What Indian people think about the tourists?

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#1 Feb 24th, 2004, 14:09
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#1
This subject was posted earlier at TT with The 'caste' of a tourist in India? . Thought of posting this due to its curiosity content. Many people asked me similar questions. Not exactly about the caste but what the local population think about the tourists. It is difficult to answer. Only a miniscule of the Indian population interacts with the foreign tourists. Except the ones who are not directly or indirectly connected with the tourism industry, the local population by and large is isolated from the tourists. This is a difficult question and the right people to answer it are the tourists themselves who have visited India. For them also it could be a bit difficult due to the lack of chances for such occasions to deal with common people.

Obviously all of them have varying degree of experience from the local business people including the shopkeepers, taxi drivers, hotel staffs and tour operators. Most of them think that your huge backpack is ram packed with money!

Only a very few have the chance to visit an Indian home or interact with a local community. Well, I’m not talking about a business interaction at tourist place. An invitation for tea at a home, a request to participate in a local community celebration, an invitation to a ‘distant’ relative’s marriage, a kid’s birthday party or the likes. Such occasions are where you can get a close-up view of what is going on inside an Indian mind. And know what really the local people think about you.

By and large the local population is not hostile to the western folks.

Even though India had a bloody struggle to get out of the colonialism, the grudge against the west (esp. Britain) is hardly traceable in its modern society. Indeed the debate of colonialism has not died off totally. But the conclusions mostly focus on the heroism of its own leaders in freedom fight than how bad the rulers were. This is a mystery in comparison with similar situations elsewhere in the world.


The Indian psyche easily digests the concept “How great we are “ than the “How bad they are”. Probably this could be one of the reasons. I do not know the real reasons.
Invariably a western tourist is an object of curiosity. A novelty. People like to pose and take snaps with them. The funny thing is that all of them may not be really bothered about getting a print of it!

On an average people are more confused about the backpackers than anything else. According to the local way of life everyone are suppose to go to his or her work everyday. Only people who don’t have any work wander. Money is not to be ‘’wasted’ by going to unknown places. If you have extra money, save it. They don’t mind sitting in front of the TV for hours. That is the local philosophy of entertainment. They also do tour to new places. But this is mostly a family affair. The head of the family is in ‘command’ of the tour party.

A lone female enquiring about the next bus to a place 500km away is a perplexing question. First of all they would say it is not safe to travel there alone. You probe further to know why? In all probability you won’t find out the answer because they themselves do not know why! They see an error in their own norm in such a situation.

Indians by and large is an infinitely inquisitive race. They are interested in knowing what is going on at the neighbor’s house! Any new novelty bought by the neighbor has to be matched. The genesis of popular local advertisements like ‘Owner’s pride and neighbor’s envy!’ is to exploit this factor.

This is because they are status conscious people. The first thing the want to understand is your status. Probably status is the modern form of the caste. They have their own way to smell this out from you. Tons of ‘research’ has gone into this than what has gone into those rocket technologies. Difficult to fool. ‘Unimportant’ things like knowing your name and all can wait!

Now come the loads of questions. Your husband’s job? How much do you earn? Are you living in your own house? What is your elder son doing? Is your daughter got married? It is a rapid-fire round.
They want to know ‘everything’ about you in one go. People don’t think it is impolite or anything. That is how people get familiarized! There is no malicious aim except to measure you up. Each of your answer has a specific meaning in the local perception. Parallels are drawn and a mental picture about your status is made. The status of jobs in your home country may not be the same in the perception of Indian society.

Someone asked about the (perceived) caste of a foreigner in the Indian society. Somebody suggested that they are treated casteless. This is not true. There is no straightforward answer to this question. May be it all depends a lot on your appearance, costume, location, hairstyle, mustache, beard, reactions etc etc.

A well-dressed person indeed is treated with high regard. A man wearing a pineapple print shirt, half trouser and palm hat may not be treated in the same ‘caste’ or status as the above case. But it all depends a lot on areas like touristy-non-touristy, urban-rural etc. The perceptions vary drastically. A high status perception may not bring you comfort and easy acceptance in a social setup. A comparable social status with the folks you interact can make the meeting of minds easier. A policeman would be impressed with another policeman.

If you are talking too much about your wife and children, you’ll be treated a responsible family man! Roaming with girlfriend or boyfriend is a bit odd or secret thing in local perception. Indians do it without parents knowing it! If situation warrants simply say you are married or at least engaged. This would give better respect than explaining how you met each other 2 weeks back and then decided to travel together. The EX and the STEP in explaining relations are not easily digested in India. Nor it attracts respect.

