10 telltale signs that you are a desi travelling abroad

Below are excerpts of unexpected humorous impacts I have had as a desi (Indian) travelling abroad. It is ludicrous, it is riotous, it is faux pas, it is absurd, it is spontaneous and it is, as I have understood, simply being desi ! No pretence. No frills attached. But, a lot of fuss. Funnily enough.

1. Food is priority

Whether it is a short trip or a long getaway, food comes first. We happily pack our chai (tea) and biscuits along with a list of other items. Lemon rice, rotis, potato sabji, tamarind rice, thepla, curd rice, pickles, chutneys, chips, channa…the list goes on. Hell, some even carry a mini electric cooker to cook rice in the hotel room. Although, personally, I have not done the latter. Not yet, at least 🙂 After all who can blame us for having amazing food that would tickle all the taste buds. The kind of food culture, cuisines and varieties we have back home is limitless. So, why swap for bland food abroad when you can pack your own meals? Admittedly, I love tasting new kinds of food when I travel but sometimes the satisfaction of curd rice and pickle simply bypasses the others.

2. We travel heavy.

All those countless guide books, travel buffs and bloggers telling you to travel light, whatever that means!! Some of the essentials are unavoidable. For example, universal adaptors, electronics, battery back up etc, yet I only recently realized how much I pack, especially when I travel with family.

My folks visited us from India in summer this year and we went on a week-long Scotland trip. Four of us and our first stop was Fort William. Our hotel room so happened to be in the second floor all the way at the end of a long windy quarter mile long corridor! Can you guess the number of individual pieces of bags we had? 16..yes, sixxxxteeeeen ! Of course, I was blindly oblivious to this fact until we tried to check in to the hotel (for 1 night only) using the only lift available. My dad cracking jokes, my mum videoing the whole thing and I was in tears. Practically choked up in tears from all the laughing together as a result. We worked like soldiers on a mission to transfer all the stuff. Later that night, I repacked to reduce the number of bags. But, hey, before you judge me, I packed all those stuff mostly to keep my folks comfortable during the week long trip ! So, yes, we travel heavy. Wherever we go. Even if you are travelling within India.

3. Abroad feels like Ooty

You may have heard that Ooty is the queen of hill stations in the Nilgiris. The place is enchanting and beautiful. And if you are not big on travelling, this is possibly the biggest experience you have had, especially if you are a south Indian. This was my case for a very long time. So travelling abroad to a colder country like UK and given the geographic nature of the place, everything green and anywhere cold ‘feels’ like Ooty. It rekindles your fond memories of the past and takes you back home. After all, home is where the heart is, right?

4. Do not dress for the occasion

When in Rome, dress like an Indian ! Having said that, this is changing fast with the younger generation. But go back two generations, we are still dressing wrongly for the occasion. Practicalities of wearing a saree in near sub zero temperatures is beyond my grasp. It is impossible to stay warm in that situation. All the best silk sarees from the closet come out for the trip. You look splendidly colourful. You take pride in explaining the way its wrapped around to a curious passer-by. You look totally out of place and out of odds for the kind of travelling you are doing. Yet, it works out to be okay in the end. You manage and make it look like a win-win 🙂

5. Perplexed by the queuing system

It makes no sense. Queuing. It is what the British are renowned for in the world and they remain unbeaten at this game. Even when I was travelling in America, some of the most touristy places had the worst queuing system. Try the same in UK, you will be put in place where you belong ! It is excellent for organization and crowd control. Simply put, it works. Yet, I still hate it (sometimes). The way I get around it is by looking back to see how many more people remain behind me. It is a secretly wonderful feeling when the line builds up behind you even if you are not moving forward ! You pick up courage and begin to relate to western etiquettes.

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6. Constant exchange rate converter.

Your trip is repeatedly hounded by the memory of that exchange rate you last checked on your phone before leaving. It doesn’t help that rupees has poor value. On my recent trip to India, I was shocked that this applies even for travel within the country. The value of 100 rupees is shockingly lower that what I had always known it to be. I could buy very little with it. The same goes when you travel abroad. For all the little fridge magnets or souvenirs you like collecting or even for a lick of ice cream, you end up mentally calculating the exchange rate to measure its worth back home.

7. We love it if its free. We like deals. We may haggle.

The three golden rules we abide by. Of course, everybody likes free stuff and complimentary things. This has nothing to do with being desi and so it leaves us with the third rule, haggling. A lot of people have asked me, ‘why do Indians haggle?’. It is hard to explain this in one sentence unless you experience the Indian way of life. Multitude of things are based on negotiations back home – taxi fare, business, weddings. There is no 100% fixed price at any time and we know this. Even if you bargain well and leave a shop knowing that you have done exceedingly good, the person smiling at the end remains to be the shop owner. So guess who won 🙂  It is sacredly considered by some as fine art (!) and reasonably desi.

8. We don’t litter

It is hard to admit but true to word. Trashing is a socially accepted behaviour back home. However, nowadays people are quick in recognizing the need to protect their environment and surrounding. I read about a lot of keep India clean projects and social activists and in some places it actually works. Did you know the cleanest place in India currently is a tiny village? If you don’t believe me, google about it ! When it comes to travelling out of India, the local civic sense seems to automatically kick in as though it only needed a flick of a switch. At a personal level, I follow this anywhere I go, home too.

9. Professional jaywalkers

Yep ! We can criss-cross, zig-zag, bounce & zap and disappear from your line of sight within seconds ! Alternatively, we can be plain slow, walk right into your face, put our life in your hands, have faith in mankind and walk as slow as possible. No worries. Of course, we are professional jaywalkers. It is a conditionally engrained trait in our genes and passed on to generations without effort. But trying the same trick elsewhere results only in one thing – ‘awkwaaaard’. You suddenly become that weird person who gets across the road without a zebra-crossing and a green man. You get head-shakes and no-no(s) from the neighbours. At the end of the day, it’s just the way it is.  You can either learn it or learn to live with it.

10. Click every conceivable photo

It is probably a once in a life-time trip. Who knows when you are going to get back to this world wonder? Who knows when you will see Paris sparkling like a diamond, on a clear night with ink blue sky filled with stars, from the top of Eiffel tower? So it is only sensible that you click every conceivable photo ever possible. My dad certainly beats me at this game. I have realized the amount of electronic junk you end up with in this era and photos, lots of them, are my primary culprits. I love to look at my moments back in a frame and I like having photos around the home and they keep changing with time. But, dad? Well…..what can I say to you? He is on another level at 60+ yrs old ! You always have one or two strays within a group when on a holiday, but you can rest assured when it comes to my family. Having said that, some of the funniest photos actually end up on his cameral roll.

I love it, I love every bit of it. I am very much who I am when I travel. It’s a riot. It’s an adventure. It’s every bit desi as it can get 😉

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