Expat Unplugged: How to Date and Classify Expats in India!

Thane Richard , 05 Aug 2013

So I somehow convinced my pal Thane to write a blog diary for me on his expat experiences in India (especially dating!) and because he’s cute and hilarious he AGREED! Enjoy :) xoxo

Thane Richard
Thane Richard

When people in the US find out I live in India it is like I just performed a hadoken on their expectations. Wide-eyed stares, occasional gasps, and expressions of “OMG, I am seriously talking to a freaking Martian!”  Not to worry, I’m used to it; I have gotten this reaction my whole life because I grew up in Montana, which is just as foreign as India to most Americans.  To put this in perspective, it would be like telling a South Bombayite you are from Andheri.  I know, sit down before you faint: they do exist.  The never-fail first question is “What is the hardest part of living there?”  They expect poverty or food or smell or crowd to be my answer.  Nope, my answer is dating.

The first option for dating in India is fellow expats.  I find my life is made easier by putting people in boxes, liberally applying stereotypes, and rushing to quick, hard-to-shake judgements.  Thus, my expat classification system developed with friends after years of careful field work:

Desi Thane
Desi Thane

1: The A/C foreigner. 

These expats come to work in India briefly or to visit India and never step outside of their air conditioned bubbles of comfort and, if they do, it is either a horrible experience or a quaint authentic experience that they use in conversations back home as evidence of the fact that they “know India.”  When they see all of India, it means from the balcony of Aer in the Four Seasons.  I do not hate these people, I just hate it when they claim to know India the way those outside the bubble do.  In fact, I will often come to the A/C foreigner’s defense in a conversation that turns on them, which it often does, because they supposedly do not see “the real India.”

Rude person: “She doesn’t know India, she only went to nice clubs and fancy restaurants.”

Me: “Oh, so what you are saying then is that the ‘real India’ can only be a place of poverty, suffering, and hunger?  You mean that, unless they step outside of the world of privilege, what they have seen is not India but some fake Neverland?”

Rude person: “Well no, I just meant that they only see one side.”

Me: “Yes, that’s true, they only see one side.  But before you shout down from the ivory tower you have built from your rides on local trains, stays in cheap hostels, and avoidance of anything written in Lonely Planet, remember that they came to India.  Most people never even show up. “

I have had that same conversation so many times.  Nevertheless, the A/C types can be annoying because, God forbid they step outside their bubble, all you hear is complaining. 

Ideal date: Dinner at Dome followed by drinks at Willingdon Club or Bombay Gym. You pretend you’re on the set of Downton Abbey: Bombay.

Thane at the Taj
Thane at the Taj

2.  The Peace Corps-types. 

These are often the “rude person” from the fake conversation above.  In trying to defend India, they are actually condemning her.  They are implying that anything luxurious or beautiful to be found in India is not actually Indian, it’s “Western.”  They have a picture of what India is supposed to be – a romantically backwards developing country – and anything outside of that is fake. 

“So what brings you to Bombay?”  A typical opener – boring, I admit – with a stranger at a large dinner table where we have mutual friends.  A common scenario.

 “Oh, well, I am here on a [insert grant] working for [insert NGO] in [insert slum name] and looking at how [insert developing world ailment] affects the long term employment prospects of [insert type of poor person].”

The conclusion of their intro is always accompanied by an increase in the pitch of their voice, as if their introduction were a question, and an enthusiastic head bob.  I think its purpose is to convey humility or sincerity but it just sounds to me like they are really enthralled at hearing their voice describe themselves.  “Shit, I AM the shit!” is what I hear. 

Ideal date: A slum tour followed by a picnic at an orphanage where you don’t eat, the children do.  You talk a lot about literature.

Thane in India
Thane in India

3. The Grungy Hippie. 

India seems to attract a disproportionately high number of these types because of its association with yoga, vegetarian food, eating, praying, loving, and George Harrison.  Fortunately, I do not run into them very often, but when I do I need to begin drinking immediately.  Again, I am the ignorant foreigner who is doing India the wrong way and I need to be converted.  I need to see the spiritual side of things, and stop working for The Man, and smoke more weed.  Goa is their capital – north Goa in particular – with an embassy on Colaba Causeway.

Ideal date: Dinner at Leopold’s Cafe followed by a stroll on Chowpatty beach where you lay down on the sand and pet the stray dogs and give them names. 

Thane on a train
Thane on a train

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