(Your personal experiences are appreciated. As this can scratch the curiosity itch of many!)

beach
#2 Feb 24th, 2004, 20:14
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#2
I am sad to say this. But the 'caste' of the tourist is in someways depending on the ' color ' of the tourist. I dont see Indians queing up to speak to african / afro-american tourists. They usually surround the whites
#3 Feb 24th, 2004, 21:59
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#3
hi beach,

thanks again.
your posts are very appreciated. they help me alot to get a feeling of indian society and it's people.
looking forward to hearing more from you!
your words are getting right to the heard of me.
all the best to you
#4 Feb 25th, 2004, 01:23
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Great post beach!
#5 Feb 25th, 2004, 04:08
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yeah jpvs I used to actually while away time in tourist spots trying to spot a black or other non white person and see if the locals approach them for photographs or otherwise. I did wonder if the treatment was only reserved for white ppl or others too of non subcontinental features.
#6 Feb 25th, 2004, 17:24
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#6
I remember those interminable interrogations from our early travelling days in India. No sooner had you satisfied the curiousity of some fellow passenger than someone else came along and you had to do it all over again! But, very often in the end, addresses were written out or personal cards were handed to us and we were told if we ever were in Calcutta/ Poona/Madras and were in need of help, we should get in touch.

It seems to me, nearly 40 years later, that this doesn't happen as much and that maybe there is not the same curiousity about the foreigner. The world has become a much smaller place, many Indians now travel overseas and those that don't have a constant flow of information from TV and the press.

I also think that many more Indians now "travel to see" and can understand what drives the foreign tourist to criss-cross India. In the 60's this really seemed to perplex people. Why had we given up good jobs and left our families to wander around India? It just didn't make sense to most people.

I think many of us make friends through our interests and outside of the normal tourist intercourse (hotels, shops, guides, taxi-drivers etc) the people we know in India are almost all involved in wildlife conservation, with the exception of our best friend who is a bird-watching, mountain climbing, Professor of Medicine.

I may be wrong, but I'm not aware of caste being any kind of issue with Indian friends, nor has it ever arisen in any conversation. Perhaps it could be that the issue of caste is generally becoming a less important factor in Indian society?
#7 Feb 25th, 2004, 17:45
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Quote:
Originally posted by Alan D


I may be wrong, but I'm not aware of caste being any kind of issue with Indian friends, nor has it ever arisen in any conversation. Perhaps it could be that the issue of caste is generally becoming a less important factor in Indian society?
I really wouldn`t know - but I also think it´s nearly impossible to see the filtering we are subject to , as westerners. You can compare with the gender issue : I am struck by how female travellers often are treated as "gender-less" , i.e. how they can step in and out male & female territories but from this to make a statement on womens situation in respective countries is another question.
#8 Feb 25th, 2004, 17:57
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#8
I left that last paragraph pretty open on purpose vistet because I'm not sure.

I was hoping to get a reaction from some of our Indian members.
What a long strange trip it's been!
#9 Feb 25th, 2004, 18:40
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#9
Interesting topic.As average indian who works for his next meal,if he dont work
he wont get his next meal,so he/she never give dame about anyone
not only tourist ,or any people.
They wont freak out cafe's,or any tourist places..

The people who are after tourist ,is beggers they came after you ,
weather u have white skin or color one .That they go after even Indain tourist too.
Yes still people like to take pic with foriegners.If u notice they are usually from village ,
like tourist they also first timer to see the tourist places.
Many people in India still dint get chance to Taj or any other monuments.
So if anyone from rural Indian village come to
see city for him its all new and so the Foriegner with backpack.

Regarding caste ,ya its still relevent for Indians ,but
I dont think they ask you first your caste or ur social status at back home etc.
May be one or 2 cases but you should not generalise it.
For starting conversation its not first topic or important.
Women travelling alone may be big thing few years back but not anymore.They are not looked upon as if they doing out of way .

As Alan.d said Indian people now started travelling.
I think now Indian people have knowledge of travelling,
so they wont be surprised to see backpackers.

Ya i really like what other Indian thinks.. its just my opnion ,wht i saw
Last edited by radz; Feb 25th, 2004 at 21:12..
#10 Feb 25th, 2004, 20:09
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beach again...

Caste is very much part of the Indian life. But the labor is no mode divided based on caste, except a few exceptions like the priesthood. Everyone do every job based on qualifications, availability, pay etc. All cast live together and people are not much bothered about it. But when it comes to institutions like marriage or the like caste take the center stage. Generally people do not marry inter caste. The customs are different. In the rural India caste plays an important role, both politically and socially. The erstwhile socially backward castes may be a political stronghold in the new system.

