15 Top Things To Know Before Moving To India

By: Mani

Whether you’ve been to India or are heading there for the first time, you’ve probably heard of the most common culture-shocks that people experience: the massive poverty, the wandering animals on the streets, the smells, and the chaotic driving. In this guide, I will tell you 15 things you should know before moving to India that you have probably not heard or read anywhere else.  My husband and I would have loved to know these things before we moved here; we learned the hard way. Let me spare you a bit of suffering.

One: Expect the Unexpected.

What a cliché! But this is coming from someone who has been to 20 countries and had been to India numerous times before moving here. I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what entailed to move here, but boy, was I wrong. Visiting and living somewhere are two completely different things. Even though I knew very well about the poverty, the animals, the smells, and the chaotic driving, I still experienced numerous culture-shock moments I was not aware of. Expect the unexpected, and expect a whole new world to come knocking, and sometimes barging into the world you know.

Two: Don’t rescue adorable kittens.

Both my husband and I love cats, so when we learned that there were two stray cats hanging out in our backyard, we instantly wanted to adopt them. My plan was to start feeding them and slowly bond with them, but Josh has a more direct approach to doing things and went straight to trying to capture/rescue the adorable orange kitten. Well, the rescuing was a disaster, the kitten became extremely aggressive and made Josh bleed. Yeah, yeah, we should have known better, but no person on Earth would see this kitten and think he could be evil in any way. Anyway, we automatically had to worry about rabies, but India came to the rescue this time because we quickly found out we could drive to the local pharmacist and get a DIY rabies shot kit for 300 rupees (approx. $5 US dollars). In the US it would cost thousands of dollars to get rabies treatment for a human.

Three: Study Electrical Engineering.

I brought from the US my amazing Nutribullet for making smoothies. One morning, I was very excited to make my first fresh smoothie in India. I used a travel adapter to plug it in my Indian kitchen,  I ran the Nutribullet and after a few seconds there were sparks and a burning smell coming out of it. I learned that I also needed a 240v/120v voltage converter (which you can get at the electric shop or ebay) for appliances with higher wattage such as the Nutribullet which has a 600 watt motor.

Four: Learn to wait, and then wait some more.

Mainly, don't believe an Indian when they say: "it will be ready in 5 days" or "I will do today" or "it will take two weeks." (I hope you read the words in quotes with your best Indian accent.) Basically, add 50% or more of the time to whatever they tell you. Nothing is ever ready when you expect it, and when it has been so long that you forgot about it, it will knock at your door when you least expect it.

Five: Indian people are genuine but have no manners or sense of personal space.

What you see is what you get. Indian people don't try to pretend they are someone they're not, but they are not taught any manners.  "Please" and "thank you" are not amongst the common words of an Indian's vocabulary.  When they are done saying what they needed to say on the phone or in person, they will skip any sort of goodbye and simply hang up or walk out the door. And about privacy and personal space, don't expect much of it either. One night, our two Indian friends entered our home without knocking, grabbed a chatai (a palm leaf floor mat), grabbed a beer, and started playing card games right there in our living room. True story. Also, while Josh was taking a nap in our bedroom, our maid went inside to grab the dirty laundry.

Six: Don’t be fooled by the children’s twinkling eyes and smiles.

For countless trips to India in the past, Indian children have always seemed innocent, full of joy and very fun to photograph. When we settled down in India, we received a visit from a few of our neighbor's kids. We offered them a soda, we hung out with them, I let them use my computer for a bit, I let them play with my hair, and I let them take me to one of their homes for chai.

The very next day we learned that most Indian children have zero manners, will go through your bags and fridge if you allow them in your home, they will beg and scream your name for hours, and if you ignore them, they will try to break into your home by piling outside of the front door on a chair and somehow try to get the door to open. It happened to us. Tip: keep very strict boundaries.

Seven: Don’t wear that.

I’m serious on this one. Shorts, tanks, short skirts, short anything, never again. I know it is hot out, but it is for everyone’s interest. You will need to adapt to being more covered even during really hot weather. Showing skin is disrespectful, it will attract a lot of unwanted attention, and even sexual danger. Always cover shoulders, cleavage and legs below the knee. I guess this goes to the women.

But don’t be disheartened. You will quickly fall in love with the colors and patterns and textures of Indian textiles. Tip: go shopping for material and have some Indian tops, long skirts and dresses (to be used with leggings) made at your local tailor. Tailors in India are amazing, and once you try this, you’ll never go back to buying ready-made clothes.  

Eight: Hire servants if you want to survive.

They’re not a luxury, people.  This is survival.  When you settle down in India, it is going to be very difficult to have the freedom you used to have. You won’t be able to simply hop on the car and drive to the grocery store. You won’t even want to; it’s okay to hire a driver. It will also be hard to find all the ingredients you are used to, so hire a cook and learn new dishes from her. And since you jumped on the hiring bandwagon, give a job to another woman by hiring a maid/cleaner; dust appears out of nowhere in India. It’s normal to hire (and I hate to say it, extremely cheap.)<

Nine: “Namaste” is not a yoga spiritual word, it’s just a common greeting,  and “chai” means “tea”.

In India you don’t need to learn their language because English is widely spoken. But remember: English is the language of business, and Hindi (and any other local language like Marathi or Urdu) is the language of the heart. Try to learn Hindi and/or the local language. I’ve seen many surprised smiles and chuckles from the locals when I throw in a few words in their language.

