“European Aliens” in India
Two Europeans wake up in their colony. It is still dark and they love to be the first ones in the neighborhood getting up. It is still calm and peaceful at this time of the day. For them it almost feels like living in a tiny little village anywhere in the world.
The two Europeans get dressed with their newly discovered Indian “Kurtas” which have become their favourite outfits ever since. They open their doors and go out of their rooms. They like it outside.
And more than that: they would rather roast in the heat than sit in the room under a fan. They were taught to appreciate every tiny little sunlight outside rather than sitting inside.
Their kitchenette as well as their dining room on the balcony leaves no other option than to live their daily Indian life in public on that balcony. They prepare breakfast there, they read there, they cook there, they dry their clothes there and they relax there.
These words seem to be hieroglyphs to them. The European aliens would rather expose themselves to the curious Indian neighbourhood than give up their obsession of absolute freedom and independence that they have – thanks to these two wonderful servant rooms. With savouring grins on their faces right up to their ears, they enjoy their Italian Espresso on that wonderful morning. The air feels cleaner at that time of the day and the sun is about to fill the colony with an early morning light.
To the tick of 6 o’clock, the two Europeans lift their heads synchronously towards the balcony right on the opposite side. They both love observing other people – as most of the others in the colony do as well. It seems to be the biggest passion that the human race has in common. It seems to be the same, no matter which cultural, social or professional background they may have.
After waving their hands (in the typical European style) to their neighbours for quite a long time, the two Europeans figured out that this was not quite the right thing to do in India.
So on this morning in September, they already learned to greet the Indian lady on the opposite balcony with a polite ‘Namaste’, not forgetting the traditional greeting – which to them looks either like praying or like imitating one of the divine Indian Yoga Gurus which the entire cosmopolitan world seems to admire more than anything despite their own (largely) lack of spirituality.
The short dialogue with the recently woken neighbour ends abruptly as the two have to leave the colony to rush to their yoga class at 6:30. With their helmets in their hands, they leave the colony by motorcycle and make their way through the quiet morning streets of Alaknanda.
The yoga class begins. The two Europeans are about to alleviate their bad conscience concerning their constant overeating habits the days and weeks before. They want to experience it all.
Any food – as strange as it might look to them – could not be missed – not under any circumstances.
They rather wake up at 5 in the morning for some exercise before work than renouncing the delicious Indian food. And even the several searches on Google on how to relieve stomach ache after overeating would not make them learn from that experience by eating less next time.
Maybe after a few months and 5 kilos of gained weight, they will.
Again on the road, the two European aliens squeeze their bike through the Delhi traffic. The honking concert begins. Depending on the mood of the day, they would attribute the honking either positively as a compliment of their bravery as independent women or as a disillusioning complaint of Indian men saying: “You two white girls, get the hell out of our way.” Probably none of the two interpretations reveals the actual meaning of the long Indian honking tradition. But the many looks and cackling laughter from people around does make them feel a little extraterrestrial, to be honest. They never know what all these looks are all about, but as time passes by and they get to know the culture better, they will figure out eventually.
Alien – that is probably also what their colleagues first thought when the two Europeans entered the ETASHA office in Greater Kailash Enclave II or the two Career Development Centers in Tigri and Madanpur Khadar.
The loud tone of their voices, their laughter about everything and anything, their direct and honest comments (which could easily be misunderstood as rude) and their strange habit of wanting to get their street food by themselves instead of letting someone bring it, could all be a possible reason for the surprised looks in their colleagues’ faces. The aliens can only assume what kind of behaviour pattern may seem strange to Indians and have already started the constant process of analyzing their facial expressions and reactions. Other assumed alien manners could be the following: they can’t survive without their daily amount of at least 3 cups of coffee, they shake hands with the drivers and they know all the fresh juice sellers of the area because of their insistence to buy fresh made juice rather than bottled commercial soda of the large company chains – because this is another thing: they usually dislike food chains. They also harbour feelings of antipathy towards big and fancy shopping malls.
The reason for all that can be traced back to their dissatisfaction with a hyperglobalistic mindset and the increasing development of it into a complete consumer society. This might be one of the reasons why many young Europeans dislike the trend of going shopping in an artificial building rather than the historically grown market that supports local products. They have a strong desire to return again to an authentic life style – back to the roots – back to nature – back to the “small things of life” – just like the Indian author Arundhati Roy describes in “The God of Small Things”.
All these convictions and core beliefs seem to come out even stronger when abroad. The fact that the two European aliens are perceived as strange for the Delhites is therefore just natural and completely understandable.
Usually people assume that the biggest culture shock happens to those that go abroad. But not here – In this story, it seems to be the other way around.
Not yet knowing the codes of what to do and what better not to do, the two Europeans will probably keep surprising their surroundings every day with another funny, strange or unusual story – hopefully producing at least one (or more) little smiles on their colleagues’ faces every single day.
With this unusual introduction to ourselves, we would like to thank ETASHA for giving us the space during the internship to learn about the work, the training, the community, the Indian culture – as well as learning about ourselves and about our ‘weirdness’ that seemed so normal when being in one’s own little comfort zone at home and is now turning out to be quite strange to others.