The present society considers money and social status more important and powerful than the caste.

The inquisitiveness might have reduced but never vanished all together. Anyone new to a society is a foreigner (Indians and foreigners alike) and should face the same questions!!
#11 Feb 25th, 2004, 20:55
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#11

will caste soon be an anachronism?

Among my Indian friends here in the US (Boston area), and I once hung around with a fairly large crowd of Bengalis, mostly Brahmins and mostly MIT-connected (the university), caste was a topic of casual conversation now and then. They seemed eager to explain to me that "X was from a lower form of Brahmin originally from East Bengal" (that geographic distinction seemed important too). That type of comment was frequently part of a put-down. Like if Y had been successful in his studies and landed a job in Princeton, someone would quickly point out that "he is not a Brahmin."

That did not keep us from having dinners and playing tennis together, and I never noticed any discrimination beyond the words.

I'm glad to hear what beach says, that caste does no longer seem relevant to profession; the new Chief Minister of Maharashtra is an untouchable, right?

Being an American myself, a country where people often boast of humble origins (take Senator Edwards), and the aristocracy and intelligentsia are mocked (Senator Kerry's problem), the rest of the world seems class-conscious to me. I go to London frequently and notice people talking about titled families, accents, and people's backgrounds as though it mattered, but again I have not seen it used as a reason to put them down beyond conversation. I have met both humble and patrician museum curators and art dealers, and landed barons are often broke.
#12 Feb 27th, 2004, 02:45
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#12
Great post, beach.

This got me wondering - how do Indians who go to the western world for the first time prepare their trips, and do they find our world as overwhelming as some of us find theirs?
'To see the world in a grain of sand; and heaven in a wild flower; to hold infinity in the palm of your hand; and eternity in an hour'
#13 Feb 27th, 2004, 08:11
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Hey, this is a great thread. The first time I EVER left India (in 1992) was to go to grad school in Philadelphia. I was 21 years old (female) and pretty dumb...ha! I did no preparation except to see where Philly was on a map of USA and to try and buy a sweater (I had never owned one before). I'm from Andhra (HOT! HOT! HOT!) and the store people in my hometown gave me funny looks when I asked to see sweaters. A city of a million souls and I had to choose between 3 sparkly beaded cardigans (lemon yellow, teal, and cobalt blue - go figure).

alone from Chennai (Madras) and reached New York airport feeling completely lost and sleepy. The surly immigration officer kept firing questions at me while I was so tired I could barely stand straight. He finally asked if I knew English and I got pissy with him and said "Of course, I speak English really well." I had two HUMONGOUS checked in bags (we Indians and our luggage!) and needed help getting them off the baggage corousel. The guy who helped me (an American working in the airport) told me he needed to be paid for lifting my cases and setting them on my baggage cart. I asked him much (at least that bit seemed like home) and he said US $50.00 (Howz that for all you people complaining about touts and scammers in Indian airports?). I knew it was a bit much and I didn't have change anyway - just 20 dollar bills. I told him I'd have to get change and started walking. He followed me and kept asking me if I was going to pay him or not (he was at least 6'3 and weighed 250 pounds+). I cleared customs and he couldn't (or didn't) come out and I couldn't go back in (not that I wanted to). Kennedy airport seemed gigantic and noisy. New York city was hot and humid. I had to get a connection to Philadelphia and needed to change terminals. I was impossibly confused but luckily my dad had recruited some former student of his to help out and she showed up a bit later.

I reached Philly around 9pm and my ride (a guy I knew back home) was nowhere. I came out of the airport and saw these big battered taxicabs lined up, all driven by Africans and they started yelling "Where to miss? Where to miss?". Never having seen a real African (or an American of any colour) in India, I was a pretty weirded out (of course the jet lag NEVER helps) and ran back into the airport. Eventually my ride showed up and as we drove to the University, I kept wondering where the hell all the people were. Driving down the highway, I saw huge vertical walls on either side and wondered what lay behind them - only later I learnt they were sound barriers so that people who lived next to the highway weren't bothered by the constant noise of cars.

So, that's what my first impression of USA was - everything big, empty roads, humidity, tall walls and people who take advantage of foreigners.
#14 Feb 27th, 2004, 10:59
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#14
Wonderful post, Lilly! I think that all too often people forget what a remarkable, exotic, and frightening place their own homes can be to an outsider.
#15 Apr 26th, 2004, 08:19
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i am a black female and my best friend and i got stared at and laughed at in india. it was fun to freak people out by acting 'ghetto' to get ahead in lines at the the railway stations. that was really the only advantage to being black in india. other than that, we stuck out.
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