Let’s Tackle Some Indian Stereotypes

David Hielkema
28 April 2017

You all have seen Slumdog Millionaire, right? Well, if not: don’t. The movie is full of stereotypes. Kids stealing shit, slum life like hell and a Slumdog boy only being able to win this quiz by luck and not because he has some real knowledge. Or does the movie really show India as it is? One simple question for you, before continuing reading: when thinking of India, what do think of?

The Land of Dirt
This must have been your first thought, if it wasn’t for the Taj Mahal. A dirty country. I have to admit, it isn’t as clean as the Netherlands is. So the stereotype is confirmed?

There is loads of trash laying on the street. I hate Indians for throwing their garbage on the street. And they do it any where: while walking, while driving, while being at a historical monument. Not all of them, no, but it still happens a lot.

But at the same time, India is trying. The beach of Mumbai, a couple of years ago full of dirt and described in every guidebook as a disgusting place where the water is extremely toxic, is clean now. While walking early in the morning through any big city, you will find a relatively clean city. Walking in the evening in any big city, you will find more dirt around you. But not the way it used to be or as you imagine. Little by little it is getting better. And the fact that this is an extremely dusty country doesn’t really help either.

During our two month stay in India we have seen zero rats. We didn’t go the rat temple –ha! –. But still, no rats. And is this the right indicator for a clean city? Of course not, but it again it is a stereotype of India. Rats supposedly everywhere. It isn’t like that.

And let’s not forget, it is the Western world that brought the plastic and shit to the third world countries, but the same big companies bringing garbage (Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Nestle, etc.), forgot to take some recycling factories with them. They don’t care where the garbage goes; for them it is all about money. And the awareness of ruining the environment is differently developed than in our countries – not for the good or the worse.

Conclusion: Yes, dirty, but not as dirty as you thought of beforehand and progress is being made.

The Land of The Delhi Belly
Diarrhoea all the time. Seriously, we couldn’t handle it. And that while our asses at the same time were burning from the spicy food we ate (next stereotype: Spicy Food). Imagine: sleeping on the roof of our car, then needing to go to the toilet, trying to get out of the tent and hoping that while we went down via the difficult ladder, the brown water wouldn’t go down too. And while having the stomach issues, you have to go several times a night.

The food in India that gives every traveller the Delhi Belly. Delhi Belly, Delhi Belly, Delhi Belly! I just really like the sound of Delhi Belly. But seriously; we didn’t have the Delhi Belly once. And we have eaten loads of street and restaurant food here. Delhi Belly might need a new definition?

Arriving on a side-note: Indian food is amazing, unbelievable, so good! And best of all: most of the time it is vegetarian too. Some of the best restaurants, funny enough, are most of the time next to the high ways. You might see this as a stereotype as well, as many guide books write about Restaurants Next to the Highway. Most of the time their food is really good and at the same time cheap. India is the only country so far where we have cooked very little and at the same time seriously gained some kilos.

Last note about the Delhi Belly: much of our luck with not having problems with the food, has to do with the quality of the water. In comparison with a couple of decades or even years ago, the water has improved a lot. And that, of course, is the main source for bacteria and stomach issues. Also, we were kind of aware what foods to avoid, mostly uncooked or not properly heated stuff or ice cubes, although we have consumed all of the above at least once.

Conclusion: Go without too many diarrhoea tablets too India and eat the best food without worrying constantly.

The Land of Spicy Food
How the hell did India get the name of having spicy food? I will explain it to you.

If you reading this and you are 40 years or older and you have visited India a long time ago… Well, then it is your fault this country has the name of spicy food! Why? Because your parents only cooked potatoes, meat and some vegetables. They might have added some salt and black pepper, but that must have been about it. You can’t help it that the food tasted spicy to you, because you didn’t know differently. You grew up with food that didn’t have any spices. Even one drop of red pepper made you cry. And you came back to Europe, saying the food was extremely spicy. And it was spicy for you… but was it really?

