Not even one month here in Delhi. I must probably be still in my ‘romantic’ phase: everything is new, everything is interesting, everything is exciting, everything has to be discovered... So, I have to confess, I am a bit surprised when, discussing with people that have been here for quite a while, I notice tired expressions and catch sentences such as: “Certainly Delhi is not easy”, “Indians are rough and rude”, “Can’t wait to leave”, and so on...
However, I didn’t have to wait too much to have my first experience of how rude and unpleasant Indians can be. First day in my new neighbourhood, Defence Colony, and first day of grocery shopping: Saturday morning I went to the local market. Just to set the stage, the market of Defence Colony is characterized by a multitude of small shops that sell more or less the same things, from food to toiletries, etc.: the classic ‘Pakistani shop’ that you find open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in every corner in London.
“Wow” I thought among myself, vaguely recollecting of my classes of microeconomics at university, “this is the perfect example of perfect competition: an infinite number of sellers offering the same goods. The market price should equal the marginal cost!” (That is to say, in other words, that the price should be the lowest possible, as if one seller set a higher price, buyers would go to another seller, and the first seller would soon be out of business).
But how to be sure that the economic theory works in reality? “Well - I said to myself - I am going to ask the price of the same goods in each shop, and if the theory is correct, the price should be the same everywhere. If the theory fails, well, I’ll do my grocery in the shop that gives me the best price...”
And so I entered the first shop, and I started asking how much was this, how much was that, etc. At the third or fourth question, the owner of the shop, a fat and greasy Indian, came to me and asked me:
- Are you just asking prices, or are you buying?
- Well - I answered - I ask prices, and if the prices are good I am going to buy
- You are wasting my time, get out of my shop and go to ‘ask prices’ somewhere else
Which, in fact, is what I did.
Well, beside all the considerations on the fact that - in theory - the customer should always be right, on the fact that - of course - I will never go back to that shop to do my grocery (but, sadly, this won't be enough to push that shop out of business), or on the fact that - once more - economic theory proved never to work in the real world, this episode in a way sanctioned the end of my ‘honeymoon’ with India. Of course I knew that my image of India in these first weeks was a bit naïf and influenced by my positive mood. And of course I knew that the reality had to be different. However, used to the (sometime excessive) African politeness, I was somehow hurt by this behaviour.
However, if I want to see the positive side of this episode, I can say that this incident helped me to enter a bit more into ‘India’. It reminded me, for instance, that India is not Africa (as sometimes, for a strange mental process, I tend to believe), that Indians are not Italians (as perhaps I wish they were), and that living in a different country and discovering a new culture is enriching, exciting, but also tough...