When you are a foreigner in India, you can’t just walk along the street and stay unnoticed. All the eyes on you! (Well, almost all). And it causes mixed feelings, but most often – irritation, because it is just not clear “Why?! Why do they stare??!”
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My posts are usually not negative but this one can’t be positive for me. This is not to judge, but to bring a little bit of awareness. Staring is one of the worst things in India. Something that no foreigner likes here. How it feels – it can’t be properly described to Indian people, but every foreigner knows how uncomfortable it is. Sometimes you even start to understand the celebrities and surely don’t except fame as something cool anymore, but annoying! But if celebrities have done something for it and maybe wished to be famous, you are just a normal human which certainly didn’t do anything to receive never-stopping attention and weren’t mentally prepared to be not able to calmly walk along the street.
If you have visited China, you might think you know what I am talking about. But trust me – you do not. Chinese people do stare too but they do it very differently: giggling and photographing you hideously, which looks more like a childish immediacy. And there the girls are the ones who do it more, as well, as ask to take pictures with you, Chinese guys are usually very shy and they have certain restrictions in behavior towards the girls due to matriarchy in the country.
Indian stares are very different: long, steadfast, women stares can be judgmental and sometimes even hateful, men stares are often looking “hungry”, scary. And no, if you think that staring angrily or questionably back will help you – some people in India don’t stop staring at you even if you do so. A few times times I ended up asking them, why do they stare? And men have given a very surprised reaction, some were looking at me as if I have gone crazy, women just started laughing. But men in India stare more, much more than women, because Indian women claim that they are being stared at also.
Indians are not against to take pictures and videos with foreigners as well, random people, at random places…At first, for maybe couple of weeks it amuses you and you agree to take pictures. But after some time you start questioning it, because you certainly can’t imagine the same thing happening in your country. Really, you are visiting sight or exhibition but you are becoming an exhibit instead! Once, on one exhibition I have actually asked one guy who wanted to take picture with me, why he needs it? And his answer was: “My friends will be jealous”. But knowing how often Indian guys do send harassment messages, I have thought that he could even post it with the caption that he has a foreigner girlfriend, or worse…
Some people in India also look at foreigners as at real aliens, who have fallen from the sky. And have such perception of us as well like as if we don’t know anything about life on Earth, ha-ha – that much differently Indian people see life in India and another countries that they are being amused by every simple thing you can do. “I am just a human” – the words I feel like telling very often in India…
Foreigners even Google the question: “Why Indians stare?” In the most serious way. And the answers can be something like it is curious for them what a foreigner is doing in India, but they are shy to ask. And that they feel curious about foreigners in India but when they go abroad, they get used to see us everywhere so don’t stare anymore. And this is in the country that is currently one of the most famous travel destinations in the world, where thousands of foreigners come every year. And in Delhi – in the capital, one of the most famous places in India and where many foreigners are invited to come for work as well. People are still surprised, as much as they were 5 years ago, and seems like they will never stop to be, while in another countries where foreigners come a lot, people stop reacting at them. I can not imagine how foreigners in smaller cities of India feel.
By the way, if you think that it is the matter of clothes – yes and no. If you wear something short, people will obviously stare at you more, but if you dress up covered – people will still stare, just in “standard” way. Even if you dress up like an Indian, you will still attract people curiosity about why you are dressed such way then.
Actually, when I was coming to travel in India, I learned to feel calm about it…But, when I have moved here, it started to irritate me again, even more than before. Because I certainly didn’t expect that I will be still stared at even on the street where I live over a year! What to tell, sometimes people stare at me even when I am on my own balcony (and on 3rd floor, not the 1st one where everybody can see me, but no, people look up from downstairs even) when I just put wet clothes for drying. But when I am walking with my husband, I am being stared much less somehow.
If you ask locals about staring, they will not understand your irritation. Well, they will kind of, but they will not understand why this annoys you SO MUCH. Women will simply say: “They stare at everyone.” And from some point it will be right. But women here do not enjoy male attention at all, especially from strangers, especially in public places. And it is strange then, why they are so calm about staring? Especially when people talk a lot about women safety here, seems like staring is not something that makes them feel unsafe. But this is surely something that makes foreigner girls feel unsafe, maybe the most.
