Saturday, December 8, 2012

Quirky Travels

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting an esteemed blogger, Rachna from Rachna Says. Apart from the fact that she’s smart, savvy and fun-loving, what I admire in her is that she isn't afraid to speak her mind; be it simply to share her thoughts on myriad experiences of life or to stand up against injustice, or even to take the first step in resolving a conflict. Her posts reflect this very nature of hers. Today she writes on some funny and interesting travel experiences, her observations about fellow Indians abroad and what it means to carry certain rituals back home!

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Travel tales and quirky incidents
Copyright: http://freedigitalphotos.net
I love traveling. I have done loads of solo traveling across India in my job in brand management. For a single girl, I traveled at odd hours and walked miles every day with my Sales Representatives traveling through Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab, Karnataka and Delhi. I loved exploring the cities in the bargain and have multiple tales from my journeys that I look back upon very fondly. The SR at Amritsar took me home where I witnessed some hearty Punjabi hospitality in the form of piping hot ‘Alu Parathas’ fed to me lovingly by his grandma. He also took me to Golden Temple and Jalianwala Baug, which was a surreal experience.  Punjabi men are the most chivalrous.  I regularly encountered men helping out with the luggage and then walking off not so much as waiting for a thank you. Their women love colors and make up. I once met a Distributor’s mother wearing a fluorescent green ‘Patiala’ with bright makeup in the day time. Ah, the delights of traveling!   

After marriage, I went to live in the US. My husband is the type who is permanently infected with the travel bug. He is your essential backpacker. But, I am the organized type. I can’t live in shoddy places or travel impromptu. I prefer well-planned outings. But this is not a travelogue. This is about my experiences while traveling and living abroad. Now, haven’t we heard time and time again about how Indians stare at foreigners? Yes, it can be quite irritating. I can’t imagine how exposed the white-skinned and black-skinned folks feel among the “staring” Indians. 

Now, as a culture, most Americans and Europeans smile at a person they see on the street and acknowledge you with a hello or some small talk. When I first went to live in the US, I was quite baffled when a burly man gave me a big smile and yelled, “How are you doing?” I smiled back very apprehensively. As you know, good Indian girls don’t smile at strange men ;-). My husband was quite amused, and he explained that it was part of cultural etiquette there. From then on, I took to it like fish to water; smiling and talking to everyone I met – in the supermarket checkout lines, on the streets, in the doctor’s clinic, at the book store etc. It is actually quite a lovely gesture. But I can only shiver to imagine the repercussions of doing it back home in India. 

Imagine me giving huge smiles to the watchman, plumber, electrician, driver and other helpers. For all you know, the neighbors’ antennas will go up, and some of them might come reporting to hubby. I may also end up giving wrong signals to our helpers who might take madam’s smiles a bit more seriously than required. Smiling or talking enterprisingly to your friends’ husbands will cause malicious rumors spreading like wild fire; and their wives cutting you off from their social circuits. And smiling at a total stranger, God forbid, can get good Indian girls abducted or much worse. So, you understand why we don’t smile at strangers or sometimes even people we see day in and day out. The funny part, coming back to my US stay, was that the Indians would be super enthusiastic yelling out their hellos to foreigners but with other Indians, we went back to our gloomy selves.

Now, let’s get back to the staring bit. Yes, we stare when we see white people. It is hard for most of us to comprehend how someone can look so ahem white. I mean do they bathe in Surf or Nirma? But guess what? Even browns get stared at!  I was subjected to loads of staring myself. A few years back when we visited the Netherlands, a country that is really unused to seeing browns, we had some rather hilarious experiences. Now, in the US, we lived in California, which is almost overtaken by Indians. We do everything there that we do in India including wearing Indian clothes.  You can gauge the comfort level of Indians there by the fact that I was greeted by a lady dressed in a nightgown in the laundry room. I came back complaining to my husband about her decency, when he patiently explained that “nightie” was a ‘dayee’ for many South Indians. Of course, I experienced that first hand when I came to live in Bangalore. Sorry for digressing, so I had carried a few salwars with me on the trip to the NL. I had even carried a sari on impulse. Every time I wore a salwar kameez and went out, I had a few people staring intently at me not even bothering to blink. I clearly remember one guy walking past and then retracing his steps to fall in line with me all the while staring at me with a smile. The bindi used to fascinate them a lot. For them, I was this exotic creature straight out of a museum walking on their streets. Besides they were quite simply baffled with browns. Now where have these people originated from, I could sort of hear them thinking. A few people tried speaking to me in Spanish too. A friend who had taken us around on some sightseeing was asked about the origin of ‘these’ exotic people. My husband certainly did not enjoy all the staring and pointedly told me not to wear salwars and stick to the basic western clothing. But, I did not find the staring offensive. It helps that Dutch men are really good-looking, and it was not derogatory; it was mostly out of curiosity. I actually loved my stay there. Most people were genuinely friendly and nice. And, I was not uncomfortable with the attention.

