15 Things To Know Before Moving To Rural India

Last month I entered the writing contest in expatsblog.com. I didn’t win any of the cash prizes, but I did win gold for my expat country (India). Now that the contest is over, I believe I am allowed to share the post in my own blog so here it is, this time with photos and links:

15 Things To Know Before Moving To Rural India

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 rural India that you have probably not heard or read anywhere else.  My husband and I would have loved to know these before we moved here; we learned the hard way. Let me spare you a bit of struggle.

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.

Our outdoor wild cat.
Our outdoor wild cat.

A couple weeks later, we followed my approach instead and made an Indian outdoor cat friend

Three: Study Electrical Engineering.

Burnt Nutribullet
Burnt Nutribullet

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. I also recently learned that it’s ideal to use a converter with 1.5 times the wattage of your appliance.

Four: Patience is a virtue.

Mainly, don’t believe when they tell you: “it will be ready in 5 days” or “I will do today” or “it will take two weeks.” (I hope you read those 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 don’t use verbal manners or have sense of personal space.

game night india
Unannounced game night.

“Please” and “thank you” are not amongst the common words of an Indian’s vocabulary because many times they think it is not necessary as helping a close one or a guest is part of their nature. Also, 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. They are pretty straightforward.

Don’t expect much privacy or personal space, Indian people have a sense of community at all times instead of an individual kind of culture. 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.

From: An Unexpected Afternoon.
From: An Unexpected Afternoon.

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.

Maybe we should’ve kept stricter boundaries because the very next day we learned that Indian children can be wild, 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.

Seven: Don’t wear that.

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. Should I specify this one 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 make your life easier.

indian cooking
Our wonderful cook.

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 deal with the crazy roads; 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, very 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 because of the limitations of Foreign Direct Investment. 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! I love saffron pistachio ice cream, and Josh loves the butterscotch one.

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.

indian food
Delicious Indian food. Garlic naan, spicy fish and rice.

For the foodie: try Indian food as you never have. Josh and I have had some of the best seafood in the world in Mumbai. Personal favorites: tandoori chicken, butter and shahi paneer, chana masala, saffron rice, biryani, raita and garlic 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.

ganesha statue
Ganesh Festival Statues.

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.

Note: This is my perspective and my experience living in a small town in rural India and which are probably not true everywhere in India. These are generalizations in which there are obviously some exceptions.

Update 1/30/14: I changed the title from “15 Things To Know Before Moving To India” to “15 Things To Know Before Moving To Rural India” because I got a lot of comments of people saying that many of these things are not true everywhere in India (which is a bit obvious), but I wanted to clarify that all the stories in this post are true, and they happened in rural India, in the country of the state of Maharashtra.

30 thoughts on “15 Things To Know Before Moving To Rural India

  1. Hi
    People I know for just one month coming in uninvited and playing seems so weird to me. I am from south India, I dont know about the north. But that cannot even be imagined in my state (Kerala). Plz don’t assume it is normal in India.

    I think you gave them too much freedom?

    1. Hi hari,
      This is in Maharashtra state, but in a rural area, not the city. I don’t know how you give someone freedom, we don’t understand so any things in where we live, but we assume is part of the culture. But maybe we should’ve been more strict. I don’t know, we didn’t want to be the mean Westerners. And they also helped us get settled.

  2. Wow your neighbour’s children seem like a nightmare, nothing like I’ve ever come across though. Like you said, many of your experiences are probably typical to where you are staying, maybe you guys should just move to a bigger city, at least that would strike out some of these negatives such as finding foreign brands, intrusion of privacy (trust me our neighbours don’t know us and vice versa), and wearing what you want. Am afraid the unpredictability and pace of jobs you outsource will still be the same, although at times we are just glad we can afford to outsource stuff like tailoring, plumbing or a haircut unlike in many other countries. Still, life will be a bit bearable and maybe you can enjoy a bit more without those hassles. I know I won’t be able to survive in a small town for more than a week!

  3. I liked your post and agree with most of what you had to say. I’ve had some life experience in both the East and the West, so hopefully, have some insights into both. I grew up in India, moved to US when I was 25 and have been there since. It’s been 15 years now.

    Anyway, my point was about the sparse usage of “please” and “thank you” among locals which you perceived as impoliteness or lacking in manners. Besides what Amit said above about the reason for such words being used in the stranger versus those close to you (or in other words formal versus informal), there is another implicit reason that most people don’t think about. Almost all Indian languages, including Hindi, have the construct of respect/formal versus casual/informal built into the language, quite unlike any language in the Western world. In fact it is such an integral part of the language itself that you’ll find it very difficult to even string together a sentence without choosing one of the two at the get go. And the way it works is: when you converse with a stranger or someone with authority over you or someone older/wiser, you will go with the respect/formal construct. If it is someone significantly younger than you or someone close to you like a friend/family-friend/family-member, you will go with the casual/informal construct.

