It’s amazing that it’s taken this long, but I finally got hit with a little wave of culture shock/homesickness. The trip to Darjeeling is definitely what triggered it. Four straight days with a combination of not much “me” time, lots of people not speaking in English, being in an unfamiliar place, constant miscommunications and misunderstandings, and limited contact with friends and family back home added up to me having a VERY grumpy couple of days.
Most of the time, I don’t mind not being able to understand anything. Sometimes I treat it like a (lame) game because even when people are speaking in Hindi or Nepali, they say some words in English, either because there’s no translation or just because that’s how everyone says it. Usually, I think it’s fun to try to piece together the sporadic English words and people’s hand motions and imagine what the conversation is about (the conversations that I imagine are probably way more fun than what’s actually being said). It’s good because then I’m paying attention to what’s happening, and people don’t feel like I’m bored or ignoring them (instead, they often think that I understand since I look so engaged… but that’s a whole different problem).
Anyway, as I said, most of the time, I don’t mind, but I learned that even I have my limits. This was DAYS of never knowing what was happening, and any translations were either an afterthought or because I begged someone to tell me what was going on. As a result, I never knew what the plan was, and on the rare occasion when someone did tell me something, it usually changed and then the new plan was never communicated. Kind of exhausting.
I also got especially frustrated when I heard someone say my name, so I knew that they were saying something about me, but then no one translated. I’m sure that no one was ever saying something mean; that’s not the issue. It just gets old very quickly, and it starts making you feel a bit like a child and a bit isolated… as if I didn’t already feel a little of that ALL the time.
Combine that language isolation with the feeling of separation that comes from being a guest who isn’t asked to do anything, and you’re like a forgotten island. Like imagine that all of the other women are in the kitchen helping to make dinner, but you’re not allowed to help because you’re a guest… so they’re all laughing and having fun working together, and you’re left on your own. It’s nice that they don’t want to make their guest work, but in that moment, you would do anything just to feel included (hence me forcing my way in on momo-making night).
Another thing that starts to get tiring is the politeness of people always telling you to sit or come or this or that. This really threw me off during my first couple of weeks in India when the school coordinator would summon me and tell me to sit in her office. I’d go and sit, thinking that I was in trouble or that she had to talk to me, but then she’d leave the room and never come back. I finally realized that she was just being polite and trying to give me somewhere to go. This happens everywhere though… every house you visit, every public bench that you happen upon, etc. I’m going to give a bold, 100% guarantee that the person you’re with will suggest you take a seat. Sometimes I just want to stand, and when I say that, I get these looks like, “You should really sit. Your legs must be tired. You should sit. Just sit. SIT!” And I’m looking back like, “PLEASE JUST LET ME STAND. I WANT TO STAND. PLEASE. PLEASE. I WANT TO STAND.” And then it’s a… wait for it… stand-off. Hahahahahaha that was great. I’m hilarious.
People are also always asking me if I’m bored or tired. It’s fine sometimes, but then it will happen when I think it makes literally zero sense to ask. For example, when we were walking around the zoo, someone asked me if I was bored. Huh??? No! I love the zoo! Do we have a different understanding of what that word means? Is this just how they teach “small talk” in India? Or if not, how much stimulation do people think I need to feel interested?? I’m very rarely bored, actually. Of all the people in the world, I’d venture to say that I’m up there with the most easily entertained. Put me and babies right next to each other.
So those things started adding up, and you know how once you’re annoyed, EVERYTHING annoys you? That’s pretty much what happened. My irritation level grew and grew until the slightest thing made me want to snap. I knew that it was ridiculous, but sometimes it’s hard to control how you feel. Then, there were ENDLESS pictures and selfies which made it all worse because 1) I don’t love being in pictures anyway, 2) the selfies felt excessive and that annoyed me as well, and 3) I felt like I should smile because that’s what you do in pictures, but I was SO unhappy that my smiling just felt like a lie. That made me definitely not want to be in any pictures (to avoid the risk of my grumpy face breaking the camera), and when you’re already annoyed and people are still trying to take pictures even after you’ve said “NO!”… anyway, it just wasn’t very good.
Thankfully, after a couple of days of being back in a familiar place and self-imposed solitary confinement, I managed to get my head on straight. I’m okay now, but I’m not going to let myself forget that feeling. It all stemmed from me feeling isolated, and that’s a good reminder to always be thinking about making people feel welcome and included in situations where they don’t necessarily fit in.
Darjeeling – explore the mountain town of Darjeeling, India… without the risk of homesickness
Road to Sonada – join me on the trek across West Bengal, India from “home” in Jaigaon to Sonada, a town near our vacation destination of Darjeeling. Always an adventure!
So Many Languages – what makes India lingustically even more confusing/stressful than other countries? Learn about my language discoveries as I tried to make my way as an English Literature teacher in Jaigaon, India.
India Friends! – come along on some adventures with the friends I finally managed to find in India who made me feel like a normal human instead of an alien
Bath – want more flower pictures? Fly on over to Bath, England to visit the botanical garden… and a few other sites along the way