment. The both time they came to stay for several weeks we were living in a 600 sq ft apartment, it gets really crammed fast.
But there is one thing I noticed between all the guests we had, and that seem to be a cultural trend many of my fellow Gori friends noticed happened when family visits too.
My Swiss friends and family who came to visit and stayed at my place have a non-invasive attitude, they all slept on the sofa cum bed in our living room in Bangalore, and inevitably the minute they would wake up their first reflex was to fold the blanket and bed sheet and put it into a neat pile on a chair, out of the way and fold the bed back into sofa mode so that everybody can enjoy the living room during the day, they often beat me to the punch in doing so and made sure that no trace of bedtime activity was left visible in that room, which I must say is a very thoughtful thing to do considering that back then the sofa in bed mode took the entire space and it was though to navigate around the unfolded behemoth that the sofa became in sleep time mode.
Now when we had m in-laws, or in-law relatives over, it never failed, the damned thing seemed permanently stuck in bed mode and they all wanted it to remain that way, blankets and pillows laid in disarray on the bed the whole time, and during the day we were all forced to sit on the bed to socialise and eat food there too since we had no dinning table. Call me anal but I seriously think that food, especially Indian gravy laden food has no space whatsoever in bed, and especially not on my quality bed sheets, grease spots never leave completely and it is beyond ridiculous when all it takes is 5 minutes to straighten the room for the day. But the argument about how it is tiring to fold and unfold the sofa everyday arose on occasion, not to mention my in-laws like to lie down in bed the whole day long too. So we spent once 4 weeks tripping over the sofa/bed simply because that’s how my in-laws wanted it to be…in my home!
The bed issue is not the only thing, my family and friends help around the house, make sure their clothes stays in one neat corner, and do wash the dishes when they see the pile of plates missing in the cupboard after my maid left in the morning. My desi family, not so much, the first time my in-law came my MIL would just let me wash the 4 plates we had after each MIL and only told DH that it was unacceptable that our maid didn’t come twice a day to wash them, never mind that maids in Bangalore rarely do the twice a day deal thing, DH tried to point out that with a little cooperation it’s no biggie to wash a couple of plates and a pan, and that when it’s just me and him we really don’t need a maid washing dishes round the clock anyway, this turned out into…let Cyn wash them then, and I spent my day cooking every meal from scratch (because 3 hours old rice put in a Tupperware box in the fridge isn’t fresh anymore) and all the time in between meals washing up things for the next meal. That was the most extreme, but my desi relatives just can’t see re-using one glass of water more than once, and just drink and leave them around the house. My Swiss family and friends just drink the water from the glass and take it around with them, or just go straight to the sink, rinse it and put it in the drain basket so that it is ready for the next person to use, we have about 8 glasses, and two steel tumbler, it never fails when our guest is an older generation Indian they simply start using the teacups to drink after 6 hours in the house because they went through all the water glasses and it never crossed their mind that they could re-use them or wash them.
The third and maybe more important difference is how personal space and personal belongings are treated. My Swiss friends and family will always knock on a door be it bedroom or bathroom to check if it is ok to come in. I quit counting the time my MIL walked on DH or I being half dressed in our bedroom simply because knocking is not an option, and you better remember to lock the bathroom door at all time when you are in too.
My Swiss guests don’t go into the master bedroom uninvited, and certainly will not open my wardrobe, what is in one’s bathrobe is private business, well no so much with desi guests, there seem to be absolutely no boundaries in desi family culture whatsoever, and they truly believe the that “My house is your house” works down to sticking your nose into somebody else’s face cream pot or checking the underwear drawer in your bedroom, and I have many friends living in joint family arrangement that confess they are simply locking away all the things they want nobody to touch, inspect or borrow.
Ditto in my kitchen, my guests usually ask me where a certain thing is when they need it, or ask me if it is ok to help themselves to bread and jam, or some cookies. My MIL has been known to turn my kitchen upside down, opening all jars and not closing them afterwards, putting back dirty dishes in the shelves and not bothering tell anybody when she finished the content of something.
Irony has it that I too often hear that people in the West have no family values, and no sense of community, but so far it seems that all my foreign guests are the one who seem to understand the concept of tight quarter community living and adjust to it in order to still leave breathable space to all, while my desi family and relatives seem to fail to grasp the concept and seem totally at loss in a situation where there won’t be a servant to make sure the place is kept clean and well stocked with clean glasses.
I want to note however that when we have desi guests belonging to our generation and our friends of ours, they all behave exactly the same as my Swiss guests, they will be non-invasive and help out to keep the space liveable and breathable for all. So my guess is that there is a Generation gap issue at play as well.