But when we lived in the Scotland, I recall an experience of once having a family having breakfast at our hotel. Their young son pointed a finger at me and yelled “Moslem.”  Yes, I remember wearing a salwar kameez. That unnerved me a bit. I turned around to see the family looking at me very oddly. I have generally found foreigners pretty well mannered, but these guys did not seem very friendly. The overall Scottish experience wasn't so bad. Scots are not as friendly as the other Europeans or Americans. And there was this stocky man at British immigration who was downright nasty. He kept me waiting in line even though I was traveling with a toddler. And, he exhibited the stiff upper lip attitude of the British while speaking to me. But before that in the flight from Bangalore to London, I had a wonderful young British man, who was seated with my son and me. He was getting back home from a vacation in India. He was gushing to me about the lovely time he had. He also helped me with Sid, playing games with him and teaching him how to color while I caught a nap. The flight was very pleasant because of his company. So, can we really slot people as nasty or good, starers or non-starers? To my mind, what makes a difference is our own exposure to all the amazing people and cultures that our wonderful world offers that offers us an insight to look beyond the obvious. The more we partake of the exposure, the more tolerant, friendly and worldly wise we become.

Does this deter me from traveling? Hell No! I love going to new places and meeting new people. I guess being aware of cultural quirks is helpful when traveling away from one’s country.  What have your experiences been?

I would love to hear your views!

67 comments:

  1. Enjoyed reading your quirky travel tales, Rachna!!
    Interesting and fun! :)

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  2. A lot depends on individuals but you are right, Scots are not as friendly as Americans in general. When someone takes care of your little one and you are able to take nap during a long flight, the guy can only be termed as an angel. Personally, I hate traveling.

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    1. I agree, Alka, it all depends upon the individuals. I had heard the worst things about Australians, but I find them the friendliest. I have worked with so many Aussie clients and love the rapport and warmth that I share with them. Oh yes, that young man was really special. Imagine being so patient and nice with a 3-year-old boy. Wish we encountered more such people on flights instead of grumpy souls who look at kids as being pests :). And, pray why do you hate traveling?

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  3. Well I visit scotland every year and I found it a beautiful place .. yes the people are a bit tough but i have not faces any racist comments or anything like that ..

    I think the muslim factor is that gets hatred and its a pity that people cant distinguish ,

    on the other hand I have had a horrific time in america the immigration officer and a security lady shouted at me for no reason and when i shouted back they did not know where to look , will post about it one day , I got all the names and numbers everything ..

    and I know Rachna :) a lovely blogger

    Bikram's

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    1. Yes, Scotland is very beautiful. I was there around Christmas time, and that was such a magical time. I don't think it was racist; I think it was ignorance. I did see that Scotland had a number of Muslims who mostly dress up in traditional attire and perhaps that is where the comment stemmed from. Oh, you had a bad experience with American immigration officer, that's sad! There are good and bad people everywhere.

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    2. I hadn't thought about this from the racist angle, but yes, I agree. Sometimes its got more to do with ignorance than deliberate racism. The terrorist angle has always been played out to Muslims but I have known some really good ones too! Its sad that a few individuals lead to the entire community being black-tagged!

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    3. true. my very first friend I made here in uk was a muslim guy..
      so there are good and bad everywhere..

      and Rachna you were there WHEN what YEAR, you better not say it was in the last three years :) tell tell
      Bikram's

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    4. Bikram No, I went quite some time ago before Gautam was born. You think if I come anywhere in UK, I won't tell you :).

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  4. Enjoyed this post Rachna, brought colors to a dull day. :)
    And Yes Deepa I agree to whatever you said about Rachna. :)

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    1. Thank you so much Bhagyashree :). I am so glad you liked the post.

