The stereotypes are all true… but all not true

Phil Koch explains how India is everything he thought it would be and completely different at the same time. Phil consulted on a project for the National Bank of Abu Dhabi with two other Fisher College of Business Students during the Global Projects Program in Mumbai, India.

India is a very dynamic and complicated place. In Mumbai everything is fast paced and competitive…like NYC. Everyone has a story to tell and something to prove. The major difference between Mumbai and NYC is that although there is a competitive spirit in both places, people in Mumbai are genuinely hospitable and generally very nice.

When you sit down in any restaurant in India be it Thali, Non-veg/Veg, Mughal, Hindo – Chinese even Tex-Mex, you are almost always ceremoniously taken care of. In many restaurants you are fed copious amounts of food due to the Indian belief of “guests are gods to us”. It may be a bit cliché but this is the benchmark for the very high level of service provided to you in restaurants of all kinds, hotels and even around the office. Unlike the West, the high bar for service in India is not driven by money/promotions but a wholehearted desire from somewhere within to do right by their customer/guests.

Many negative stereotypes about the classification of the whole of India are abundantly recited in the United States by people who truly have no concept of the country. They range from India being a filthy place, to people being smelly, to being uneducated, to being extremely poor, and schemers and on and on. I will be the first to tell you that everything I have just written is characteristic of India, but it does not tell the whole story.

India is still very much developing and as Vikas, my boss in Mumbai, put it, India is a “poor country” overall so the smells, municipal services, literacy rates/education opportunities and levels of average wealth are extremely different when compared to the U.S. The reverse of every stereotype I highlighted is also true within India and within Mumbai in particular. In the same block in Worli Sea Face (high priced real estate in town) I saw millionaires departing their upscale condos in chauffer driven Rolls Royces, Maybachs and Ferraris, where directly down the street was a large complex of lean-to abodes with whole family’s sharing spaces smaller than the average dorm room. This disparity is truly sad and something we do not experience in the U.S., or at least to less of an extent than in Mumbai.

When you exit the airport, “schemers” flourish as many “grapevine learn by osmosis” type of travelers will tell you, but not everyone is grabbing for your pockets and trying to make a quick buck off you as ignorant acquaintances may tell you. These types of people give India and places like it a bad name with sweeping generalizations that can smear its image in the public’s eye. India deserves better than this and definitely deserves a second look from American tourists.

Reverting back to my original point, whether it’s in a restaurant, hotel, on the street or in an Uber, 99% of the time Indian people try to accommodate you as best as they can and make sure your experience is enjoyable. Indians are EXTREMELY proud about India!! They love their country and deep cultural heritage and are always keen to know your thoughts about India/Mumbai/their restaurant etc. They are very welcoming and they look to do anything in their power to entrust that you have a fantastic time in their country (I quite like this and wish the U.S. would adopt such a mentality).

More notes on hospitality: Whether at Vikas’s house (our direct boss), Nirvikar’s Cricket Club (CEO of the Bank), Tanaji’s Yacht Club (OSU Alum & Real Estate Mogul) or Rumana’s home, each of the hosts went above and beyond to make sure we were well fed. Roumana (our landlord in Pali Hill) had the NBAD team over for an Iftar two days before we departed. She invited us into her home and we were able to meet and break bread, actually much bread, with her very awesome and comedic family. For more than four hours we ate delicious, home cooked “Non-Veg” food and had very insightful conversations into Politics (Indian/U.S.), Bollywood and Travel among other things. It is spur-the-moment events like this that truly make travel awesome and experiences unique. Had we not found that particular Airbnb, we would not have had an Iftar (breaking the fast during Ramadan) with an Indian family, we would have missed out on great conversation and would lack insights into true local life. This was a definite once in a lifetime type of activity.

Phil Koch

Phil Koch participated in the Global Projects Program in India, consulting on a project for the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. He is currently studying abroad in Santiago, Chile. He has previously traveled to Switzerland and Italy on the Freshman Global Lab.