    This differentiation starts with the basic elements of the language like pronouns, verbs etc. For example, there are 3 levels of formality/respect for the English word “you” in Hindi: starting from lower to higher order of respect, “Tu”, “Tum” and “Aap”. I hope you see now why it is seen as somewhat redundant to add English equivalents of “please” and “thank you” given the built-in capabilities of the language even though they may not convey the same exact meaning. If Indians were to strictly compare Hindi to English by the same standards, they should find every single sentence in English not having polite modifiers such as “please” and “thank you” as rude. But they don’t as most know that that’s the way the language is. It just “is”.

    1. DH, that’s a very interesting explanation! Especially your last point- I live in the US and actually see that a lot here. Many Indian immigrants often use the terms “please” or “kindly” unusually often in sentences. In fact, too frequent uses of these words in e-mails or internet sites is often an instant sign that the writer is of Indian background. It seems that both of our cultures try to add in the same politeness standards into the other language when speaking. I think these habits are so ingrained within us and we want to be polite, but sometimes struggle to convey that intention to other people when we are speaking a language we aren’t fluent in. Very interesting.

  4. Hi,
    Marathi is my mother tongue and have stayed in Mumbai for last 40+ years of my life. I might still find it difficult to stay in rural Ahmednagar district. So kudos to you for staying there and wonder why God told you to stay there in first place. Hope God tells you to earn wealth for yourself, makes your life more comfortable before you get a call to land in some far away country. Please and thank you equivalent words are not used automatically in Marathi. Eg word for please is krupaya where Krupa means blessing. So please give water in Marathi is bless me with water sounds funny. Western sensibilities regarding privacy, cleanliness, politeness will not work in Ahmednagar so please be safe

  5. hi .. loved your post. hmmm… ok first of all it’s true that you will not get your personal space here. and its a suggestion that you go and get involved in some festival in india. with involvement i mean not to just attend it but be a part of it and help the people in organising it and then celebrate together. Learn local language because it will reduce the gap between you and the locals. All this will help you to understand India better.
    Also the culture here is more like a tribal kind means people are much more connected to each other rather then a individual kind of culture. In this kind of culture it becomes very difficult to find personal space.
    In india many people dont say thank you and welcome to close once because we think that when there is closeness it is not needed. You may have observed that in india many will say thank you for a good gesture by a stranger but if the same is done by the closed once they find no reason for this.
    In india there is a saying in sanskrit “atithi devo bhava” it means “guest is equal to god” . this is the reason why we are bound to respect our guest and treat them well even if they come uninvited and at any time. In other sense it also means that a person can go to anyones house without invitation at any time and leave their house when they(guest) wishes to leave. It may also be the reason why you will not find personal space in india. You try this once i.e., going to one of your neighbour or friend house who knows you and strike up a conversatation. I think you will enjoy that.
    Children in india … this is an amazing case – you will never be able to control them. It will take time for them to understand. What you can do is try to make them understand .. they will understand all this with time.
    Finally, take care… India is a very different country. It is a place where to communicate words are not always necessery. People read signs and emotions , heart and mind more often then words. Try to understand peoples feeling. It will help you to build your experience, understand people(it will give you the ability to distinguish between bad and good). In India it may happen that what you see can not be true and what you may not be able to see will be true. Dont judge a book by its cover.

    1. Hi Malvika, I have visited India since I was a child, but actually moved there last summer, which taught me that I knew nothing about India. There is nothing in my life in India similar to anything in my life anywhere else. The whole experience was culture-shock even having visited India over 10 times before. I’m sorry if my post was a bit negative, but it was my experience in my first 3 months in India. You also have to understand that I didn’t move to a big city, and I didn’t live in a nice house, etc etc.. I moved to the country where every Saturday the power is out until about 6pm, and our house is very old and dirty and small, so yes, my first 3 months in India were hard. But I know India is not that bad, I know I have to give it time, get used to a lot of things.
      And ultimately, it is not up to me, it is up to God.
      Thanks for stopping by,

      1. oh, Its hard for me to fathom what you’re feeling because I have lived nowhere but in India * bangalore* and I’ve loved the culture and tradition we’ve been taught growing up. But I do understand it could be queer and overwhelming for someone new and I hope things work out for you and you eventually fall in love with the country’s beauty!

  6. Just moved back from India and really appreciate a lot of what you featured here. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  7. I really enjoyed your post. I myself am trying to figure out where to move to and your incite was quite enlightening. I like that you gave both positive and negative aspects (in your opinion) and my fiance and I decide to go hope we have as good of an experience. Again thank you for the post, t was really enlightening.