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    2. Thank you Bhagyashree! Yes, funny and interesting incidents while traveling always do leave a mark! They make for some fun reminiscence :)

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  5. The experiences of each place are unique and the travel smitten cherish each of these for the rest of life! May you travel to more destinations to share more quirky tales:)

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    1. So true, Rahul. And who would know that better than someone like you who has extensively traveled.

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  6. Certainly quirky specially the guy who walked along side you :)

    I am sure if you give such smiles here Rachna, the security gurad, press wala, dhood wala will always be found right outside your door :P

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    1. hehe it was funny. True, in India, you can imagine that happening :).

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    2. You have no idea Jas! Actually that whole paragraph stayed with me so much that I was surprised that Rachna had included my thoughts! Back on a visit from the US, I had gone to the 'istriwalla' (The man who irons clothes) at my husband's locality; because he would somedays be there and somedays he wouldn't, I had asked for his mobile number so we (not just me!) could confirm with him if he's around before we went toting clothes! Imagine my surprise, when the next time onwards he started flashing my these weird looks and crazy smiles! I think asking for the phone number set it off! God, there are no such things like innocent remarks from a female are there!

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  7. Hehehe..you lived in CA? Where? Where?..I could relate to so many things..:) even I wantedly wear kurtis or Salwars to my glass classes and people go wowww...look at those colors and I bask in their compliments...:) nice read, Rachna...:) thank you Deepa.

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    1. Fremont Latha! Sid was born there. Yeah, they do love our clothes there, don't they? And they are pretty aware of Indian culture too. My gynae just adored my salwars. The nurse used to feel the chiffon dupatta and go wow :). Thank you for liking the post :).

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    2. Thanks Latha :) Yes, I remember the kurtis experience too! If and when I wore a kurti to work (rarely), a client manager would turn the cloth multiple times, look at it from the front, feel the material, look at the threading! She could discuss the costume for 1/2 hr if I would let her! Sometimes when I had no work, it was OK (barely!) but other times it would be so embarrassing because there would be others around! Then I would just make some excuse and run away. Another of my clients would tell me always to come upstairs and show her my 'Indian dress' if I ever wore one! Even though I rarely work it at work, those few incidents would be akin to a zoo with the people looking in at you!

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    3. I know what you are saying, Deepa :) Sometimes at work, when I say we have a party today, the first question they ask me is, so do you wear Indian? Then bring the pics... :)This summer I got a cotton frock from India and it's like a western style too...but the entire group was saying, get me one, get me one for the colors on it :)

      Rachna, we lived in the bay area too all these years and moved to Folsom couple of years back :)

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  8. I enjoyed your travel tales. I love traveling too. People watching is a favorite pastime for me while traveling. I don't know why some people keep a grumpy face. A woman who sat opposite our seat in Lalbagh express had such grumpy face, and it made her look really ugly. But the moment she caught the sight of cute child babbling something cute, her face bloomed into a beautiful smile, and she looked beautiful too, within a second she became so beautiful to look at, I was just stunned, it just goes to show that if you have a friendly smile lingering on your face you will look beautiful.
    I have no problems talking to strangers or even smiling at people I don't know. As for some building watchmen, cleaning ladies, all seem to be very friendly with me, and although I don't know them, they automatically come and talk with me. Probably some people just have the knack to make friends easily, and just as they are drawn to me so am I drawn towards them, it comes naturally.
    When I went abroad, I never had any problems relating to anybody there,instead of looking at my dark skin, they were complementing me.
    Yes I also noticed, Indians don't smile at another Indian there, it is kind of strange.I noticed this kind of behavior in Germans too,for we had two German friends who whenever they met at some common friend's house here in India, would not even look at each other, each pretending that the other did not exist.

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    1. I enjoy watching people too. You are right, sometimes a smile can transform our entire visage. And, I have seen some people who wrinkle their nose the moment they see a child dreading the noise that a child makes. I must share with you that once I was traveling with my family by train to Mumbai. We had an old man and his older daughters in the same compartment. These guys went on bashing non Kannadigas and their impact on Bangalore in Kannada constantly. They did not know that though we speak Hindi, I understand Kannada pretty well :). I felt so offended but ignored it attributing it to their parochial thinking more than anything else. I have heard that Germans are reticent too. I had a German friend who was staying in the same company Guest House where I was staying on one of the official visits. He was quite enchanted by our arranged marriage set up. We stayed in touch for many years before losing contact.

