Things I Have Learned So Far

I can go the same distance, say an hour (i.e. 5 miles in this traffic), in a hotel cab for 2000Rs, or in an auto riksha for 100Rs (43Rs are 1$, so do the math). The hotel cab is nicer, but not 20 times as nice or fast as the rikshaw. In fact, the rikshaw is kind of more fun, and it might even run on compressed natural gas, like most of them do now. That’s definitely a plus over the Toyota Camrys that the hotel has.

Yes, definitely may very well mean no, never. I heard that yes, definitely a couple of times now, either when calling a car showroom about whether I can see or maybe even test drive a car, or when calling the hotel reception to see whether there’s a place anywhere in town where I could see a Federations Cup game (football, or soccer, for some people). In both cases, I was told that they’d call me back with an answer very very shortly, but that never happened.

The Indian head wiggle can mean yes, no, or maybe. It looks a bit like a regular head shaking, but it it comes with a slight rotating motion, which can look quite elegant and artistic, actually. In any event, it’s fascinating, but I am usually not sure what it means. I think in most cases, it means yes. Now, whether that yes actually then turns out to mean no, or maybe, or I don’t know, or why don’t you just go fuck yourself, is a different matter.

It’s a bad idea to ask a woman for directions. The first time I did, it was a young student in jeans and t-shirt and she looked at me like I was the dirtiest old bastard she’s ever met. Ooops. The second time, I had forgotten about the fist time, and this time, also someone dressed in jeans and shirt, a little older, she just walked away. Hm, maybe I really should work on my German accent, but I think I better just ask men.

There’s McDonald’s, Subway, Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, and all kinds of other American atrocities one can consume here. US-style SUVs get high praise, US import cars even higher praise (despite an import tax/duty of over 100%). The celebrity pages in the Times Of India (there’s about four of these pages every day) are full of color pictures of Bollywood celebrities’ parties and breakups, and a dizzying array of relationship, shopping, and make-up advice. A whole lot of them sport the usual US casual wear, there’s t-shirts with the Stars and Stripes, sunglasses (of course, they are called shades) here, I think Miami Vice must be still a hit. There’s definitely CNN, CNBC, CNBC in Hindi, the Hallmark channel, and Friends on television. At least there’s also BBC World News, but other than that, the US has clearly taken over from the Brits.

Nevertheless, the Times of India is now the largest English language newspaper in the world, with a circulation greater than that of USA Today or the WSJ. Obviously, the customer base for these products is the rapidly growing Indian middle class. Apparently, just as it is considered absolutely cool in Russia to go out and be seen at McDonald’s, the biggest attraction and the thing to do for fun around here, seems to be to go to the mall. Crawford Market is out, The Mall is in. So here I am in India, determined to find the places that are modern and accessible, yet original and Indian. Well, not really all that determined. I am pretty sure Ksenia will find those very cool and original, very modern, yet very Indian stores and venues and restaurants, so I might leave that up to her.

One thing I haven’t learned is a single Word of Hindi. That will have to change. Rumor has it that one can get by with just English in India and while that’s true, it’s only about as true as it is for say France or Italy. A lot of people don’t speak or understand a word of it. A lot of people do speak English, but with an accent so strong that I have never any idea whether they are speaking English or Hindi right now. I read in the paper that in some province somewhere, people (or some political party) demanded that the teaching of English in school be banned. It’s quite possible to find a restaurant with an English menu but noone speaks English. While trying to get a mobile phone subscription (as opposed to prepaid), I had to deal with a whole number of people from AirTel calling me and we could simply not communicate whatsoever. My driver speaks a little English, but it would be absolutely hopeless trying to explain to him, for example, that I am not sure yet when I’d like him to pick me up the next day and that maybe I could just call him an hour so in advance when I do know. So I always ask him to pick me up at a certain time, and I usually end up having to let him wait forever. Anyways, so the point is, just as much as speaking English is an absolute must for anyone growing up in India who would like to jump onto the middle-class bandwagon, learning a bit of Hindi will be an absolute must for me and Ksenia to get around a bit easier and to see and experience a few things outside of The Mall.