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With its unmatched diversity and a contrasting character that can both be enthralling and mystifying, expats may encounter some culture shock in India. Its hot and humid climate, muddled traffic blocks and a hodgepodge of overexcited hawkers and guides are a lot to handle initially.
One of the main reasons for experiencing culture shock is arriving in India with a set of misconceptions and stereotypes from the news and media that expats may be exposed to outside of the country. Of course, there are parallels to be drawn, but India offers much more than its stereotypes care to dive into.
If expats can be patient and give themselves some time to adapt, they’ll likely look at the country in an entirely different light as time passes. India presents immense opportunities to open up socially. Hospitality is encouraged from an early age and expats are often surprised to see the extent to which Indians are helpful and always ready to mingle.
In a nutshell, the country welcomes all with warmth. It just takes some effort and understanding to become comfortable with the attitude and approach of the locals. After all, its vast diversity is one of India’s most attractive qualities.
Bureaucracy in India
Getting things done in India can take a lot longer than it would in the West. Processes often seem inefficient and time-consuming. Expats may find they receive conflicting information depending on who they talk to. It is best to exercise patience and persistence as getting angry won't solve the problem.
Networking and building relationships with locals can help because in most cases having contacts within the right institutions can expedite processes.
Women in India
Women in India may find that patriarchal attitudes can be all too common. That said, this is far less apparent in larger, more cosmopolitan cities like Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai.
Still, women living in India may find themselves the target of unwanted attention, particularly when visiting crowded places, local markets or smaller towns. In such situations, it's best to dress more conservatively and not show too much skin. Women are also burdened with additional safety considerations and we advise against travelling alone at night.
Religion in India
As the world's second most populated country with well over 1.38 billion people, it's fair to say that India's population is as diverse as it is large. This multiethnic country is host to many religions. The large majority practice Hinduism, though Islam and Christianity are also prominent. The Indian subcontinent is said to be the place of four major religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
This can be quite a culture shock for expats, being an eye-opening experience and an opportunity to learn about various cultures and religious traditions. Major religious festivals make for a colourful and warm experience, and different regions celebrate varying public holidays. While this could make adjusting to one's new home overwhelming, open-minded expats can benefit from the ease of making friends and settling in. We encourage expats to be respectful of people and the diversity of religions.
Language barriers in India
India's official and main languages are Hindi and English, and for many expats in their work environment or in large cities, language barriers are unlikely to be a problem. That said, the further one ventures from a large urban area, the more likely they will encounter diverse ethnic groups speaking different languages and dialects, with major differences noticed in the north compared to the south.
When moving to India, it is worth for an expat to learn at least a few key phrases of their host area's predominant language. This can help an expat when going about their day or asking about public transport as well as learning more about culture in India.
Poverty in India
The wealth gap in India is massive – slums are side-by-side with skyscrapers and mansions. Poverty is a reality in India and expats will be confronted with it almost anywhere they go.
Expats will get used to being targeted by beggars. The best option is always to ignore them. If one feels compelled to give something, food is always a better option than money. Wherever possible it is better to give to a reputable charity than individuals on the street.
►For an overview of business culture, see Doing Business in India
►Read more about adapting to a new environment in this expat article: Cross‐Cultural Catastrophes: Understanding the Problem at Hand
Are you an expat living in India?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to India. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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