In April, 2012 I completed one year in India. Welcome to #2 in a series of articles recounting how life has really been for me in Bangalore. Article #1 was all about the work stuff. Article #2 sums up dating, relationships and being a single, white woman in Bangalore.
Moving to a new place is never without its challenges. I count my blessings that I am an extremely outgoing person and adapt well to new environments, two gifts that have made moving to Bangalore a pretty easy transition. Not a perfect transition, obviously, but I’m truly proud that I don’t bitch and moan incessantly about the ‘differences’ or stock my fridge with food from my homeland or spend all my time in expat world. Although I DO still ask people headed from the states for a box of Lucky Charms and Pop Tarts and anyone heading back from the UK for Aeros mint chocolate … I mean, I’m only human! But for the most part, I’ve adapted to my new home and for the most part I’m really happy.
Making friends topped my priority list when I moved to Bangalore and I had made a conscious decision before I moved over NOT to join expat groups or clubs and not to network only in expat-focused scenarios. I knew from the net that it would be a super way to make friends quickly – kind of like the cool social equivalent to those sponges that are dehydrated but when you pour water on them they instantly expand into the shape of Hello Kitty or a t-rex. I could have had an instant network of like-minded foreigners to socialise with but in the back of my mind I knew that I’d make friends with foreigners organically over time so I really wanted to try hard to build a life in India with Indian friends. And I tell you, I’m really happy that it’s all worked out.
The first five weeks I lived in Bangalore were probably the loneliest of my life but because everything else was so exotic and fresh and new I was able to get through it. Aside from one Saturday night in Chennai, I ate alone every single night with Eduardo (that’s my laptop’s name) writing a blog post – with no social life, dang did I used to write a lot back then! None of my work colleagues invited me out for happy hour or dinner because they were all married and it really isn’t appropriate to do that here in India unless someone is single – and even then it depends on how liberal their family is. I know from my driver Shiva and other people I’ve spoken to that for MANY people going out to restaurants and bars is simply not done – EVER! Or in Shiva’s case, maybe once per year (the restaurant part, not the bar! He never goes there). So, it was me and Eduardo alone every night at a different restaurant until I made my first friend.
At the end of May, 2011 I was so lucky because my first friend was the sweetest DJ at the hottest club in town, Skyye. He introduced me to people around town, introduced me to several people who are still my best friends in town and basically explained and exposed me to the Bangalore scene. After that, I made more friends through friends, started to make a couple of expat friends and life perked up!
Today I have so many acquaintances who I’m always happy to see out and about in town. But more importantly, I have a few wonderful friends who I know that I can count on day or night if my daughter and I ever needed them. I’ve only been here a short time so I’m still missing a “best friend” in town who I speak to daily and share life’s ups and downs with but I love that I have wonderful friends who will bring over food and medicine and will watch a DVD with me if I’m ever sick. Or friends who are always there as my +1 when I need someone or friends who are there to talk and cry to when something crap happens and I need them.
Having a social life also meant I was no longer living a sheltered existence only being driven between work, home (or at the hotel the first month) and my dinner dates with Eduardo. I was now in the Bangalore social scene and started to experience my first taste of what it means to be a white single woman living in Bangalore.
Honestly I think I’ve covered most of what I have to say in other articles on the finer details of being a single woman here but I will sum it up briefly. I’ve written about what it’s like being a tall, blonde, white woman here to the insanely high percentage of Indian men already in relationships who try to make a move on white women to the cultural differences of dating an Indian man. Frankly speaking, I was completely 100% ill-equipped in many ways to deal with the experiences I’ve had over the past year in India when it comes to being a single woman.
When I moved here I hadn’t been on a date since December, 2009. That was almost 18 months! And I haven’t had a boyfriend for around seven years. So you can imagine how great I thought it was at the beginning to receive so much attention and so many offers to go on dates (and for the first five or six weeks after making that first friend, I turned them all down). Going from being invisible in Spain to having the top Indian models, millionaire entrepreneurs, famous cricketers, musicians and more asking me out was sure the polar opposite to my life back in Barcelona. The thing is, it doesn’t take foreign women long to understand that 99% of the attention isn’t real. Well, I mean, it is real in that it happens all the time but it doesn’t really have anything to do with us as INDIVIDUALS. For the most part, guys don’t care WHO we are, just that we have white skin or western roots.
That is my least favourite part about living in India so far. Well, maybe it’s a tossup between that and the horn blowing. Not only is it insulting to me as a professional who moved here for work but simply as ME – Angela – it hurts my feelings to continually be treated this way. At the end of the day, I simply don’t trust Indian men anymore when they start to pay attention to me, so even the nicest guy in the world has the most amazing uphill battle with me now. It’s a bit sad.
The most surprising relationship for me has been with my driver, Shiva. I never had a driver before moving to India and he has been with me since my 3rd week in town. At first, he was a short-term benefit from my company until I settled in and bought a car but since July, 2011 I pay for his services out of my own pocket (I don’t work for a foreign company but as the only foreigner in India for an Indian company). I spend more time with Shiva than anyone else in India, including my daughter. He knows all the details of my life, all my secrets so-to-speak, and I trust him with all that. I’d sort of be lost without him, actually. And my blog would certainly not be as good! He is my Indian moral compass and the person I turn to for a glimpse away from my circles and to another side of “real India” (because my Indian friends also live a “real life” but night and day different to Shiva and his world) and I like being able to add in another perspective and learn from him. I will be quite sad when the time comes for either of us to move on because I don’t believe we could be friends beyond our employer/employee relationship – although maybe I’m wrong. But I don’t see an easy transition from being someone he calls madam. However, again, I really hope I’m wrong about that.
Truly I don’t mean what I’m about to write any way other than how I write it. I’m not fluffing up my own feathers but in the spirit of full-disclosure I want to state one thing. Because of who I am on the OUTSIDE, I am fully aware that I have been able to make connections and build relationships quicker in certain circles and even in some business situations where I have had doors of opportunity open for me. At first this bothered me because I’m aware of how unfair it is but to be honest I’ve flipped on this one recently. It is what it is and I can’t change it – just like I can’t change the horn honking. And since I have to deal with some negatives being a white woman in India…well, this one I’ve now inked onto the “win” column and run with it instead of feeling bad about it.
I don’t know what it’s like to live in other parts of India so I don’t know if my experience so far with relationships is Bangalorean or Indian – but I can say that I feel fortunate. I adore my friends, I love how easy it is to meet and chat with Indian women…even in funny situations like restrooms and shopping. I adore the guys on my team and how nicely they treat me and I couldn’t be luckier with my colleagues at work who are a joy to work with. I’m having a grand time … so thanks, Bangalore!