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    2. You're so right Rachna! I think people should start realizing that more people are multi-culturally experienced now than before and just because someone doesn't look like they belong to a certain race/caste/language/region they won't understand. Its time people see past their beliefs and prejudices! Being genuinely curious and interested in one thing, being prejudicial is a totally different thing!

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    3. Exactly Deepa! I've a good hang of Marathi and Gujarati too. I've seen that most people just assume that others will not know their language and just pass disparaging remarks that the onlooker can interpret. Being curious is fine to a point but being biased is so putting off. We don't have any less prejudices in India itself.

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  9. A very enjoyable post Rachna & thank you Deepa.It is consoling to know that we are not the only starers!

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    1. Thanks Indu :) We might not be the only ones, but we're pretty dedicated ones! Here in Australia, I find it funny to actually look at people who're staring at others and catch them in the act. Of course, to a third person it might appear like I am staring too! :D Indian men seem to stare at women - both Indian and non-Indian - for their usual reasons! And Indian women would either stare at their costumes or at them to figure out why their husbands are staring at them! ha ha ha :)

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  10. Nice to have you share it with us. Good one.

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  11. Travelling indeed makes for rich experiences and widening of our horizons. Otherwise, we would be imagining and slotting people just as so many westerners do Indians and India as being dressed like the characters in Tin Tin comics and being the land where elephants and snakes roam the streets!

    Even I love the friendliness of smiling and greeting people but as you have pointed out, it is fraught with danger under many circumstances :)

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    1. So true, Zephyr! Only when we meet people do we break stereotypes like I did when I came to live in the South.

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    2. Zephyr, You forgot land of the snake charmers! :) Recently, someone told me about it being land of the tight rope walkers. I wanted to give them the CD of Namaste London - the yacht scene! If you haven't watched it, you must! You're spot on - There's so much more need to mingle in order to even think about breaking stereotypes!

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  12. A very nice read Rachna. I love travelling too and I can identify with you here. I haven't been to the US as yet, hoping to go sometime next year. I have been to London, Paris and Istanbul in the European side. All very wonderful experiences. Long ago when I had been to Singapore/Malaysia I was subjected to some staring too. Because of my salwar or the small kids tagging along, I do not know. But then, who cares. Right? Enjoy the place, the food and hospitality. Here's to more travels and quirky travel tales.

    This is my first time here Deepa. You have a lovely blog. :)

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    1. Thank you Jyothi! Yes, it is fun. One can have all kinds of experiences while traveling.

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    2. Thank you so much Jyothi! Welcome to my blog, hope to see you here more often!

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  13. I have been only to one destination, overseas till now that's Japan and have so many wonderful memories of the warmth and hospitality of the people there. Traveling helps us to experience so much and live so much more. That was a wonderful read Rachna, it was fascinating to know behavioral quirks about people all over the world. Thank you for sharing your experiences and thanks Deepa for teh travel feature. :)

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    1. And, I love your Japan posts. I wish I was blogging back then and I would have documented all those travel experiences. Traveling really gives us a new perspective. Thank you for liking the post Arti :).

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    2. Travelling and reading about those experiences are always so much fun aren't they! You're most welcome Arti!

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  14. By now I am used to finding you on every blog and finding every blogger on your blog, Rachna.

    Coming to your post, I could really relate to that. I really like staying in foreign countries for 3 months to 1 year and getting to understand their culture than the 10 day 15 day vacation trips. I never learn to adapt to their culture but I like hanging around with them anyways. Anyways I have my own one man culture and a misfit in any group. So I am more comfortable in a group culturally different from me than a group culturally similar to me as I can more easily pass of my personal eccentricities as cultural differences.

    Hopefully from this post, I will start visiting you more regularly, Deepa. Though I have got closer to you these days through indifiction workshop, I am yet to add your blog to my regular circuit. But better late than never.

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    1. I know TF! I love the process of sharing good writing on my own blog and enjoy writing Guest Posts for my friends. I agree that actualky living there gives better insights about the people and the place than short vacations.

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    2. I agree! Seeing places as a tourist is so different than staying there and soaking in the experience as a local. I'm more for the latter too! One's got to live it to experience it!

      Undoubtedly, IFW has been a great experience so far! And yes, I do hope that you enjoy your reading experiences on this blog enough to bring you back more often :)

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  15. Thanks for sharing your fabulous experiences, Rachna. I liked the nightie one. I remember my Mum telling me about a lady who came to the Ladies Club wearing a quilted dressing gown - imported of course! ;)

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    1. Thank you, Corinne! Quilted dressing gown hehe.

