There was quite a cultural shock when we hit the tarmac in Chennai, India. First, the heat, then all the Indians staring at us white people. There are just so many cultural differences between us that it took everyone awhile to adapt.
Everyone pampered us with extreme hospitability as the caste system showed itself wherever we went. There was someone at every door ready to open it for us. There was someone at every buffet table asking what we wanted on our plates. There was even a job for the guy giving us water bottles on the bus. Jobs are generously handed out to family members and relatives no matter how small and insignificant. However, the caste system often determined your occupation. Our doorman would never have been able to eat dinner with us and our luggage carriers would culturally not allowed to join us on our daily excursions like our guide for the week, Sundari. She was obviously Brahman as she would often order people around and get us very nice accommodations wherever we went. She was extremely helpful though when some of us got sick or needed something in particular.
There was one distinct thing that everyone in India did which really made us laugh at first. When talking to an Indian, they will mostly nod their head sideways and sometimes in a figure eight to show acknowledgement. They honestly looked like bobble heads whenever they performed this odd behavior. To an American, it would seem like some kind of attitude in response to the one who is talking, almost like rolling the eyes. I often wanted to hold their head still while trying to talk to them since it was very distracting.
The food was also very different. The curry was manageable for us, but it was definitely adapted for our American taste buds at the hotel where we ate. Each different dish was colorful and unique, yet it still tasted good with the other dishes. Mixing things on your plate made things taste better and nothing ever clashed at all. Generally there was naan bread that you used with your right hand to scoop up the rice and sauces as well. For desert they usually had sugar balls. They looked like little munchkin donuts that were floating in hot sugar water. But with vanilla ice cream, these little donut balls were incredible.
We spent the majority of our stay in Chennai, India, for classes at the National Management School. It was about an hour drive there in the morning, if we didn't get stuck in traffic or if the bus was working that day. We had class all day, stopping for tea in the mid morning and mid afternoon, then got back to our hotel to study just before dinner. After that dreadful class, we headed out to New Dehli and stayed at a nicer hotel to enjoy the sites and sit back until our next class.
Overall, India was a neat experience. However, I don’t feel the need to ever return. Between the heat and the sickness and just my body reacting differently to the entire culture, it wasn’t very enjoyable. But, those that enjoyed the curry and change of scenery say that it was their favorite place!