One of the first things a foreigner in Kolkata (at least this foreigner in Kolkata) notices when taking a morning stroll down the street is the amazing numbers of men bathing right out in the open. Water is released to the giant public spigots every morning. Men gather round and soap up, conducting their morning routines on the side of the street or sidewalk. They wash their bodies then begin washing cars, dishes, goats, whatever happens to need a good scrubbing!
Another terribly noticeable cultural difference is how freely people stare. A few nights ago we were driving back from a restaurant and a taxi driver was literally hanging out of his window to stare at us! Then we looked over to the other side and that taxi driver was staring down his passenger, who happened to be a white man. That poor passenger looked so incredibly uncomfortable! Saturday morning we took a tram ride. I was looking out the window watching the city sights pass by and suddenly noticed laughter. I turned to see a man with his camera phone just an arm’s length away from my face! He snapped my picture and then showed me that he had set it as his wallpaper!
The most difficult difference by far to this point has definitely been not looking men in the eye. We are taught to look people in the eye when speaking to someone, but here looking a man in the eye can be considered a come on. Have you ever tried to go shopping and carry on a conversation with the salesman while avoiding eye contact? Much more difficult than it sounds. But so far I haven’t picked up any men, so maybe I’m doing okay avoiding eyes.
More posts to come…