Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Pune, India

Submitted by Chesil

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What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Pune

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

None at all, although it is a service offered by the relocation agency my employer used and I probably could have asked for it.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

No. I can mostly get by at work as English is the main language used although colleagues occasionally drop into Hindi or Marathi. My wife is trying to learn Hindi and I'll try to pick up more and maybe take lessons.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Worried? Of course. We did try to prepare as much as we could by reading and researching life in India for expats.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Not as much as we expected. Travel books and a couple of other books we read about westerners in India led us to believe it would be worse than it has actually turned out to be. We do get stared at in the street and we are targets for beggars who pay us a little more attention than they do natives but Pune is a city of 5 million people and overall beggars haven't been any more problematic than they are in a similarly sized city in the US. My wife had her arm grabbed once by a beggar but turning and saying a stern NO did the trick.

No bad experiences yet with touts. There are plenty at the aiports, but again hardly worse than at JFK or LaGuardia. Touts around the world try to take advantage of the unprepared.

Higher prices for foreigners are the norm. Sad but true. It's not as if they are rooking me of a lot though. 10 or 20 rupees on a purchase at a market where prices are massively lower than the US isn't going to break the bank - it's not like a tourist buying a Coke in London! We have learned to haggle and we are ready to go somewhere else if the price doesn't seem right.

There is a lot of trash on the streets that is hard to get used to.

Plenty of poverty. The contrasts between the haves and have-nots is huge here. We just try to remember that our contributions to the local economy is doing something.

Nothing prepares you for the roads and traffic.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

Not really. We knew it wasn't going to be Kansas and were prepared. Our age may help, we are in our 50s. We think it's a good time to have this sort of life adventure.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

We knew and accepted that we would have times of homesickness. Modern communication helps. We Skype regularly so we get to see our grandchildren and use MagicJack. I am a Brit that calls the US home and had been through the homesickness thing before. It can be hard, but we come through the other side and we do get absorbed in India. It's so different and so stimulating.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Shopping at the smaller shops is fun. Mostly prices are marked and we often go with friends who also make sure we don't get unduly ripped off. We food shop at a variety of places. If we are hungry for some home-style food then high priced supermarkets that cater for expats have to be used. Mostly, we use the smaller supermarkets that locals use (often with helpful tips from neighbors who tell us what time fresh veg is delivered so we can time our visits. We also often buy from markets and street vendors. Naturally, we wash the produce thoroughly. We always buy flowers from street stalls. We find that quality and life of the flowers is invariably better than from the supermarket back home.

The people are mostly very friendly and also openly curious. That's different to westerners but also enjoyable.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Language. Having to plan quite carefully for evenings and weekends. We (and most expats) have a driver and once he has gone home we are restricted to the local neighborhood. We are fortunate insofar as a lot of restaurants and shops are within walking distance but we have colleagues who are pretty isolated once their driver goes home. We miss being able to be spontaneous and just go for a drive later in the day, or just go to a restaurant the other side of town or have an evening drive to the hills to watch the sunset. We miss that quite a lot.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Probably. But none that stick out for us and our hosts were probably too polite to mention them.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

We were determined to try and become part of the local community and not to spend a lot of time with other expats. We'd like to go and grumble to other expats from time to time but for the most part settle down and enjoy the experience for what it is and not try to recreate home. For us that works well but as I said above we are in our 50s (though my wife looks much younger!) so we don't have the concerns of trying to bring children up in a wholly different culture.

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