Throwback travels: India faux pas

This was originally posted on my previous blog this pink is the new black on Monday, June 25, 2012.

India: Faux pas

My time in India was characterized by a large number of misunderstandings. Having not learned Hindi, I was at a disadvantage. Whilst the schools I taught at were English medium schools – I could usually have proper conversations with my students, when I stepped out of the campus and into the village I was at a loss. Shivpuri, the location of my first teaching placement was in a sense fairly rural. The nearest big town Gwalior was a two hour bus ride away. The locals all spoke Hindi, with a very limited English vocabulary in most cases.

I’d like to share with you a story that I refer to as the infamous 15 loaves incident – Whilst Liv was still at our placement, she and I decided to attempt braving the street stalls of Shivpuri to do our food shopping. We visited one shop where we bought most of the food that we needed (butter, bread, juice etc.) The shop owner (who didn’t speak enough English to formulate a full sentence) announced “15” when we asked for some bread, which we assumed to be the price in Indian rupees. What he actually meant was that he wanted to sell us 15 loaves of bread, which he didn’t bring out until later. We paid for our groceries, which the shop owner insisted that we were to leave at the shop while we bought fruit across the road. Our driver had organised a rickshaw to take us back to the school, and had put our shopping into the rickshaw. As the rickshaw drove off I noticed a large box of bread sitting beside me and then it hit me – the shopkeeper meant 15 loaves, not 15 rupees! Too hot and tired from our endeavor to return (It was about 42 degrees) we took the bread home, laughing at our misunderstanding. It cost us just over $3 AUD, and we did make our way through most of loaves, or gave them away.

Another problem that we encountered was to comply with the social etiquette and customs that apply in Indian culture.

In India it is common practice to refrain from using your left hand to eat food, as in the lower castes the left is used for toilet purposes and any similar dirty jobs. For this reason when a severe crime or theft was committed the culprit would have their right hand cut off so that they were forced to eat with their “toilet hand”. During my time in India I made it a habit to use my right hand when eating in public, whereas in our room I would eat however I pleased. At La Montessori School in Kullu I would occasionally be required to assist in tutoring some of the students. In my free time I bought some chocolate, which got on my left hand. Not noticing, I went down for the tutoring session. It wasn’t until one of the students pointed out that I had something on my hand that I realised, and spent the next five minutes reassuring them that it actually was chocolate.

I am the primary source of my own embarrassment.

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