I had the pleasure of traveling to India this past week. Here are a few observations for those of you who might be venturing out for the first time.
– I was expecting 3rd world, but really India is a new industrialized country (NIC). The media, stories from past colleagues, and just general lack of knowledge all were preparing me for some pretty grim experiences around the have and have nothings. Although there is some stark poverty and you see it often, it felt that the big cities were all moving in the right direction of the monetary spectrum.
– The honor system of driving. My preference would be to never drive in Mexico City, however I don’t think I could drive in India even if you put a gun to my head. There is a direct link between the driver and the car horn and this link is unbroken and used every 10 seconds. Imagine every motorized vehicle on the road using the horn for everything. You’re going to try and pass someone, horn. You’re going to make a turn, horn. You’re entering a lane, horn. The explanation was that this was the way to keep everyone around you informed that you were there and to mind you, honestly with so many horns going off at the same time, it’s difficult for me to not understand how do people not become immune to that sound. The system seems to work as I didn’t see a single accident, and traffic cops were few and far between.
– When two wheels will inherit the earth. Motorbikes and mopeds outnumber cars in the big cities. Followed by these little 3 wheel “taxis”. These vehicles are like ants, they can get into any space and will utilize any lane available. Which generally means a lane which is not a lane. What Americans would consider a normal 3 lane road for 3 cars, in India the space will allow 2 cars, 5 motorbikes, and 2 taxies to weave in and around each other in a single car length.
– Expecting Mexican Spicy. I love spicy food and I eat a lot of India food in the US which you can generally ask for it to be made spicier. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get anyone to give me any decent heat on any of my meals.
– Personal space means nothing. In the US we generally will occupy an elevator by moving towards the walls. You start with the call directly opposite to the door, then move to the wall closes to the controls, and finally the corners. When the walls are occupied, it’s now time to take the centered most area created by this square of people. Not in India. If the walls are utilized, someone will stand closest to whoever they see first. This means an 8 inches away, face to face ride where I found myself asking, “Is this gentleman going to try and kiss me?” I had a few other occurrences where strangers would look over my shoulder at my phone and where hand holding, hugging, and all around physical contact was significantly different than what you see in the states.
– Time zones where sleep goes to die. If you’re expecting to conduct business with your US counterparts and will be in India for any significant amount of time, prepare to hurt. The first few nights it was not so bad to have a meeting at 10:30 PM India Standard Time (IST), but anything beyond that and things got very difficult or impossible. Add to the fact that you’ll never really be on IST, but on some nebulous I’ll sleep for short periods of time and feel exhausted most of the time I’m awake time zone. Move all your meetings as early as possible. Send emails which don’t require some back and forth.
– IT is it. If you’ve been to Silicon Valley you’ll see vast zones with big building dedicated to technology. In India, you’ll see the same thing with bigger buildings an more people. I knew IT was big in India, I didn’t know just how big. I’m not sure if it’s just that the building seems larger and that people tend to spend more time outside, but it just felt bigger than any single US city.
I’m looking forward to going back, hopefully with more time and with an opportunity to travel all over the country.