05 March 2015

India travel tip: How to deal with staring in India

When my sister-in-law and her young daughter came to visit us while we were living in Bangalore, I took the little girl for a walk around the neighbourhood. Two minutes into our walk, she asked me: “Why is everyone staring at me?” I told her that people are not used to seeing a little white girl and that they were curious and intrigued but that they didn’t mean any harm. She wanted to go back inside!

One thing first time visitors to India can find very difficult to get used to is the almost constant staring they’re subject to. In Anglo-Saxon societies especially, staring is considered rude and can be interpreted as aggressive behaviour. For this reason, many foreigners are not used to being stared at, so this is a new experience which can make them feel very self-conscious and uncomfortable...

In India, anyone who stands out for any reason will be the object of curiosity and subjected to unabashed staring. It’s not only men ogling women, it’s also women, children… everyone stares – grannies are the worst – they can stare down anyone!

If you’re travelling in India, staring is something you have to learn to deal with. Here are a few tips:

Develop tunnel vision. Act completely oblivious to the world around you and don’t look back at people. Pretending they don’t exist helps and after a while you don’t notice the staring anymore. Ignoring the world around you and pretending you’re in your own little bubble seems a bit sad but this is a coping mechanism. Creating a bubble is the only way to cope with some aspects of India.

Don’t react. Don’t look back or try to win the staring game by trying to stare someone down. You won’t win!

Keep a low profile. It’s difficult for a foreigner to pass unnoticed in India but you can try to blend in a little bit. Indians pay a lot of attention to appearances, so dress modestly and neatly. You’ll notice that women do not show their shoulders or legs and men rarely wear shorts. Wear Indian clothes and you’ll feel less out of place.

Wear sunglasses. If you feel very uncomfortable with staring, sunglasses can help, especially in situations where you can’t just disappear. It’s easy to hide behind a pair of shades and feel somehow immune to the world around you.

Smile and say hello. A smile and a polite namaste / namaskara / vanakkom is a great way to break the ice and connect with locals. Indians can look stern but once you smile at them, you’ll get a warm smile back and a friendly discussion usually follows.

These are a few tips for those who feel uncomfortable being stared at. However, if you love being the centre of attention, you'll love India!

Do you have another tip you'd like to share?


Brittany said...

This is such a great post! My husband and I are planning on going to India soon. I've been trying to think of some things I will need to talk to my kids about. This is a great one. Thanks!

tojo said...

The remarks made are true. In most situations the staring is not limited to the Anglo-Saxon lot but to any foreigner and,indeed, also Indians who appear different from the locals. The staring is usually not meant to hurt anyone in most instances but is just curiosity, but then such a behavior can be intimidating to someone who is not used to such doings. And the suggestions made are good especially to a neophyte to India.