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 still occasionally imposes virtually impermeable hierarchies on the population.
People living in India’s rural areas make up around 70% of the populace. However, India has witnessed an 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 number of skilled workers has contributed to the country's position as 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 are coming from a Western country, life in India is likely to be more chaotic and louder than what you’re used to. However, clinging to old habits from back home during your expat life will prove futile and only get in your way. It is therefore best to accept some things as they are and learn to appreciate the different facets 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 number of foreigners visiting or living in India, Europeans and North Americans can attract a lot of attention in rural areas in particular. 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.
There are some unpleasant peculiarities in Indian society, which especially expat women will come across during their time 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 women living in India. It can comprise of relatively harmless incidents like rude staring and offensive comments, but it can go as far as indecent exposure, groping, slapping, and worse. The infamous 2012 case involving the gang rape and murder of a young New Delhi woman put the issue in the international spotlight. Since then many, equally horrifying cases have made headlines around the world.
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. Furthermore, it is advised to cover your shoulders and legs at least down to the knees. While this may not always deflect a potential harasser’s attention, it is at least an effective way of protecting yourself against mosquito bites!
Another challenge will be the high levels of noise, pollution, and overpopulation in India’s big cities. The high level of inequality and visible poverty of the population are not easy to come to terms with for many foreigners.
Getting around in India’s metropolises can be a challenge in itself. Although, or, better said, 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.
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