Even though many expats come to India fascinated by its culture and tradition, overall impression of many is not very good
What is it to be an expat? It is said that a person at least once in a life should go another country, another continent and yes, alone! The degree of hospitality, of course, varies from country to country. So now the real question: What it is to be an expat in India? People keep coming to India but recent attacks on African nationals in India signal an unwelcoming country.
Several research reports show that expats don’t look at India as at a favorable place to live. The InterNations Expat Insider survey (2015) places India at 55th position among 64 nations.
India has an ever increasing population burdening all resources. Intense competition in education, employment and almost all basics of life simply crowd out some of the residents abroad. Majority of Indians I have met wish to leave the country.
Then, why are expats still coming to India? India hosts about 30,000 immigrants from around the world. To know, how India is kind to them, we have conducted our own survey among expats to find out their evaluation of life in India.
How does India attract people from abroad and who are these expats?
India offers diversity of culture, climate, religion and art. There is a generous contrast, unique to India. Creative people take risk and come to India. Expats in India are interested in culture and travel, but not in a quiet life. The vast Indian expanses with a diverse geographical landscape beckon travelers from around the world.
Because of comparatively lower cost of living in most of the Indian cities than the West with English speaking people, India attracts many expats. The most sapid criterion, which we wanted to know, what has brought these people to India? Indian culture takes first place (57 per cent), unique and diverse, ancient and mysterious.
Fast growing economy and special government programs like “Make in India” attract entrepreneurs and business. Likewise, all have reason. For employees it is their contracts, for students are famous universities, young professionals come for experience while for artists it is the movie industry and unique art forms. Some come for spirituality and religious reasons. India is also popular among social workers
India through the eyes of expats
India is a country of contrasts which new expats very often fail to understand. Those who are willing to accept things as they are, remain in India and enjoy, others are nervous at first, and then leave. The very moment they land at the airport, shock associated with all organs of perception welcomes them: noise, chaos and heat. Traffic leaves nobody indifferent. There are chaotic mixing machines, vehicles, pedestrians, rickshaws, dogs and cattle. Motorcycles with three or even more passengers; small trucks carrying loads of people, may be up to 50, standing and traveling for work or some celebration, cause fear in the unwonted eyes. Now, their dwelling place: Here, of course, everything depends on the income as not everyone can afford the five-star hotel, built as per European standards. Surprises include a great fan instead of chandeliers (without which life becomes impossible later) and, of course, a shower room, which categorically is different from the showers in the rest of the world.
An attempt to go out and explore the city means complete chaos and a huge attention from locals: they all look and everyone is trying to help or talk. The attention can be good or bad and brings mixed feelings of joy and anxiety. It is more difficult for a woman, especially if she is white and single. Overtime, the focus is not reduced to the foreigners in the streets, just expats start to react differently, and they start to ignore in an attempt to determine for themselves at least some personal space.
Transport is a big problem in self moving around the city. Public transport is not safe. A taxi needs other income and taxi drivers usually do not speak English. An explanation of a location over the phone and then in the car often becomes impossible. On these grounds, expats begin to learn the local language, which is different in each state, and if a foreigner travels a lot, just learning the one language does not help.
A purchasing of essential products and services encounters a comprehensive overpricing just because of foreign look. Locals always associate foreigners with wealth. Learning the local language and price ranges a bit may decrease a problem, but does not make it absolutely smooth. And then there are service providers like taxi drivers, fruit and vegetable sellers etc. who do not mind fleecing supposedly rich foreigners. The “cost of living” index evaluated by our experts stands at 7.7 of 10. So, it is the most eye-catching factor for life in India as compared to other nations.
In the neighborhood and at workplace all greeted warmly and called to their home for a visit and to various parties. But our respondents have evaluated index of “hospitality of local people” 5.6 of 10. There are two view points: Those who were in India for less than one year have given high scores to hospitality while those who stayed for long have given low scores. The latter explain that initially locals are very friendly but when expats later ask for any help, they close. In this way the mark of the “possibility to have local friends” stands at 5.7 of 10.
