So of course after writing the post about things that you should consider before going to India, I remembered a whole bunch more stuff that you might like to take into consideration. Of course the only one of those things I can remember right now is this: Don’t let strangers clean your ears!
Ok perhaps I should broaden that rule a bit. Because that one seems a little oddly specific. I assure you though, when walking the streets of Mumbai it is a relevant rule!
Something I learned very quickly in India is that you need to take care of your space. I tend to lean towards a bit of a less-than-safe politeness when it comes to other people. I am a little naive, sure, but I am also perhaps a little too open to interaction with strangers. As is my husband sometimes.
And this is how it happened that a man walked up to my husband and just started cleaning his ears. Without a doubt this is probably the most WTF moment either of us has ever had. Like a rude schoolchild I couldn’t stop giggling and he of course might as well have had “what the hell is happening right now” tattooed on his forehead.
Now in India, this happened to us quite a bit before we wised up. You see, someone will walk up to you and just pin something on your shirt, or give you a dot on your forehead, or clean your ears. At first you’ll get a fright because you’ve been accosted by a stranger. Then you will relax because it is clear that they have no intention of hurting you. Then you will wonder if it is some sort of cultural experience that you are having. And then your accostant will demand money. And THAT is where it gets awkward. Especially if you look like you come form a place where you earn Euros or Pounds or Dollars. Because they will tell you how much money you owe them for this service that you did not request but have already received and if you’re a not-that-wealthy South African like me it is most likely that they will be demanding more than your budget for the entire day.
It’s awkward. Arguing about it when there is a language barrier is even more awkward. The best is just to avoid the situation altogether and if someone tries to christen you or clean your ear or pin a flag to your chest just politely but firmly say no.
Unless you actually want your ears cleaned. Which is also a valid choice.