Notes on daily life in India

Notable cultural differences that stood out to me after a week spent in Bangalore and Mysore

  1. Most people speak multiple languages, often three or more. Residents of the city of Hyderabad speak Telugu; just 6 hours away in Bangalore the predominant language is Kannada. More widespread languages like Hindi and English are therefore very important in Indian life because they constitute the only means of written and verbal communication between people from different parts of the country.

  2. Many of the Googlers in Bangalore grew up in other parts of the country, and don’t know more than the basics of Kannada. Learning a new language that the might not need if they move elsewhere was considered a waste of time by a few people I asked about it. Conversations at work consisted of a mixture of English and Hindi, switching languages even within the same sentence.

  3. It’s common to see m en holding hands or walking with their arms around each other’s shoulders. In the west, this would be considered slightly homosexual or awkward — we’re really uncomfortable about displaying affection for others of the same gender.

  4. I was surprised by the relatively low number of people who were walking on the sidewalk in the busy downtown parts of Bangalore. Since auto rickshaws are so cheap, and sidewalks are quite inconsistently constructed and often clouded with exhaust, it’s more practical and comfortable to drive to destinations even when they are close by.

  5. Architecture in Bangalore has less Muslim influence than in Hyderabad, although there are still plenty of mosques.

  6. Ownerless, stray dogs are pretty much everywhere, although they tend to be quite tame. It’s strange to westerners because we pretty much only see dogs as pets for companionship. Cows also roam the streets freely, even on busy downtown roads.

  7. Driving is more dynamic, placing more importance on the driver’s perception of the street situation. The lack of medians or lane dividers on many roads leads to lots of “non-textbook” situations that drivers must react to. Honking, as well as flashing high beams in the nighttime, are means of communicating presence on the road — I never saw any honking out of anger or impatience. Larger vehicles such as buses are given priority, and some even have custom horn sounds that can be heard from further away.

  8. Both license plates and commercial permits are not government-issued. Owners of cars are free to make their own license plates bearing their number, as long as personal vehicles have a white background and commercial vehicles have a yellow background. This leads to a lot of creativity with fonts and designs, although the lack of standardization might make it difficult to implement systems like traffic cameras that depend on standard lettering.

  9. Driving on the highway connecting Bangalore and Mysore, particularly at night, is a challenging endeavor . I took for granted some features of highways, like lamps or reflective paint, that are common in western highways. Additionally, the road goes directly through the centers of smaller cities (like older Polish highways did), where there are often speed bumps or barrier to slow down motorists.

  10. Bangalore traffic police have a program called Public Eye which encourages the public to submit photos of traffic violations such as talking on a cell phone while riding a motorcycle. The photos are sometimes displayed publicly, either to help identify violators or to shame them.

  11. While most of India uses the European two-pronged power outlet design, there are a few other outlets circulating around. Consequently, the “standard” is no standard, and most buildings are outfitted with a multi-outlet design that can accomodate various plug styles.

  12. Bangalore closes down ridiculously early — even fancy bars close by 11:30. It’s partially a cultural thing; coworkers also suggested that the closing times are enforced to reduce crime at night. Opening hours are referred to using the word “timings”.

  13. Eating with hands is very common, and restaurants will often provide a wet cloth before the meal, and a lime-and-water bowl to clean your hands afterwards. Larger restaurants and cafeterias, like the one at Google, will have dedicated hands-washing areas.

  14. Anise and fennel seeds are a common after-meal snack: they are used as a digestive aid and as a breath freshener.

  15. Most cities in India have a road called M.G. road, which stands for Mahatma Gandhi. In Bangalore it’s the big fancy shopping street. Many other roads are named after the initials of famous Indians.

  16. Before entering a temple, or even a non-religious building like the Mysore palace, everyone must take off their shoes as a sign of respect. Dedicated shoe-watchers will take care of them for the time you are inside.

  17. The airport has an incredible number of ID and document checks. Entering the airport, you must show ID and an itinerary. Then, you show your passport at checkin, customs, upon leaving customs, at security, and after security. When at the gate, your ticket is checked before you line up, it’s checked again when you actually get onto the gate, and then your security stamp is checked by a security officer. There’s another round of security on the actual gate itself.

  18. People speak much more directly to one another. In the US, when we want someone else to do something for us, we frequently sugar-coat the message by saying things like “I think it would be great if you could try to do X” — in India, I found people were much more direct about giving directions.

  19. Cricket is everywhere: It’s always on TV, and I saw people playing it in parks, on the street, and there was even an indoor batting cage in the office!