Times have changed. We all travel around the world. We don’t stay in our villages eating the same dish every day (city boy, say wha’! –I kind of neglect the food life of villagers). Most of us grew up in a family where spices are being used these days. And if I go out for dinner, any where in Amsterdam, there is spicy food on the menu.

Another food side-note: many people we meet ask us about Dutch food. What is our speciality? We don’t get away with ‘Bitterballen’ and ‘Stroopwafels’, so we always try to sell our ‘Stampotten’, ‘Haagsche Vis’ and ‘Poffertjes’. But if they ask us what we cook at home, we always come to the conclusion that in our limited worlds (big city life again, – ha), we are used to the World Kitchen. We cook Italian, French, Indonesian, Thai, Indian, Spanish and we go on like that. Either way, spices in the 21st century are widely available and we are not scared to use them in the dishes that need them. The Dutch saying that goes: ‘What the farmer doesn’t know, he won’t eat’, doesn’t go for us.

Conclusion: Actually, to be honest, I was a bit disappointed by the spicy food in India. Don’t worry too much about it, it isn’t the way you imagine it is. And, if you really don’t like spicy food, the Indians are used to tourists. They will make a separate plate for you!

The Land of Overpopulation and Noise

Positivity is what travel blogs are about most of the time. Not this part. I will exaggerate a bit, and of course I will put it in perspective afterwards.

You must have heard of this. India’s population and the noise they make. Some short facts:

  • India has a population of about 1,311 milliard people. That makes India after China the most populated country in the world.
  • About 70% of these Indians, live in rural areas.
  • India is on place number 33 when it comes to most densely populated countries in the world. The Netherlands is number 30.

I hated India for the busyness. India did something to me, and I did not particularly like it.

It has partly to do with the fact that Indian people have a different view of personal space, with the fact that there were always people around us and that there is always noise. Always.

If we waited in line to buy a train ticket (new stereotype-alarm: this is definitely The Country of Waiting in Lines and also The Country of People Always Being in a Rush without Reason) and it would be our turn, the person after us would stand next to us and see how we got our ticket. Or he would try to get in front of us. Same went for taking money out of an ATM. In our countries you wait nicely in the line, so the person in front of you can have the privacy needed and take out the money. Well, here not. If I took money out, I would be surrounded by Indians watching me taking the money out.

Another example: if we arrive anywhere in a village with our car, people will stare at us. It doesn’t matter if it is in Iran, Pakistan or India. But there is one difference: Indian people will come up to the car, touch it, open the doors if possible and are not shy to sit inside without asking.

One more example? Okay. This one comes from Josephine. I heard the story a million times by now – this is what you get while travelling together and you spend every single minute together, the stories get boring, but at least you can replicate them. Josephine stood in a museum looking at some paintings. But out of the blue she got pulled out of there, by a woman, and without really knowing what was happening, she stood outside. Why? A selfie was needed. And before she knew, the people had left and she stood there confused by herself outside.

About the noise, it is just true. Believe me. I repeat what I have written earlier:
Okay, India! You are beautiful. You are special. You are incredible. You are worldwide famous for many things. Your food is great, you are colourful. And you are damn noisy.

I’m not going to judge you here. That wouldn’t be fair. You’ve got your culture, I’ve got mine. But I don’t understand: why do you often speak so loud while I’m just standing in front of you?

Or let’s talk about this place, the world famous Golgumbaz mausoleum (check the photo down here). A spectacular piece of architecture, if you ask us. The garden around the place is green, the towers are stunning and on top of that it has one of the largest domes in the world.

Do you know how they call the room in the dome? It is called the ‘whispering gallery’. Its acoustics are such that if you whisper into the wall, a person on the opposite side of the gallery can hear you clearly. Great engineering!

You’ve guessed it, right India? No whispering in there. Shouting is what you call it! Oh boy, my ears are seriously traumatised.

So once again, why the shouting when we stand 1 meter apart, why the constant honking, why talking on your phone when you are in a cinema and why the screaming at tranquil places?

Don’t worry India, I still love you and I’m not looking for apologies and I’m not judging you here. All I’m after is some explanation.