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    2. Americans do not know about our Indian nightie concept at all :) They have loose comfortable clothing for day wear too which is what they think Indian ladies also wear! But imagine a quilted dressing gown at a Ladies Club LOL :)

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    3. Let's keep the nightie concept to ourselves, Deepa! Perhaps, we should get a patent! :P

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  16. Amazing to read this from the UK, Rachna: it never occurred to me that a cheery smile and a hello could be to much in some cultures. I learn something new every day on this blogging lark. Great post: thanks!

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    1. Indeed! Talk about cultural differences :). Glad that you connected with the post. Yes, we really learn quite a bit throughblogs for sure.

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  17. Enjoyed your tales. Once I wore a saree to my class at NYU and at the end of the day I was dead tired posing for pictures. One or two even requested me to pose in Namaste. Crazy.

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    1. haha That is funny! They are quite fascinated with our attire, aren't they?

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  18. Truly, travel broadens the mind! :-) Enjoyed the post, Rachna! Even within India - as we switch between the North and South, it is like visiting a foreign land in some localities! :-)

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    1. Absolutely agree, Vidya! I am a UPite by birth and have spent my childhood there. Did my schooling and college from Western India and am now living in the South, so I pretty much agree when you say that it feels like visiting a foreign land. But, I really enjoy the understanding I have of different regions, the people, their traditions and their food, of course :).

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  19. I hit the publish too soon! What a pleasure to be here, Deepa! :-)

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    1. Thank you Vidya! Nice to see you here! Hope I'll run into you more often :)

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  20. When I was in Manchester, I was taken aback by the habit of thanking the driver while getting off the bus. Imagine doing that in India and the driver might start crying. But I took it up soon and it was a lovely gesture.
    We have been to Diwali Mela and other Indian functions in Manchester and whenever Geet went wearing Salwaar Kameez, she always got compliments from British ladies. They were very warm. She was complimented numerous times on her 'chuda'.
    In Paris, a guy started flirting with her thinking she was French. He stopped his car and started talking to her in French. She told him that she didn't understand French and pointed at me. The guy fled.
    I have a post lying in my draft about what I have observed about Indians on my visit abroad. Will post that soon.

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    1. Look forward to your post, Amit! You are absolutely right -- women get a lot of positive attention but it is not overbearing or bugging the way it can get in India. Most of the time, they are sort of fascinated with a different person and an interesting attire. And, I've never felt the behavior bordering on the atrocious in my experience.

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  21. really interesting....! well written :) .... i found british people very sweet and helpful when i went to england last year :)

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    1. And, it always changes from person to person :).

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  22. Travel is a lifetime experience .English are known to be with a high nose.Scots are extremely polite and soft spoken.
    I wonder if any two people ever had similar two experience during travel...That shoud make an interesting story

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    1. Yep, no two people will ever have the same travel experience for sure.

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  23. I enjoyed reading about your experiences. I remember the way people used to greet me like long lost friends at stores and restaurants, also whenever I used to go for walks while at Cal. :)

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    1. Don't we all have such tales to tell :).

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  24. That was truly a fun read. The white guy walking back a few steps to check out this exotic creature from India sounded fun. It's all about the cultural differences, isn't it? If you go about smiling at everyone here, people might even mistake you to be a loony!

    This is the first guest post I am reading on your blog, Deepa. :)

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    1. Yep, I just started having guest bloggers over :) It feels good! A few days back, I posted a guest post from a college friend of mine, but Rachna's is the first blogger from our blogging circuit! :)

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  25. Exactly DC! Imagine someone smiling at everyone. It will surely have very negative connotations in India. Last year for my brother's wedding, I was in Delhi in this huge hotel. We were leaving for the wedding venue at night all dressed up in our ethnic dresses. There were many foreigners in the hotel. And, they were ogling like crazy and giving us wide smiles. For them, it must be a nice circus to watch I guess :). And guess what yesterday I wore a sari and went out with my hubby for a movie and lunch to a mall. You wouldn't believe how many people stared at me. Even my husband commented that people were ogling. Looks like sari invites a lot of attention in India too ahem... :).

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  26. Loved this post Rachna :) what a wonderful melange of stories. I have had only one experience of racism in UK. Most times it was a wonderful stay.

    Lazy Pineapple

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