Now when I have in-law family member coming, I hide my stuff I want no one to touch, and try to relent to the fact that for the duration of their stay, my home is no longer going to be mine, but theirs and that if I want peace and harmony to prevail, it’s better to let it be and be grateful I am actually not living in a joint family arrangement where I would have far less control over my life. And before you think it is the evil western lady in me speaking, my Indian husband thinks the same way about joint family, he is glad not to live in one, because he knows that it would not work out for him, it’s not that joint families are bad, it’s just that not all are cut for it.
This morning I just stumbled upon this article about popular American Snack food and how they are tweaked to suit local flavours around the globe.
And that got me thinking about India and how American giants just had to adapt their classics to suit the palate and diet of the people in the subcontinent.
Now being Swiss, I actually NEVER heard of lays potato chips before moving to India, that might be shocking to some of you but they aren’t sold in Switzerland as far as I know, though of course I haven’t been there since 2008 and a lot could have changed, but Swiss don’t really like their chips “ribbed” the way the Lays one are, we like thinly sliced potatoes as you would find in local Indian fried food stores, only with about half the oil content, as Swiss don’t like oily fried stuff that much, in fact even the popular Swiss brand “Zweifel” has less oil in them than the Lays one.
But back to Lays and India shall we? Sure they have the classics like Salted and Cream and Onion, they are their best seller there, and they have been around for as long as I lived here, but over the years several spicier versions have come and gone, There was some with a South Indian taste twist, there was “Lays Chaat Street” that was big in 2005 but seemed to have died (they weren’t tasting good), there has been several version of “masala something” the only one that joined the rank of bestseller is “Indian Magic Masala”. During the Cricket world cup they came up with fancy ones with names to go with some of the big cricket nations…most were fun but nothing so unforgettable that I miss them now a year later. But one thing I am willing to bet is that half of these flavours aren’t sold anywhere else, they were designed by PepsiCo to suit the palate of strong market, Indian love their namkeens, and potato chips seasoned the right way are bound to be a hit. The latest in their range are the Lays baked, and I find them atrociously sickly sweet, not worth the just 100 calories per 100g, but baked is the new IT mantra in an India plagued with sedentary urban dwellers suffering from obesity and lifestyle diseases. The problem I see with these new generation snacks is that they are fooling people into thinking they are healthier, whcih they aren’t, but because it is baked, people might actually eating more of these than they would sticking to the traditional namkeens, but then hey that’s not what the marketing people want to bother with, they are bothered only with one thing: MONEY, how to make more, how to boost the sales, and as a result deliver what will work for the people in a certain area.
Diet needs are another factor, all big fast food chains that made it to India understood that from the start. You will find Mc Donald’s here, but there will be no beef, and there will be more than one option in chicken burger and veggie burgers. The breakfast menu has somewhat started in some of their outlet but isn’t as popular as my US friends tell me it is back in their home country. In Switzerland Mc D was strictly Lunch and Dinner, and offered no breakfast food at all, and I think is still the same. The Desi Mc D doesn’t do salads, yet these are widely popular in Switzerland, and the US. You probably won’t find paneer on the menu outside India either. Another thing the Swiss don’t do: floats, no ice cream scoop swimming in your soft drink there. And in India you won’t find their apple pop tart. In fact until 3-4 years ago Chicken Mc Nuggets didn’t even exist in India.
A friend of mine told me that in US KFC’s bucket of fried chicken comes with gravy and mashed potatoes and even Southern style biscuit in some areas, in India so far it’s tomato Ketchup or nothing, you can get a cole slaw on the side with certain meal combo.
The pizza giants in the name of Pizza Hut and Dominos Pizza have understood that pizzas needed a desi twist to appeal to the people here, and you will find paneer, mutton keema, chicken kebab, and chicken tikka on their pies.
Back in Switzerland both these giants had only one vegetarian pizza: the margarita, and then you could build it up to make a fancier pie, that would set your bill soaring, Swiss aren’t much of vegetarians, culturally meat eating was a survival thing with the long icy winters we have in the mountains, but India has a wide majority of vegetarians and to succeed they had to top up their pizzas with stuff that would appeal to the masses, plain and simple.
it’s just one of these interesting titbits of info all expats should be prepared to know when moving to India : your favourite junk food brand might be there, but they will not taste the same.
But then that would apply to home cooked healthy food too, the taste of vegetables are different here too, but you can’t say it’s because the big food group marketers made some research to sell cucumbers to the locals, the soil and water and the fact not all varieties of a vegetable grow everywhere are responsible for your Greek salad not tasting like back home.