Cultural differences


1:59 PM

In India, distances are huge, and to my Swiss friends that is a though thing to grasp, concept that my American friends have less of an issue with I might add.

Growing up “far” was driving to the South of France for a beach holiday. On  national scale going to Lugano from Geneva is considered far, because the road to go there is passing through the Alps and will take time. Going to Zurich is somewhat far, but doable if you really want to go for a concert or an art exhibit that will show only there, or visit the Aquatic park all the country talks about. Roads are well maintained all across Europe, so driving long distances are far less of an issue and far applies to anything that would take more than 3 hours to reach by car.
In Mumbai if you live in the suburbs, Colaba IS far, which is funny because distance wise it’s probably less far from my place than Geneva was from my Grand ma’s place (which was in a nearby city) but while I could reach my gran’s place in 20 minutes driving on the highway, reaching Colaba will take an hour thanks to Mumbai’s nasty traffic.
From Mumbai driving to Bangalore on the NH4 was 1000 kilometres and took us about 15-16 hours of driving.

But while distances are huge in India, and by Swiss standard way out of this world, what actually surprised me over the years is how many of my neighbours judge short distances. Swiss love to walk, whenever they can they do. And while most cities in India have craptastic amenities for pedestrians, I tend to walk as much as I can, it really takes a seriously unsafe place for me to not walk (as in the silly 2km stretch between my home and Ishi’s school which lacks sidewalks).
many of the distances I find walkable in India are labelled as too far to walk by many of my friends. One of the prime example being our residential enclave, it has a small road going all around that is about 2km in length total. As I already said in previous blog entries, Ishita’s playschool was about 700-800 meters from our new place and I used to walk her to and from school everyday. Many of my friends were like “How can you walk such a huge distance?”.
My maid keeps complaining that we live “too far” from the old place where most of her other jobs are, adding that walking up the hill is too much, she even tried unsuccessfully to extort 100 rupees extra per month for walking up there. She got shocked to hear I was not dropping and picking up Ishita by auto on that same stretch, for some reason to her it seems unthinkable that people with money would not take a vehicle to cover these 700 meters.
Other interesting fact was that about 500 meters from my place there is a great park, I walk there daily, I take Ishita again in the evening to go play there as this is the only park with a sandpit in the area. One of Ishita’s friend lives a bit further down the road, about 200 meters from my place, and 700 from the park. Her mom finds the stretch absolutely taxing because there is a slope to climb, and this alone makes it way too far from her place to come daily, while she confessed walking far more when she was living abroad. The funny thing is that this road is not even very dirty, or dangerous to walk on, but she like many other suddenly find herself thinking twice about walking just to the grocery store because “it’s too far”.
In Bangalore, the old rooftop apartment we were living in before the whole moving madness mayhem was 3 kilometres away from a popular mall. And I might add 3 kilometres of proper sidewalks, and lots of trees. I would prefer going there by walk whenever I could because..well you know I love to walk. The Aunties in my neighbourhood never could wrap their mind around that fact, lectured me on no end on how it was not safe, or that I would spoil my complexion walking in the sun…while in all fairness I wonder where walking alone on a well built sidewalk in a proper neighbourhood with lots of activity during the day was less safe than being inside an Auto alone with a driver that could if he wanted take me to a secluded place and do his worse. These Aunties just simply could not get why I would walk “that far” when a few would even send their maid to the grocery store down the street to avoid having to walk the 2-300 meters that led there.
Still in our enclave, some of the kids living there and going to the school that is again 500 meters away hop on the school bus to do so, apparently the school bus system is free or included in the fees and 10-15 years old just seem to think walking is way beyond their capabilities, which inevitably triggers traffic issues in the enclave because cars find themselves un-necessarily stuck behind a couple of buses that need to stop at the gate of every building to drop “local kids”.

That phenomenon has never ceased to amaze me in nearly 10 years in India. I have a feeling most of it stems from a kind of status symbol with some people thinking that just because they have the money they are suddenly above being a mere pedestrian and will cover the most ridiculously short distance on a motorised vehicle. And what I find the craziest in this scenario is that those same people that need their car to go buy milk 800 meters away are also usually the ones that crib the most about how nasty the traffic situation has gotten in Mumbai and blames the government for it.
I myself blame the government for not taking care of the sidewalks or building more footpath, because while I know a certain amount of people not willing to walk, I know more that like me would walk more in our area if there were just the bare minimum pedestrian amenities to keep them safe. I do not blame the government for the traffic jam, but on the people that lack civism, common sense and think that distances less than a kilometre away are too far to walk, even on a tiny stretch of road that actually has a sidewalk.

Delhi to Mumbai is a huge distance, so is Bangalore Mumbai. Navi Mumbai to Colaba shouldn’t be so, yet is made as such. Mumbai Western Suburbs to Colaba is big and yet again shouldn’t be. 600 meters down the road to the grocery store is definitely NOT far, unless severely disabled any human being should be able to cover that stretch on foot…I broke my big toe last week, I limped for 3 days and stayed home to allow the swelling and acute pain to go away, the 4th day I could walk and now I am back to going every evening to the park with Ishita.
DH mentioned several time that if the road to his office actually had a sidewalk and pedestrian friendly amenities he would rather walk the 6km it takes to reach office in an hour than be stuck in his car covering the same distance in 40-50 minutes, using that time to get his daily workout in. Yet the road is made so impossible that even cycling would pose a hazard due to the heavy traffic.

Does that say something about how certain distances are misjudged around here?


  1. I heard the same things too! I don't understand it. Hubby wouldn't walk 1 block down the road to go to the store, he had to get out his motorcycle which was much more difficult. FIL and MIL didn't feel that way, they would walk rather than travel. But, I also noticed they considered the 15KM to the mall as being 'too far' to go very often. Ha! I'd never get anywhere here in small town USA if I wasn't willing to drive that far!

  2. Even with Geneva being a small town, you wouldn't get far if you were saying 10-15 km is too far. There are good public transport that deserve downtown but far less frequent buses deserving the countryside. My job was 10km away from my place in the country side, had to drive, it wasn't far at all.

  3. My mother-in-law cried when she heard that my husband and I cycle the 4 km to our university here in Netherlands! She felt we let Father-in-law down when he for years struggled on a cycle, as a postman, to get my husband educated. Here we were thoroughly enjoying our cycling!

  4. I can imagine :)
    Netherland has the best cycling infrastructure in Europe by the way. I remember going on a trip with my parents there as a kid and we cycled a lot. In Switzerland there are no school buses, and while elementary schools are to be near a child's residence to walk there or on a public transport line for a child living further away to be assigned to it. Middle schools and High Schools are usually seeing a solid percentage of the kids reaching the school by cycle, rain or biting winter cold be damned. We tend to see the car as a last resort transport back home, even prefering walking over taking public transports if we can do it.


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