Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Bangalore Bell-Curve

I have a theory that the average corporate expat in Bangalore (who isn’t into kundalee-knee or the Dah lee Lama) goes down a standard socio-emotional path, or what I call the Bangalore Bell-Curve.

Phase 1: Arrives and complains. Battles with the infrastructure, dust, chaos, housing, transport, and the language. Tries to adjust to the fuzzy work ethic and the long work hours s/he needs to put in to compensate for it. Complains ceaselessly but quietly so as not to ruffle too many feathers.

Phase 2: Settles in and slowly makes friends in an effort to blend in. Starts developing an interest in the curious Indian cultural ethos. Being from a dissect-analyze-resolve culture, is amazed at how many unresolved cultural nuances India has. Makes politically overcorrect cultural observations at every opportunity, much to the amusement of local friends. Is pleasantly surprised at Bangalore's colonial hangover. Enjoys hanging out at local pubs, junta restaurants and Koshy's and is delighted at how friendly India can be.

Phase 3: Awesome times, parties, clubbing, trips out with friends. Falls in love with a few. Has a great time at work with enthusiastic colleagues, parties and offsites. Is the center of attention at the lunch table. Continues friendships outside of work. Travels to Goa, Rajasthan, Agra and Pondicherry and loves it all! Looks at other ghettoed expats with pity and is convinced that s/he will never be like them. Emails jealous friends back home about all the awesome times had, and considers living here forever.

Phase 4: Slowly tires of the socializing. Cannot handle travel any more. Begins to develop culture related problems with the office management. The initial keenness to understand Indian family, social and value systems wanes away. Feels embarrassed by overpersonal Indian friendships, and has no idea how to handle them. Fixates on negatives because of the insurmountable cultural barrier. Hangs out more and more with other expats at Leela brunches to share woes that local friends cannot relate to. Suddenly realizes s/he is one of them, and panics.

Phase 5: The social strain begins to tell. Has huge fights with office management. Realizes that a lot can be achieved by capitalizing on Indian docility. Turns arrogant and yells at acquaintances, hotel staff, drivers and office admin. Local friends, outraged but too timid to react, begin to back off silently. Is infuriated with hot-and-cold Indian friendships and doesn't have the energy or the inclination to handle them any more. Wants to beat everyone up and run away screaming.

Phase 6: Make or break. The majority leaves quietly, unwept, unhonoured and unsung, with bell curve stories to tell. Most of those that choose to stay, do so for a love interest, or because they managed to find a sustenable social circle. The few local friends that survived phase 5 are secretly relieved to be at one arm’s distance.

Hats off though, to the tiny number of expats that refuse to get on the bell-curve, and have pleasant times and friendships all through their stay in Bangalore. They make the best of friends, and are very welcome to tell me exactly where to put my theory :)

17 comments:

comment_raja said...

hmmm i dont know too many expats, but i will give them credit for trying to fit in. and believe it or not, the bell curve you speak of, exists not only in Bangalore, but i think in any city/country.

Personally I went through many of the phases you speak of, when i moved 10000 miles away. It was a little easier thanks to some family and friends from Bangalore that i had in my new city.

The reality of the situation is, its never going to be a 100 percent comfortable. There is always something that will be different, feel different, however hard you try to think otherwise.

Kudos, to anyone who picks up and leaves, (pack a pillow and a blanket - "the namesake") wanting to discover, experience, or dabble in another culture.

Bikerdude said...

I was actually hoping you'd post a comment on this blog comment_raja. Ive never really been away from home longer than phase 3 where everything seems lovely and you dont want to go home ever.

A lot of people think that since western cultures are more exposed to the world thanks to the media, they would be easier to understand and fit into. But I guess its only the superficial things like the music and the food that people know about before they arrive. Social and family constructs can be just as baffling to and Indian in the west as it is for a westerner in the east.

What do you think has been the most difficult thing for you to adjust to in the US?

mike said...

>>What do you think has been the most difficult thing for you to adjust to in the US?

Being on the quieter side myself, I found it *really* difficult to make friends out there in middle America. They were pleasant enough, and random hook-ups apart nothing lasting came of it. And I ran back home

Karthik said...

I like the Mysore petas. :)

Meenakshi said...

bikerdude, (sob, sniff, sob)...I love your writing.
We recently launched blah. Check out blah.burrp.com...
and let me know if you are interested in writing for us :)

Shobha said...

blah,burrrp?! you muuuuust write for it bikerdude. its soooo you. :D

Bikerdude said...

:) Just saw your posting on nippattu and kadle puri on your site meenakshi. Yumm. Will defly consider it.

PS: Who thought of your site's name?

Meenakshi said...

The burrp founders came up with the name blah...:)
Keep stopping by... and let me know your comments and feedback on the site too.

nigel said...

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Meenakshi said...

hey nigel, send me an email... meenakshi at burrp dot com

Anonymous said...

Check out the interesting expats: firangimom, pervez and charles haynes.

Firangimom is back in the US: I think her delicious sense of humour kept her sane!

Cindy/Snid said...

Well, I know this is an old post but I thought I would drop a little comment here. We are preparing for a 2 year stint in Bangalore and I will be "the expat". Can't say how I will be, but my hope is to explore the country and culture while we are there. Not just "be an expat". I currently live in an area that is extremely diverse and my one shock when we visited Bangalore was how different I felt. It is a big change to uproot yourself and go somewhere completely unfamiliar! Anyway, I am enjoying reading your posts, they are humorous as well as informative.

Bikerdude said...

thanks anon :)

cindy/snid: Welcome! I think a healthy mix of 5-star brunches, trips to rajasthan and living in the older parts of Bangalore should give you an overall experience. Try checking out the textile/culture scene if youre into it.

small squirrel said...

hee.

my issue is that I hardly know any expats, even though I am one! see I don't fit the mold. I moved here to be with my husband, who is a born and bred kannadiga. all my friends are desis. I just go about my life. I went thru stages, but they resembled Kubler-Ross' stages of grief more than yours. I don't have enough money or the inclination to do the expat brunch thing (I live in rupees, not dollars to rupees)... and I have not done too much travelling cause we have a small baby.

then again you did say it was corporate expats you were speaking of... guess that;'s not me. but really funny post anyway!

A.S. said...

I just came across your blog via Cindy/Snid's (which I came across via bangalore.metblogs which I came across via...), and am very much hooked indeed.

Anyways, I've moved around all my life, but never stayed long enough to go through the final phases of your curve. I have lived in the German-speaking world for more than nine years, though. My experiences come quite close to your phases1-3, albeit my case is that of a desi in Europe.
Next move: Boiledbeansville.

The Psycho Blogger said...

Indeed. Once you find something to interest you (like I luckily did), the bell curve ceases to exist.

So now I have to tell you where to put your theory... Alright. Go dump it in one of those oh so prominent gutters that the BMTC feels is Bangalore's greatest asset and therefore must be displayed for all to see and gum up with their rubbish which mostly consists of plastic bags :)

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