Category Archives: Communicating

How Difficult is it to Communicate in India?

This is my first post about what’s it like to live in India.  As you can imagine, packing up and moving to a completely different side of the world can be quite daunting – for so many reasons.  And, I never thought it was going to be easy, but, I also never thought that communication would be so difficult.  First, a lot of Indians know English.  Our office, even, is considered an English office.  Most people know, at least, the basics (much more than we Americans know of any other language!)

Let’s add to it that I have spent A LOT of money (none of it mine, mind you) on an education that focuses on communication.  As I like to say, “I have an undergraduate degree in Political Science, a masters degree in Communications, and a law degree.  I am classically trained in the art of bullshit!”  But, I am also trained in communicating.  So, when I moved to India, I did not think that communicating would be my biggest challenge (a challenge, mind you, just not the *biggest* challenge!).

Honestly, the biggest challenges are actually what you might think are the little things.  While many people here know and understand English, it’s the vocabulary that causes most of the problems.  Here’s a perfect example – “turn around” versus “U-turn.”  Many of the roads here have medians so you can’t just make a turn where you like (more on Indian driving to come in a further post).  So, in many cases, you have to tell the person driving to make a U-turn, or to turn around.  Either one would be perfectly acceptable in the States – tell a cab driver to turn around is probably, actually, more common than telling him to “take a U-turn.”

But, not here in India.  Most drivers know “U-turn” and that’s it.  The first few times I was out and I was telling a driver to turn around, they looked at me like I was crazy (which I may be, but that’s beside the point).  I kept saying, “turn around, turn around” with hand motions and everything!  Then, one of the drivers said “U-turn?” and I said, “yes, yes U-turn – turn around” and from then on, I realized that “turn around” was just not gonna work here in India – and I would have to adjust to “U-turn.”

Okay…so that’s just the first example – and part of the frustration.  You never quite know – until you’re in the thick of it – what the magic “word” is going to be in order to open the gates to a clear conversation!

Like I said, I knew things would be tough – but I didn’t realize how tough it would be to communicate.  I might just need to look into Hindi lessons here soon!