Very high rating has been given to the entertainment index – 6.9 of 10. Other parameters do not exceed five-point mark out of 10. These other important factors are: life and health safety (4.9); quality of life (4); work-life balance (3.7); job security (4.7); woman security (2.7); ease of settling in (5); raising of children (2.7); ease of making (having) relationship (3.9).
From this expert survey we conclude that Indians, through the eyes of expats, know how to be hospitable and make friends but aren’t responsible towards quality and safety of human life and health, especially towards women, life-work balance and growing children. These functions are assumed by a very strong social institution: family.
Family survives. It fights for its members’ safety, protects its women and children and helps new couples. Therefore, a lonely expat in this area has a hard time, because the first identification in India comes on the answers to the questions: “What’s your second name? What does your father do? Where is your family?”
It turns out that no one social institution assumes responsibility for the safety of life and health of the population and for the full development of human potential in the framework of the country. It means that the problem is not only for expats, but also for the locals. If locals have a protected, educated and healthy life in the country, the expats will also have a better life too.
Other problems expats face in India
Pollution of air, dust, noise (57%); misbehavior of local people, which includes physical and moral components and attempts to put higher price for common services and products (44%); communication problems with local like language problem and lies, lack of good manners (37%); food (35%); transport (28%); climate and geographical issues like weather, insects, snakes (15%) constitute other major problems that expats face in India.
Unfortunately, solving these problems involves a very long process that requires deep analysis and strict actions. Then there are geographical and climatic problems. It is necessary to know if a person can cope with natural factors or not.
Most problems faced by expats are same faced by the local people. Therefore, any improvement for Indian population will improve conditions for expats too. As for prices, of course, public policies cannot regulate natural markets and private services representatives. Therefore, there can be only one recommendation, which is improvement in governance over public services.
Another issue is of behavior of some locals with foreigners. It relates to morality and education and again needs strict governance. However, local rules like that in Rajasthan where any attempt to communicate with foreigners has to be explained to the police, seems extreme measure, and of course, debatable.
Everything apart, the most important is life security. Death of Masonga Kitanda Olivier in Delhi, beating up of Nigerian student in Hyderabad, attacks on nine African nationals in Delhi, beating up of woman in Bengaluru are some of the terrible incidents that point towards a dangerous safety situation for foreigners, especially Africans. While authorities and the media debate about racism angle, life of thousands of people out there is not secured. There is a need for strict laws on violation of the rights of foreign nationals and ensure expatfriendly behavior.
First of all being an expat in any country is not easy. There are differences in traditions, mentality, religion, and climate and at times everything is new. An expat leaves all behind to begin life afresh with new language, new law, new job or education, new friends and sometimes even new family. Needless to say they need enabling environment.
Foreigners come, try and learn the elements of Indian culture; work for Indian companies or create companies and create employment for locals. They participate socially and volunteer for social causes. Nobody says that only good people come and only with good intentions. There is one fact that people come with an interest in this country. The country should maintain this interest. If India wants to increase the indicator of living standards, expat-friendly programs should be created and improved.
Any recommendations on the improvement of public policies and the creation of protective mechanisms of foreign residents will work, if such mechanisms work in relation to local population. But in a country, where the interests of members of society are protected only by family, expats either need to come with family or be ready for inconvenience.
NOTE: The result of our research is the generalization of the results of a sociological expert survey and does not carry personal character. Our experts age from 25 to 53; both males and females; countries: Brazil, China, Columbia, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Sri-Lanka, Spain, Thailand, USA, Zimbabwe. Everyone understands that any opinion is subjective and depends on the personal situation and, more importantly, aims and financial situation. Therefore, generalized results are the best reflection of the social picture.
The writer is a sociologist and international relation specialist from Kyiv, Ukraine