One of the things I appreciate most about southern India, is its ability to give me a broader view of life. Both times I’ve been there, it’s changed my perspective and opened my eyes to a rather different way of living. The culture is dramatically different than the American culture I grew up in, and while not all aspects of it are great, there are some truly beautiful things about it.
My trips to southern India have helped me realize a few different things. Some of these realizations have been profound, while others have been simpler in nature. As much as I enjoy an existential discussion, I find I’m currently drawn to writing about the more entertaining realizations. I hope they amuse you as much as they’ve amused me.
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Realization Number One
Horns make an impressive number of different sounds. You have your typical beeps, sure, but you also have sounds that should never be made by a car horn – or anything else, for that matter. Of course, honking isn’t generally considered a pleasant sound, but some of the sounds that came from the vehicles in southern India were far more obnoxious than any normal honking sound. Not to mention, many of them also lasted for an unnecessarilyy long amount of time.
Constant horn honking is commonplace and completely accepted in India. Perhaps these odd sounds would have been more bearable if it hadn’t been for the consistency with which they were used. An odd blurp here or there is manageable, but when it’s repeated every few seconds, it gets to be a bit much.
Realization Number Two
Silverware is truly underappreciated. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d never really thought about how much cleaner eating is with silverware. Getting my hands dirty doesn’t typically bother me, but for some reason, having food all over my fingers does. We learn from a young age that unless the food was specifically made to be finger food, it’s rude to eat it with our fingers. Silverware ends up being viewed as something we’re supposed to use and not as the incredibly useful and helpful tool that it is.
My respect for silverware has increased since returning from southern India, however, where eating with your hands is considered the norm. It’s not that silverware isn’t available, but rather that it’s viewed as strange to use it. Even when the food is ridiculously messy and the spices used are bound to dye their fingers, people will choose not to use the available silverware. It’s really quite unappealing; and that’s coming from someone who adores Indian cuisine.
Realization Number Three
Road signs are often taken for granted. When was the last time you looked at a sign and thought, “Gee, I’m so glad things are clearly marked with bright, easily noticeable signs”? It probably doesn’t happen too often. I, for one, certainly didn’t give signs the credit they deserve until after I realized how difficult it is to navigate without them.
Signs help us identify places. They provide order and help us find locations we’ve never been to before. Signs are unbelievably helpful, but they very rarely get the credit they deserve. It makes sense when you consider how often we see signs, though. In America, signs are everywhere. In southern India, however, signs are practically non-existent; and those that do exist are often less than helpful. A lack of signs definitely increases your awareness and appreciation of them.
Realization Number Four
A surprisingly large number of people will give you directions whether or not they know how to get somewhere. I don’t know if this is exclusive to southern India or if it’s common practice throughout the world. What I do know is how easy it is to get lost when each person you talk to gives you a different set of directions. Navigating through an area you’re unfamiliar with is difficult enough as it is without the added obstacle of shoddy directions. It’s not a bad idea to get a second, or even third opinion.
I can’t help but wonder why anyone would feel compelled to give someone directions when they aren’t completely sure they’re accurate. The vast majority of the people we asked directions from were more than happy to oblige, with some even going so far as to escort us to the area we were looking for. It seemed those who weren’t sure about the directions would just come up with something anyway because they wanted to be helpful, which inclines me to think that the inaccurate directions came from a good place.
Realization Number Five
Bananas have a weirdly large variety of tastes and colors. Prior to my adventures in southern India, I had been under the impression that bananas started out green. They would then turn yellow when they were ripe, followed by brown when they were overripe. So when I first saw differently colored bananas, I simply thought they had been dyed for the upcoming Pongal festival. Imagine my shock when I discovered the colors were natural. It turns out that bananas can also be red, purple, or pink.
Bananas also greatly vary in taste. Bananas are considered berries, but I’d never lumped them together with other berries because they lack sweetness. Or so I thought, until I took a bite out of a banana so sweet it could’ve been candy. The classic banana flavor is one I enjoy, but I now know it’s representative of only a small portion of bananas.
Food for Thought
While these realizations may not be life-changing or earth-shattering, they do highlight how different cultures can be from one another. Being immersed in a culture that’s dramatically different from your own can make you more aware of little things you’ve never even given a thought to before. Once you become aware of how many things you’ve been taking for granted, you may find yourself wanting to give them a lot more credit and appreciation. It’s an amazing thing to experience something entirely different from what you used to, though, and it’s well worth giving it a try.