India at a Glance
Living in India
Most expats living in India enjoy the colorful unconventionality that their new home has brought to their daily routines. Some defining aspects of Indian society are its cultural, religious, and linguistic pluralism and its traditional caste system. The latter is a strict system of social stratification which may still impose virtually impermeable hierarchies on the population.
People living in India’s rural areas make up around 70% of the populace. However, India has witnessed a steady increase in its urban population over recent years. This trend goes hand in hand with the growing numbers of well-educated, middle class residents in India’s metropolises.
The rise in the numbers of skilled workers has contributed to making the country an emerging force on the global market, which continues to attract foreign interest. Multinational companies interested in tapping the Indian market increasingly send their employees out on assignments, thus giving expat life in India a boost.
Starting a new life in India is immensely exciting, but it is certainly not without the inevitable pits and downfalls expats face in many countries across the world. To start with the positive aspects: India can be extremely rewarding for those who embrace its challenges.
If you come from a Western country, life in India is likely to be more chaotic and louder than anything you have experienced before. However, clinging to your habits from back home during your expat life will probably prove futile and only get in your way. Most expats who have come to enjoy their new life in India started by accepting what they cannot change, thus learning to appreciate the different qualities that the country has to offer.
In general, most people are friendly and welcoming to strangers who are trying to adapt to the way of life in India. It is not unusual for foreigners and their families to be invited round their neighbors’ or colleagues’ houses for dinner.
Despite the growing numbers of foreigners visiting or living in India, Europeans and North Americans may sometimes attract a lot of attention in rural areas. Tourists and expats living in India are often asked for permission to have their photographs taken by the local population, thus being made to feel like a tourist attraction themselves. However, this curiosity should not be mistaken for importunity.
Challenges for Expat Women
There are some less pleasant peculiarities about Indian society, which especially expat women will come across during their life in India. A social phenomenon commonly referred to as “Eve teasing” has taken on threatening forms and is a cause for great concern.
“Eve teasing” euphemistically describes a form of sexual bullying or public harassment which has increasingly begun to affect many women living in India. It comprises relatively harmless incidents like rude staring and offensive comments, but it can go as far as indecent exposure, groping, slapping, and possibly worse. The 2012 case involving the rape and murder of a young New Delhi woman made the headlines all over the world and put the issue in the spotlight.
The most recommended way for expat women to protect themselves, at least partly, from unwanted attention is by wearing wide linen or cotton clothing which does not hug their figure and covers shoulders and legs at least down to the knees. While this may or may not deflect a potential harasser’s attention, it is at least an effective way of protecting yourself against mosquito bites!
Challenges for Urbanites
Another challenge will be the high levels of noise, pollution and overpopulation in India’s big cities. The often harsh inequalities and visible poverty of the population are not easy to accept for many foreigners.
Getting around in India’s metropolises can be a challenge in itself. Although (or because) buses, rickshaws and taxis are everywhere, constant congestion and poor road conditions do their bit to make every journey last much longer than expected.