Moving to India as a western woman

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#1 Jul 7th, 2017, 03:22
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  • Aliciamcd is offline
#1
Hello India Mike!
So, if I were to move to India...probably Delhi to start with (not a place I EVER imagined living, even though I have fantasied about living in India for a long time), what would it be like as a western woman? I have been to India many times so I get the score in general. But I wonder what it would really be like in terms of my independence. I tend to worry a lot about what people think and I am always careful to be modest and cover up. But I wonder if I can relax a bit...

I have a friend who lives in Kerala, she has a business there. Obviously it's much more relaxed in the south near the coast, but she literally doesn't care. She wears what she likes (although she doesn't dress provocatively as such). She is completely confident in being who she is and I admire this. If I asked her she'd say 'don't worry about it!' She's very carefree though. I had a conversation with someone recently about how women's equality is really behind in many ways in India. This is obvious now that I think about it, but I had always put the emphasis on culture and modesty and women being demure and how I must respect this...rather than the culture being oppressive to women.

I am a very self aware, observant person, which can leave me being a little too sensitive to others at times. Would it be 'inappropriate' for me to try and let go a bit in India? Because ultimately, I am a forward thinking woman. I live in London and am very free and independent here.

It would be great if I could just be true to myself, without being offensive. By this I mean, wear my shoulders uncovered at times for example. Or go into a shop that sells alcohol by myself and buy a bottle! (I've only been in with male companions and there are ONLY MEN!) Silly examples but important to me and my comfort I guess!

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts
#2 Jul 7th, 2017, 10:07
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#2
Hi Alicia. Firstly I should say I'm neither a woman nor a westerner but as a Delhi-ite I thought I'd offer some thoughts for what it is worth.

The being carefree thing will certainly be "different" to how it is in London (I've lived in the UK for a while) but it's important to note that a woman's independence varies hugely by circumstance and class. I have female friends (including foreigners) who drive around Delhi late into the night and don't feel very inhibited--yet there are many who do feel uncomfortable driving alone at any time.

If I am out with female friends or family and somebody wants a cigarette it's sort of understood that I'll get one for them from the paanwalla. Which is not to say that many don't do that themselves, but it can raise eyebrows in some places.

Similarly with alcohol, one never sees a woman go into a liquor shop...I haven't seen a woman enter even the upmarket Khan market one. BUT walk just 50 steps into a bar or restaurant in khan market itself and you'd be transported to a bar anywhere in London inasmuch as women wear what they want, drink what they want ....But it is sort of a bubble cos these same women are adept at cultural code-switching. So even if they'd wear what they want at a party or in Khan market or in a mall or whatever, they have the sense not to wear something too revealing and walk just any street. Also these bubbles are growing and spreading, and people's sensibilities are broadening swiftly, especially in big Indian cities...I guess once you start living here you'd slowly get the hang of it. Delhi has plenty of westerners and expat communities and I am sure you'll adjust fine.

Incidentally the women's equality thing varies HUGELY by class. A privileged and wealthy woman is way better off than a poor uneducated man-- this is a fact.

All the best.
#3 Jul 7th, 2017, 11:29
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#3
Alicia,
I think you have to evaluate your situation in its totality. You are certainly not coming to India, and New Delhi, to manage a SENSEX 100, or train a FTSE 100's India Office, which brings its own dynamics.

You will have to negotiate the space with your spouse-to-be, and what might or might not be allowed to do on your own.

Families play a large role in the lives of a young couple even if they are living seperately. If going to a liquor store and buying alcohol is rather important, then you have to have that discussion with him.
#4 Jul 7th, 2017, 11:34
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#4
In Mumbai I have seen single women buying cigarettes from road side stalls. Never seen a woman at a wine / liquor shop buying liquor. Have seen single woman or a group of women inside a bar and having drinks.
#5 Jul 7th, 2017, 13:59
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#5
Where are those who complain of mansplaning when they are needed?

Not here? Well, the guys will have to do the best we can then.

Delhi, not my city. The week I spent there felt like visiting a foreign country: very different to my home turf.

Just one thing from me, as general advice...

Stop all this being worried about offending people. Start thinking about yourself, your own safety and comfort.