The answer is simple, guys: STARING IS NOT CONSIDERED IMPOLITE HERE! Staring is completely justified as curiosity. Even when you don’t feel such way. Staring is not taught by the parents to their children as bad manners. In my country, if the child stares at someone, specially who looks differently, child’s parents will tell that it is not polite and disrespectful thing to do. But not in India. In India adults are the ones who stare much more than children. It is normal here. But not this fact shocks, the fact that people are not thinking of another person’s feelings, that what does. It is selfish to put your curiosity above another person’s feelings according to me. In my country people can easily start fighting with each other if one stares, especially guys. But generally, people are not staring not because they are not interested and curious about another people, but because they do not want to make another people uncomfortable. Guys can stare at girls sometimes, but far from how Indian guys do it, and it usually means they consider the girl beautiful. In India I have also heard such explanation, but it doesn’t feel so. And I have heard an explanation as well that Indian guys stare at white girls because they see white girls in porn – can you believe that??!! But in India, people are more likely to justify each other even in the things they don’t like themselves, if foreigner doesn’t like it, even the one that lives here.
Actually, not everyone is staring, but mostly young men and often middle-aged women too. Young girls and elder men, more often than not, don’t stare, and if they are curious, they only give short glances (adequate to the perception of foreigners). But such a change between genders with the age is strange..
In their defense, it must be said that it also depends on the level of education of the people, as well as the area where you stay or traveling. People will not stare at you (well, almost) in the areas where they are accustomed to expect to meet foreigners: on the sights; in shopping centers, especially expensive ones – there are more educated (read rich) people usually spend time, people who have been abroad, snobs – there you can come in short clothes too and nobody will take it as unusual – Indian girls wear short skirts or dresses to such places often as well; in the areas where are many hotels, so many tourists live there; well, just in the central areas – there will be less staring also. But I live now in the area where are almost no foreigners ever – they simply have nothing to do here. So I am morally relaxing in shopping centers, ha-ha, even though I am not a shopaholic. Especially when I happened to be in an expensive one – it felt as if I were at home (in terms of stares). I should go there more often, so what if I can’t buy anything there, ha-ha..
In general, to be able almost not to look at people in the order not to see their looks on you is the best solution I have found so far..
What is funny that Indians tell me that I don’t look so much like a foreigner. Well, like i am not a blond. That, they say, in India there are people with white skin and colored eyes, brown hair, and tall girls also. In fact, yes, there are. Although each of the listed features is rare to meet here, and even more all together, it is still possible to take me for an Indian. And maybe people just stare thinking: “Whether she is a foreign or an Indian?”…But once I actually met Indian girl with white skin, green eyes, not so short, though she was not slim. I myself wondered if she was a foreigner or a mixed child, at least. It turned out that she was not. And when I asked her if she was stared at a lot, because she looked like a foreigner, she said no. To which I was surprised to say that I am stared at a lot. And she replied that she might just need to lose weight… What left me in mixed feelings, because it refuses the theory that every woman here is stared at. Or maybe she just, unlike us, foreigners, does not really notice it so much.
But after all, people here stare not only at females. At foreign guys too. And it annoys them even more! Because girls in any country, probably, are less or more used to this, but guys, when another guys are staring at them – just imagine what a flurry of emotions this can cause to them!
In the end to say, often foreigners do even ask on social media Indians to stop staring at them. It is one of the things that can make a country more comfortable for tourists so will attract more of them and money in the country. But I already certainly understand that it is useless to expect the country to change, specially when the locals are ok with it. I am just writing it for the reason to show to Indian people how actually uncomfortable it can feel, because then people who know it, will at least a little consider our feelings. And to show whatever possible reasons Indians have to stare to foreigners, so they will be at least some sort of aware about this rhetorical for them question and will be able to feel a little calmer. Or at least will have the answer when they Google it, haha…
Cover picture source: www.life-like-travel.ru