During the time that I was in India I noticed that passing through a crowd in a way that is polite in the United States gets you nowhere, as it isn’t the way it’s done in India. Passing through a crowd there is what seems to be an aggressive movement; people push and shove their way through. Yet it isn’t considered aggressive or rude, as it is almost impossible to get anywhere without being pushy yourself. One must show their urgency in order to not be shoved around so much. One place in particular that I noticed this was in the bathroom where there are no lines in the bathroom you just push your way to a stall and go in when you get the chance, being first doesn’t guarantee being first in the stall. However, it is considered rude to physically push someone and/or cut the off as they are walking into the stall. In U.S. we form one single line instead of crowding the stalls to enter as one exits, and if someone were to exhibit the kind of behavior described above they would be seen as rude. However, I do wish to make the point that while the behavior I witnessed while I was in India would be considered rude if done in the U.S. it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, it’s just different than what I was used to. Another place that I witnessed this type of pushy behavior was in traffic; cars push their way through the crowd in a similar manner to the way people push through a crowd while walking. But it isn’t just cars it’s anything on the road, from buses to rickshaws to pedestrians, all seeming to shove their way through the thousands of others; yet I didn’t witness a single crash while I was there. It’s amazing how what seems to be such chaos flows so smoothly and peacefully.
Something else that I noticed while abroad was hand holding. As one takes a look around the crowd of people they will most likely see some guys casually holding hands, as well as women; but they aren’t in a relationship. In the U.S. one typically only holds hands if they are dating or a parent holding a small child’s hand; so seeing this type of casual hand holding was strange, and I didn’t really understand it. At first, I thought it was just a way to not lose each other in the big crowds, but then I had my own experience with this. A lot of people wanted to shake my hand because I am from America, but many didn’t just shake my hand they held it, which to me seemed a little strange having a stranger hold my hand. I didn’t know how to respond so most of the time I just pulled it away. But as I experienced and witnessed it more and more I have come to realize that it is more of a gesture of politeness. Hand holding from what I have come to understand is a way to show respect and friendship.
These norms that I have witnessed may seem rude or weird to an American, but from my experience in India they are way things work there. Just because it’s something that we don’t understand doesn’t mean it’s a better or worse way, it’s simply a different way, and it’s way that I am thankful to have been able to experience and be a part of it even for just a short period of time.
For more information on the GCC India program, visit the CGIS website.