Let’s Call This a Training Session for India

Travel confounds your assumptions and habits.

Where I am now, in Australia, exit signs are green. Cars drive on the left side of the road and pedestrians generally follow the same sinister path.

Tipping wait-staff is uncommon. Television displays nipples on both sexes. Tax is included in advertised prices. In an elevator, to choose the second level as your destination you push “1.” Packages are measured in grams and kilos; tempertaure is Celcius; distances in meters. Familiar words lose meaning, change pronounciation and spelling.

elevator = lift
trunk = boot
garbage can = garbage bin
good morning = g’day
flavor = flavour

And so we get a fresh look at things . . . especially ourselves. In a new environment almost everything is a challenge to which we must adapt, not change to suit our accustomed self. Philosophers and behavioural scientists who define humans as the creatures who conciously control and change their environment probably haven’t spent much time in another culture. The implicit promise of $200 per night hotel rooms is that nothing you are used to at home will be different. The pity is your travel experience is discounted in inverse proportion to the rack rate.

For a $400 per night, only the doorknobs and the toilet (“w.c.”) flush will be novel. The blankets will be the same as at home. The bath towels will be familiar. You’ll not have to explain to room service the difference between of “eggs sunny side up” and “over easy.”

For $50 per night, the taps in the bath may be reversed, putting hot on the right and cold on the left. The dial tone on the phone will be flatter. The front door is locked at 10pm.

Then there is the $32 per night “backpacker inn” I’m staying in now. In the USA, this place would have been called a “rooming house” – or England a bedsitter. Common bathroom down the hall. A resident drunk. A common room with a tv set that only the manager knows how to control. A shared kitchen and fridge with small cartons of milk that are a week past spoil-date.

Lower rate = a more intimate and immediate encounter.

When I go to India in two weeks, my circumstances will be even more intimate and immediate. The rate will drop to bewteen $15 and $20 per night.

It should be interesting.

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