Now that we have decided to move back, I have been thinking hard, really hard about what could have been done differently, what could have changed our experience, and in general, how I can help anybody else in our place.
So here are some tips, tricks, suggestions and gotchas. If you are reading this and have any additional points to add, please let me know and I will gladly update the list.
- First and foremost, find a place to live close to the person you are closest to in that city. If not in the same complex, find something that is less than 15-20 minutes of drive time. Ideally, walking distance. You may not pop into their home all the time, but it sure is a huge help when you need to find the nearest/best hair cutting place or a reliable plumber or grocery stores to avoid, etc.
- Be ready to become dependent. I am not talking about losing independence because you may have to move in with parents or in-laws. I am talking about being dependent on domestic help of various kinds – full-time/part-time servant, driver, the guy who presses your clothes, grocery delivery, etc. All these service persons are available, for relatively low cost too (esp for “IT” salaries), but most of these tasks are not doable without them. Usually there is no dishwasher, so if the maid does not come, you end up having to wash each thing by yourself. It is very dusty, so there is no way you can go more than a day or two without dusting the whole place. Driving is extremely stressful, so you do need a driver for most of the day. And so on. So be ready to give up your independence (in that way).
- Even though cities like Bangalore are “built for the expat” as in they have communities catering to expats, services built to address expat needs, etc., I would strongly urge you not to live life in India as an American (or any other country person). You decide to move to India, live like an Indian. You will get extremely frustrated if you live life like an American. Don’t get fooled by the setup. Underneath, it is all Indian, no matter what the façade looks like.
- Related to the above point, don’t try to live in a bubble too much. Don’t protect yourself by living in air conditioning, drinking only bottled water, etc. After the initial few weeks of transitioning, just let go. Roll down the windows and take in some of the diesel smoke. Have normal “RO” water at good restaurants. Let the kids into the community swimming pool. The sooner you blur the line between “there” and “here”, the better. Of course, you need to use discretion like eating at roadside stalls but not drinking their water, but in general, live outside the bubble.
- If you have a choice between an extremely large complex with plenty of amenities and a small complex with basic amenities, choose the latter. I know it may seem counter-intuitive because if you live in a big complex, the chances you will make more friends are higher. However, what we noticed was, the bigger the complex, the easier it is to not meet the same people more than once or twice, ever. If you are in a smaller complex, I feel there would be a better chance of actually getting to know the neighbors.
- Service providers are not responsible. Just keep that in mind. They have no sense of ownership, no attention to detail, and most importantly, no sense of responsibility. A plumber may say he is coming at 10am but won’t show up all day and will never even call you that he cannot make it, and worse, won’t apologize for either of those issues. Just know that the biggest issues will arise when you set up various services. Typically you won’t need to interact with these guys on a day-to-day basis. However, as I experienced, it is extremely frustrating when pretty much every single service provider repeats the same crime – being late or not showing up, doing an incomplete job, providing incorrect updates or instructions and in general doing what would be considered an unsatisfactory job. Just be ready for it.
- Give up your politeness. When dealing with any service provider including servants, drivers, waiters, parking garage attendants, watchmen, etc., don’t be afraid to be what you may consider borderline rude. Being bossy is always better than being polite. If you notice that the other person is someone who can handle politeness, you can turn down the volume on the bossiness. The general rule of thumb is if you don’t indicate that you are running the show, they will. And you don’t ever want that to happen. I must admit, this was one of my biggest challenges. I simply could not behave like that.
- Some logistics – get proof of residence established early. Address verification is a big deal and if you don’t have a local address it would be hard or impossible to get any service started. Keep 100s of passport-sized photos of the entire family ready. Well, not 100s, but dozens at least. You need them everywhere, just like the proof of residence. Make sure you have an ID proof that shows residence too. California driver’s license did not fly in some cases for me, because it did not have proof that I am an Indian. 😦 Finally, make many photocopies of these various proofs.
- Save yourself the trouble and get an automatic shift car. I know there are advantages in a manual shift, biggest being a cost advantage, but my left leg is screaming for rest after maybe 10 minutes of driving in a stop-and-go situation. Which happens all the time. An automatic shift car will give you the much needed relief when driving around in traffic.
These are just some of the thoughts that I could collect. I may keep adding to this list over the next few weeks.
I realize that this may be something every person who returns to India may write, but I didn’t want that to stop my contribution. Hope this helps 🙂