 All of that didn’t really matter at the time being. You get used to it. But at the same time it made me feel very restless. Subconsciously it got on my nerves. At the same time I got angrily way too easily (poor Josephine) and I got fed up from people coming over asking for selfies and the noise everywhere. And it always goes on. Always.

Now, I wouldn’t be me writing this if I wouldn’t put it in perspective a bit. The people are good. The Indian people are good. It is their culture, so I can’t blame them. I visit their country and I think that is up to me to adapt (same view up to a point in our countries with immigrants – but HALT, I won’t go there). Also, apparently Indians just love people. Most of the time they never have a sleeping room for themselves, let alone any private room. The definition of personal space as we know it, is totally different. The numbers of India isn’t as different as many other countries: just the way they deal with it is different than we are used to. So no blame to any one, except for myself, though that didn’t change the way I felt.

Conclusion: It is noisy as hell and it is busy everywhere you go. Be prepared..

The Land of Cows
Hit a cow on a highway and you will have to go to jail. It’s what they say. The cow is holy.

In most of the cities we have seen cows walking around. They eat plastic and other garbage (so much for the holiness of the cow ) and when they try to eat some food of a vegetable stall, they will get kicked away (so much for the holiness of the cow). But it was not the way we expected it to be, not in the city, nor on the highway. We hardly ever got into a situation where we really had to brake for the Holy Cow to avoid going to jail.

Fact side-note: India is one of the major countries when it comes to cow meat export. Ha!

Conclusion: It is the Land of Cows. They are freakin’ holy, where else can you get Holy Cows? But: it is not as extreme as we thought it would be. It is not like there are more cows than cars on the highway.

The Land of Poverty
A very famous stereotype of India, and what can I say about it?

Yes, we have seen extreme poverty. But I, unfortunately, have seen this in many other countries as well. The biggest problem, as far I as I could observe, was the big difference between the rich and the poor. And the, in my opinion, ridiculous caste system, doesn’t help either.

On the other hand people in India don’t die any more from too little food or water. It is just one factor in the whole poverty discussion, but still an indicator.

Conclusion: There is poverty and you will see it while travelling India. The difference between the extremely wealthy people versus extremely poor people is just too much. That is all I have to say.


The Land of Being Ripped Off
They start at 3000 rupees when the actual price is 500 rupees. In most other countries where I have travelled, it would be like 1000 rupees starting price when the actual price is 500 rupees. Not in India. And neither do they mind ripping you of for water or bread.

I also strongly got the feeling that Indians enjoy negotiating. It is not like in South-America, where once the price was set, it was finished. Here, when the price is set on, let’s say 1000 rupees, they will ask in the end still for 1100 rupees. It just goes on and on.

It pissed me of a lot of times. But it is also in their culture, I guess.

Conclusion: They will try to rip you off when they can. Even for fuckin’ water. Childish, but true. Not everyone, not everywhere, but it did happen.

The Land of Colours
Probably this didn’t even pop up in your mind, but I feel the urgent need to mention it, though I have already written too much.

What a country. There is not one country in the world where I have seen so many man wearing pink. And they have the boldest combination: green pants with a blue t-shirt, it is all possible. And not a plain t-shirt, but the t-shirt it is full of colourful drawings. Colours everywhere!

And then they have the Holi festival. Unfortunately we weren’t there when it was celebrated, we still cry about it, but the whole country is an explosion of colours. If you don’t know what the Holi Festival is; check it out here.

Conclusion: While in our countries less is more (black, white, grey and no patterns on the t-shirts, maybe the odd Aztec pattern here and there, or a very daring stripe – or does this only go for the hipster friends I have?), here more is really more. We loved it!

Some Last Notes
I could go on and on with stereotypes and examples… The Land of Corruption, The Land of Curries, The Land of Many Different Religions, The Land of Slums, The Land of Agriculture, The Land of … but I will stop here. If your thoughts on India are not mentioned, feel free to let me know in the comments.

By the way: Slumdog Millionaire is an amazing easy going movie. I really enjoy watching it. It is funny, the story is very creative and touches you and the acting is great. But, when you watch the movie, just try to see the movie as a movie, and not as a portrait of India.