Perhaps Delhi has rather different places where alcohol can be bought by the bottle. You would soon (I hope) realise that going to one of this city's "TASMAC" places could be a very bad idea indeed. My [Indian] wife will not even go to a street tea stall. (She will stand some way away while I get the tea).
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Last edited by Nick-H; Jul 7th, 2017 at 15:18..
#6 Jul 7th, 2017, 19:35
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#6
The tea stall. Nick your wife might not go near one[ is that a class thing] but you do. She obviously would not got to one when alone.

When I went alone to functions in S India by bus there was always the obligatory man to accompany a throng of women, mind you calling him a man does a disservice to the sex.

Also my experience in the S.

I had the bank a/c, and was cheated by one bank manager, they changed regularly, but got wise to taking my husband with me.

We sat at the managers desk, to do some transactions. Guess who the manager deferred to!


Experiences in Delhi can not be equated to all India
#7 Jul 7th, 2017, 21:07
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#7

Exclamation

Quote:
Originally Posted by Aliciamcd View Post Hello India Mike!
So, if I were to move to India...probably Delhi to start with (not a place I EVER imagined living, even though I have fantasied about living in India for a long time), what would it be like as a western woman? I have been to India many times so I get the score in general. But I wonder what it would really be like in terms of my independence. I tend to worry a lot about what people think and I am always careful to be modest and cover up. But I wonder if I can relax a bit...

I have a friend who lives in Kerala, she has a business there. Obviously it's much more relaxed in the south....

As a solo woman traveler to India a dozen times, while I have not lived in India, I've stayed for 2 or 3 months at a time traveling around. I've traveled mostly in the South (Tamil Nadu and Kerala and Goa) but I've also been to Delhi, Kolkata, Odisa, all over Rajasthan, and Mumbai. So in answer to your question I can most definitively say: IT DEPENDS. Traveling solo is different than living in India but this is MY experience during long trips. I've usually had to suss things out for myself.

If as you say you are careful to be modest and cover up, then you have no problem. After some time you will learn when to do so and when to relax. You have to go with the flow, so to speak. The first time I was in Kerala about 8 years ago, when I arrived I felt like I was wearing a burqa and I was only wearing a salwar kameez. I immediately ran out and and bought some sleeveless kurtis to wear with my salwar pants.

I'd say if you want to "relax a bit" then stay south in more touristy areas. For example, in Varkala, Kerala, I've seen western women (I mean tourists not necessarily those who run guesthouses) wear thong bikinis on the beach. Not that I agree with that but there ya go. Western women are a lot more "free" in their clothes (tank tops, tight yoga pants, shorts) in those areas. I would never dress like that to walk on the street in Chennai in the South (big city) but I am 9 times out of 10 sleeveless there wearing a shawl/dupatta on my shoulders and baggier pants like salwar pants. For years I never brought jeans with me, but now I wear skinny jeans all over with a tunic type top (and usually sleeveless.) No problems.

I also found Kolkata a bit more "free-er" or "open" than Chennai. In fact, I was shocked about the difference the first time I was there.

I'm very independent and from a big city in the States, so would I go into a liquor store and buy a bottle? In Delhi, probably not, as I don't really know Delhi tho I am sure there are upscale ones where expats buy.

However, in Mumbai, my girlfriend lived in Powai (upscale area) and there were other women, both Indian and Western, buying liquor. The store looked like a liquor store I'd see in Chicago, in other words, bright, clean and nice, not some dive, dark, disgusting TASMAC liquor place in Chennai. I've bought liquor in a store in Pondicherry (south, near Chennai), no problem. BUT, there are many French in Pondy so they expect a good wine selection! Again, not a dive, dirty store, no one looked twice at a woman buying a bottle (actually I bought three!) In fact, when I asked a server at my favorite restaurant about whether it would be OK for me to go into the store, alone, to buy a bottle, he looked at me like I was nuts, rolled his eyes, and said "why not? no one cares." Yeah, it felt strange to me in India to actually go into a liquor store and buy.

As mentioned above, yes, in some scenarios it helps to have a man with you. Again, it all depends on the situation. I travel solo for the most part so rarely a chance of that. But in Varkala and Mumbai I have male friends who can help me out in situations if need be. Helps to know people!

I used to think I'd move to Chennai (I'm partial to the South.) But now? No way would I move there.