  8. ‘we are nicer to them than some Indians we know”. I am sorry but hope this statement is not typical of your particular way of writing/ thinking.

    Many people may employ servants in India but are hardly out of poverty and usually under educated themselves. This availability of servants merely reflects India’s huge overpopulation.

    India was a defeated, colonized country which UK had looted. Indian schools were deliberately destroyed and mission schools produced people who could serve British institutions here. Often mission school students spoke no Indian language properly. (I do hope you read the above blog on UK rule).

    Most Indians are simply a generation away from real poverty and I hope that is not exactly your case, making it easier or even possible for you to be more ‘kind’. Some 350 million managed to survive and slip into the middle class, mostly thanks to govt or philanthropist sponsored, highly subsidized education.

    Since you are in Goa, travel and enjoy it but do read about the Inquisition there as it will give you some history about the locals and the churches there. Do read about the Salazar regime. I personally like to know a place’s real history.

    With most children or people anywhere, you probably have to be firm…. and mean what you say! I know I was surrounded by loud, threatening teens in some US parks. One lot surrounded me as I had seen them steal goldfish: I kept silent and left going the wrong, long way home to avoid being followed. Plus shopkeepers who ignore you but serve others first, things happen! A NYC hairdresser said she had never cut a brown person’s hair, etc. and kept hesitating! Then kept telling me what a hairdresser was. My own college students were often rude. Things happen!

    1. Hi once again,
      The first statement is not my particular way of thinking, it was just one thought/statement of many, which is true. And usually, there is nothing wrong with saying the truth.
      I am not in Goa, I’ve never been there, I don’t know what gave you that idea. Actually my husband and I are currently in the US, but our Indian home is in the Arangaon village in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra.
      And about the children, we first tried being polite and when that didn’t work, we of course, were firm. And yes, like you say, things happen. This blog is about my experience; it is a personal blog, and I know not everyone is the same, not every Indian is the same, and not every area of India is the same. But I write about my experiences, which were all true.
      I apologize once again, for any generalization and especially if I have offended you. That is not my intention. But like I said, these are my experiences, and I hope you can respect that. Also, I like writing about the good and the bad. Not just the good of India; if you don’t appreciate that, then don’t read it. This blog is not about sugar coating, and it is focused on India, so talking about the bad children in other countries is irrelevant.
      All the best to you.

    2. you’re a twat, it’s her opinion and why are you even looking at blogs with tips about moving to India if you’re such an expert.

  9. ‘most Indian children have zero manners’ is utter nonsense and rude besides. Ignorance of what is acceptable to you is not rudeness. Explain to the children/ neighbors, etc. what you expect. I have neighbors and their children coming in all day, (and even in the evening to study), because our home is large, airy and silent. I encourage it because I have a large terrace in the city. In fact, our front door is rarely locked, even if we are not in….

    Only about 1% of India speaks English…. You could perhaps see thanks in a person’s face and not only in two words, all too often hastily automatically muttered! Anyway, tell people, you like them said and they will. Happily!

    No, WE don’t need servants but we employ them because they make life easier… and yes, this needs related people management skills.

    If you wish to learn about India, please read the following:

    Churchill’s Secret War

    Dowry Murders by Dr Oldenburg

    Late Victorian Holocausts

    350 million poor/ undereducated folks entered the middle class in perhaps 40 years.

    1. Hi there. I am guilty of generalizing. It is true not all Indian children are misbehaved, but I write about our experiences and the children we have encountered in India so far, have been out of control. We were nice to them at first, we even offered them drinks and I played with them. But when it was time for them to go or when we wanted them to leave, they wouldn’t take no for an answer and when they came back the next day they wouldn’t take no for an answer, and we were being polite. Being polite didn’t work, in fact they kept getting worse and tried to break into our home, which by the way, we don’t lock during the day. We tried patience and kindness, and got back rudeness. It’s nice that you have your open for the children, and I’m glad they behave with you.
      Also, we don’t live in a big city like most expats. We live in a small town where we see the farmers harvest beans walking distance from our house, our home is tiny and our neighbor is a cow.
      My husband and I had been to India many times before me moved there.
      I agree with your statement about servants. It is not a necessity but they certainly make life easier. Also by the way, our servants don’t speak english and they are very kind and we are very kind to them. In fact, we are nicer to them than some Indians we know.
      I appreciate the history lesson.
      In conclusion, I apologize for the generalization but apparently you don’t really know our situation well, either.

  10. Loved reading this post! Found some similarities with our lives here in Korea as well. We thought we had personal space issues here… I laughed out loud when I read the part about your friends coming unannounced for games and drinks. Guess we are a bit more fortunate than we thought!

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