Having been living in India, and more specifically Bangalore, for almost three months now, I have grown increasingly more comfortable with the social norms and practices here. For the first month or so these norms took some time to sink in and become common practice. For example, the concept of “Indian stretch time”, at home it is considered very rude to be late, or not needing to say thank you every time someone does something nice for you, an omission of “thank you” in the United States is also considered an offense.
The following is a story of how, as a tourist, my friends and I unknowingly took part in an activity that was considered taboo in the town we were visiting.
As part of my study/internship program in Bangalore we have been encouraged to travel in order to see more of the state and the country on our own time. About a month ago a couple of friends and I paid a visit to Karwar at the urging of one of our program directors. I found it to be a nice sleepy coastal town, especially in the evening when the beachside amusement park opened. However, being in a small town that definitely did not see too many tourists, we were definitely deeply out of our comfort zones.
The weekend went pretty smoothly and quite nice as we stayed on an isolated private island, about an hour away from the mainland, and lounged on the beach having a good time. When it was time to leave the hotel on Sunday, we got on the shuttle boat and went back to the mainland. Once we arrived we found that there were not many places in which we could sit down and just do some work and have coffee. However, after much searching we finally found a nice little diner type restaurant.
No one in the restaurant spoke more than a few words of English, so it was hard to communicate but we managed to order some drinks and snacks. For the next hour or so we completed our homework for the next day’s classes. Soon, after all of our work was done, we decided to play, what we thought would be, an innocent game of cards. We got about one or two rounds in before we started getting weird looks from the workers and other patrons. Suddenly there was a crowd led by a squat old man, who I can only assume as the owner, surrounding us looking aghast.
He started yelling, “No gambling! No gambling!” We kindly tried to explain that we were not gambling at all and that we were just playing a harmless game of cards. However, the owner refused to hear our explanation.
Our waitress stepped forward, “Bill now,” she stated. In response, we quickly packed up, paid our bill and high tailed it out of the restaurant. Since this incident we have played cards quite a few times on our travels around India, including the northern part of the country in the Himalayas where we learned a new card game from the locals.
My experience in Karwar was a classic example of tourist ignorance. After the incident I have talked to my host family and other people connected with our program about our experience and they all found it to be odd and out of the ordinary. Our differing experiences in each part of India not only show the cultural differences from country to country, but even from region to region within India.