Also in MY experience in India, if someone finds something you do "inappropriate" (or whatever you want to call it) someone will invariably give you the stink eye and if you're aware, you'll understand. For example, I have lots of tattoos on my arms so in a new place (whether rural or city) I cover up until I get a feel for the place. 9 times out of 10, people like them. So no problem. However, two years ago in a big temple in Rameshwaram (far south) I was waiting for some friends and a man came up to me twice and told me to "close" my hair, i.e., tie it back (I have long, wild hair.) So I gave him the stink eye and told him in no uncertain terms what I thought of that idea.

So as I said: IT DEPENDS!
After a dozen trips of multiple months each I've found the balance of of being independent and authentic to myself but also culturally aware given the situation and area.
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"When you are truly genuine there will invariably be people who do not accept you. And in that case, you must be your own badass self, without apology." -- Katie Goodman
Last edited by Sama; Jul 8th, 2017 at 18:38..
#8 Jul 7th, 2017, 21:12
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#8
I think I might be able to give you some insight. I'm a "western" woman and I lived in Delhi about 3 years ago for 8 months, right now I am also living in India but not in Delhi but in a small town that I would consider to be more conservative than at least South Delhi (in some ways not, but still quite conservative).

First of all; I am way more conscious about the way I dress in India overall than in my home country. I usually wear what you would consider "western clothes" (mostly jeans and a t-shirt), I do that even when I am visiting villages in the area, and yes, you might get stared at in some places (but if you visit a village which few if any "goras" visit, then its not that strange if people will be curious about you no matter what type of clothes you wear) but I've never faced any problems even when I've not been wearing full length pants or whatever. What I do not do at all (but I rarely wear those types of clothes anywhere anyway) is not to wear pants that at least cover the knees and I rarely leave the house without covering my shoulders. I am quite confident that I wouldn't face any problem if I were to wear that type of clothes - although, I am quite sure that I would feel a bit uncomfortable if I would do it. So its mostly for my own sake that I choose to cover up a bit. In my case I don't feel that its a big problem.

I've visited and bought from liquor stores in many places in India (including many different ones in Delhi, even stores that people might consider a bit "dodgy") and I have never ever faced any problems (can't remember if I've seen other women in liquor stores, but I know a lot of women who go to liquor stores in India without any problems, they're also "western" though, I'm pretty sure an Indian woman would face more problems doing that). I've walked around in the streets in Delhi and other places with see through bags containing alcoholic beverages without any problems. The liquor store wallas in the town I'm living in right now are extremely friendly to me (maybe partly because I'm talking to them in a very polite Hindi - it always helps!). I also buy different types of tobacco products, including cigarettes without facing any kind of problem. What I do is that I refrain from smoking and drinking much in public, partly because I intend to stay here quite a while and intend to make good relationships with the locals. And yes, women smoking and drinking is still a taboo. In clubs in Delhi or with friends there is no problem though.

In Delhi it would very much depend on which area you intend to live in. Delhi is a huge city - its like a little universe in its own. You will see women wearing mini skirts and tank tops while they sip on a drink and smokes a cigarette. All the while, there are areas in Delhi in which that would never happen. I've never felt unsafe in Delhi, provided that I take precautions when it comes to things like taking public transports late at night on my own and which areas to go to during which hours and so on. You should get to know the city a bit so that you feel comfortable moving around in it, once you do that you shouldn't face any problems.

All in all: you can basically do whatever you want wherever you want (provided that you don't break any laws). BUT it all depends on how you want to be perceived and if you intend to make good relations with people who might be a bit more conservative about these things than you are (you will probably find that many people in the Indian society are more liberal than you are about certain things). For me I think its worth not breaking some social boundaries in order to better "fit in". But don't get me wrong; this does not at all mean that I don't detest the fact that the society (which is true for all countries, not just for India) doesn't really allow women to do the same things as men can do.

Sorry for a long post. Over and out!
#9 Jul 7th, 2017, 22:33
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#9
Quote:
Originally Posted by fsg View Post The tea stall. Nick your wife might not go near one[ is that a class thing] but you do. She obviously would not got to one when alone.
She won't go to one with me. She stands some distance away, and I get the tea. Which is what I said. Not that she wouldn't be 100% safe at a Mylapore tea store: of course she would. So would Aliciamcd or sama.

A Tasmac shop, though, is a different matter. They are rough places. This is a Tamil-Nadu thing, alcohol being a government monopoly and Tasmac the state seller. Other states vary from dry to Pondicherry.