Ten: Relax.

Don’t worry be happy! The simplest yet powerful saying. Try to find the good things in your life even on the worst days. Know that this culture is infinitely different to yours and understand that you will need to adapt, or at least accept that things have to be done differently now and soak in all the good things about it.

Eleven: Pack wisely.

Don’t think that just because it is India it doesn’t get chilly, so pack sweaters. And don’t think that just because it is the noisiest country in the world, you’ll find earplugs; trust me.

Also, It is very difficult to find foreign brands in India. Everything is Indian, including chocolate and booze. So, if you have a favorite, bring it from home or buy some at the Duty Free before exiting the airport and stepping on Indian land.

Twelve: Ignore local advice and get A/C.

You will be glad you did. We were slow to get it, and we were missing out!

Thirteen: Learn to wobble your head.

Do embrace the head bob/sideways nod. In fact, you don’t even have to try. You will start doing it automatically, it is as contagious as a yawn. If you don’t know what this is, you’ll find out soon enough.  

Fourteen: Get out of the A/C and Explore.

For the sweet tooth: visit the local sweet shop where you’ll find the Disneyland of Indian homemade sweets with flavors like: cashew, saffron, almond, pistachio, chocolate, carrot, and multiple combinations. And try the ice cream too!

For the men: visit the barbershop. You have not experienced something like this service anywhere before. Included: scalp massage and a few other surprises.

For the ladies: visit the jewelry shops. You will be hypnotized by the astounding metal work and shiny gems.  

For the movie buff: go watch a Bollywood film, even if it’s in a language you don’t understand.

For the foodie: try Indian food as you never have. Personal favorites: tandoori chicken, butter and shahi paneer, chana masala, saffron rice, biryani, raita and naan.  Tip: avoid street food for a while. Let your tummy get used to the spices and unsanitary water, and this is putting it lightly; you know what I mean.

For the culture lover: experience the many festivals, ceremonies, and rituals that Indians are so good at. No matter which part of India, there are several festivals and holidays happening every month.

Fifteen: Accept or perish.

Learn to accept and love India and its people, or you will go crazy.

About the Author: Mani is a Mexican who married an American, and together in the Summer of 2013, sold and donated everything they had in the USA except three suitcases and their laptops, and moved to a small town in India. Mani writes about their experiences in her blog: A New Life In India.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingMani is a Mexican expat living in India. Blog description: A Mexican and an American move to a small town in India.
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Contest Comments » There are 8 comments

Josh Stout wrote 10 years ago:

The Indian consulate should mail this essay to you with your India visa. I've been travelling to India since 1987. Every time I visit my experience is different. Living in India is vastly different than visiting. Mani does an amazing job describing the true grit of India life. A must read for any ex-pat!

IndianSamourai wrote 10 years ago:

So true and funny and well written! I have been living in India for 7 years now and I completely agree...

Amanda Summers wrote 10 years ago:

Your number 3 made me laugh. I blew my cuisanart food processor here in Nepal the same way. The good news is they can fix anything here in Nepal. I got the box and repair for around $35.

Stephen Cysewski wrote 10 years ago:

I spent eighteen days in India, we went through the Buddhist pilgrimage route in Bihar. I felt overwhelmed by being mobbed by people in extreme need. Any eye contact or discussion attracted a mob of people who needed something and the need was real. It also seemed that everybody had a school for me to see or some project that needed funding. It was difficult to actually have a genuine conversation that did not include some kind of "business" angle. Your list is valuable, but the poverty and corruption and the constant human contact became overwhelming. Somehow you would need to learn to adapt to this pressure. Bihar might not be typical of other locations in India.

Lauren wrote 10 years ago:

After spending time in a similar area in India (and moving to India myself in 9 days) I found this list really funny and so true!! Regarding number 13: Haha... on my flight back to England a fellow passenger I had met on the flight told me 'wow you have the Indian wobble' and I hadn't even realised I had been doing it!! I love India so much! Well done Mani for such an amazing list! India is a country like no other!! Lauren

Peter A wrote 10 years ago:

My head is wobbling already. What a great primer for westerners illustrating the wonderful blessings and contradictions that is India.

Achille, The French Weekender wrote 10 years ago:

The experience looks amazing. I have never been to India, but I want to wobble indian way. Regarding the 5th entry; I really enjoy discovering this socio-cultural aspect in another country. In Shanghai I lived some surprising moments. For instance, people would come and want to take a picture with one of my friend because she has fair hair. People would spit anywhere.. They seem to be not polite, but it is just that it is a different culture. It's the same for the food; I have been eating dumplings/pot-stickers (jioazi) for breakfast !!! ... For me, discovering new cultural aspects, trying to adapt local culture(and it's understandable that we can't always do), ... is the most important thing when you travel. It shows you how wide, large, and different humanity is. And though there are so many different point of views and way of living, we can still understand and live with each other.

Kaho wrote 10 years ago:

I loved reading your list! My friend got also bitten by a cat when she tried to help him. I didn't know that cats here can be so aggressive! I haven't been very adventurous with food here. It's strange as we used to go to an Indian restaurant at least once a month before moving to India. I realize that I need to be more adventurous and try more Indian food since we live in Mumbai!

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