Cigarettes are available at the supermarket. No problem with buying them at all. Smoking in public places is illegal. Sadly, the law seems to go unnoticed in posher restaurants.

Generally, I find with people such as bankers, that local-language-speaking trumps male gender, and, occasionally, I have to insist that they talk to me. Mostly, though, I am very happy to let Mrs N do that stuff.

Alicia, when I moved here, I though that day-to-day shopping and simply keeping house (which I set up and did by myself) would be really difficult. I'm a linguistic dunce: I thought there would be a huge barrier. What I found was shop staff speaking English! Sometimes very well too. And [small] supermarkets: I did not need to know the names of things, or get the pronunciation of local products right, I could just look for them.

In many ways, you may find the practical aspects of your new life easier than you think.

Living with other people, you may find them over-protective. You may find that they seem to exaggerate risks. This is a tough one to sort out. Yes, they will exaggerate them, but also, they are the locals. My wife, for instance, is the one that has been living here for several decades longer than me, and yes, she is right that there are places where you don't take you wallet/phone out of your pocket, or go at all at certain times. She, and her daughter are the ones who have been in threatening situations with drivers, late on the beach, etc etc. So you do need to take advice from local friends, spouse and family.
Last edited by Nick-H; Jul 8th, 2017 at 15:03..
#10 Jul 8th, 2017, 06:45
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#10
On a dull day for the IM where I actually had to go and troll a bit this thread had some highly insightful posts, makes my day. As Sama says it depends..
#11 Jul 8th, 2017, 07:00
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#11

Talking

yah. that basically sums up life itself. IT DEPENDS!
#12 Jul 8th, 2017, 07:03
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#12
In Delhi, I took some clothes off. No one noticed. I took off some more. No one noticed. Then I took 'em all off and everyone saw, but nobody cared.

Waaah! How do I get noticed? I wanna grow up and be "noticed".

Help!

(Some people tell me (and 'em folk would tell Aliciamcd) to be "myself", but that is so hard. I wanna be pretentious, so please tell me how not to be 'myself'. Thank you).

There are a lot of generalisations in the above posts, so let me add to them. Overall, I know independent gals in Delhi and Bombay and a few other towns that don't care a hoot about anyone's opinion and they get on with their personal lives, living by their cherished thought-out values. With gusto!

Live your life, your way. There ain't no second life, despite what ya heard.
#13 Jul 8th, 2017, 14:45
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#13
There are differences, ViShVa, as you have probably noticed, between you and a young woman taking their clothes off in the street. And sorry, but those differences are not on your side.

Except, of course that they are very much on your side, because you have a much higher chance of being ignored.

There are even bigger differences between your independent gals and Alicia. The word is streetwise, right? They know what they are doing, they know where they are doing it, and they know what station platforms they can be on at what time of day.

Different banana.

Alicia says she has visited India a lot, but I don't know how much street-wise she has picked up. Less than Sama, I would guess.

Alicia... This doesn't matter. You don't have to pass any exams to come and live here. And you certainly don't have to pass any to post on Indiamike. It's here to help.

There are hoards of expats who get sent here by their companies. They have no relationship with, and perhaps even not much interest in, India and its people. They are going to learn too. They may be insulated from the street by hight salaries, although they are dropped in at the deep end in a different way at work.

Indeed, as sama says: it depends. One of the biggest things it depends on is... how much money you have.
#14 Jul 8th, 2017, 16:01
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#14
Quote:
Originally Posted by ViShVa View Post In Delhi, I took some clothes off. No one noticed. I took off some more. No one noticed. Then I took 'em all off and everyone saw, but nobody cared.
Waaah! How do I get noticed?
Oh the nightmare poor souls must have endured!

If you had repeated the process in reverse and got dressed up completely, I am sure people would have noticed...with a big sigh of relief, and shared happiness for the end of trauma.
If you find my posts confrontationist, please bear, I am an old frustrated guy who has nothing better to do than sit on rocking chair and curse the world whole day
#15 Jul 8th, 2017, 18:35
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#15
As Alicia herself says....


Quote:
Originally Posted by Aliciamcd View Post I am always careful to be modest and cover up.....

I am a very self aware, observant person, which can leave me being a little too sensitive to others at times.
So I think she'll be just fine.
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