Anyone who has ever lived abroad or travelled outside their home country knows that sometimes it is simply impossible to avoid standing out. India is not the first foreign country I have lived in. I was born in L.A. and raised in Southern California. As an adult, I have lived in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a summer, then off and on for 18 years I lived in a small Spanish village on the Mediterranean Sea called Sitges, which is located just south of Barcelona…and since April, 2011 I am now living in Bangalore, India. Those are all pretty diverse locations, so I hope you’ll trust me when I say that I stand out more in Bangalore than I have anywhere else I have lived.
Standing out to the extent that I do is actually a very interesting thing to experience on a day-to-day basis. Now I am certainly not complaining, so don’t get me wrong. I knew that I was moving to India and I did have some idea about what that meant. But I didn’t expect to feel quite as “alien” as I really do so much of the time. I thought that maybe wearing traditional clothes might help me blend in but sadly that didn't work! I ADORE wearing a sari (have bought two and looking for excuse to wear 2nd one soon!) but the one time I wore a sari for a wedding it just made people stare even more for some reason.
First off, everyone stares. EVERYONE. From cute little kids and grandmas in saris or burkas to teens and generally the majority of the men. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable in the sense that I feel unsafe, but it is an odd thing to have zero possibility to blend in. Here in India, for the most part, I am a gigantic blonde alien! Of course I'm a friendly alien but still…. :-)
Let’s start with my size. I literally TOWER over roughly 60% of the people here in India. That is a huge chunk of the population!! Close your eyes and imagine that for one second. Then there is another 20% of people who I am simply taller than but not by as much. And the other 20% are men (and a few women) who inherited the tall gene and are actually – thankfully – taller than me. This is the opposite experience I had in northern European countries like Holland or Sweden, where I actually felt VERY SHORT there. It’s a very interesting thing to be this much taller than most men. And in my opinion, they don’t care in the least. I love the macho, macho Indian men for that. Of course, I could be wrong but I don’t think so.
Now on to my hair. In India, the women typically all have amazingly lustrous, long, gorgeous thick heads of dark hair. I am so jealous and wish my hair was even half as thick and stunning as these women but I was born with very fine, very thin blonde hair that stayed very blonde until my late 20s or early 30s when I stopped spending so much time in the sun, so now I add highlights to it at the salon. It was easy to stay almost white blonde as a girl in L.A. because I was constantly playing outside, or hanging out at the beach or at the river with my Dad who had a boat and loved camping. Then as a teen in SoCal we spent so much time at our friends’ pools (one year my hair even turned green from the chlorine! Now that did suck!!). Then I owned a couple of Jeep Wranglers in Cali, moved to beach towns in Mexico and Spain… anyway, you get the picture. I am blonde. I think that if I had dark hair I would blend in a bit better here, regardless of my facial features and skin. But there is no way in hell I am dying my hair because I love being a blonde.
And last but not least my skin sets me apart. I sometimes joke that I am almost Smurf-like …so white that I am blue because you can see all of my veins. But it is really interesting for me because I have always been quite tan because of the places that I lived and the amount of time I spend in the sun and in a bikini. I really LIKE to be tan but I am finding it impossible to actually get tan here in Bangalore. First, there are no UV tanning salons here, or at least I haven’t found one. In the U.S. and Europe there are tanning salons in every town. You strip down naked, go into a booth that has UV bulbs, select some music so you’re not bored, turn on the built-in fan to combat the heat, hit the START button and in just 5-10 minutes you have “safely” tanned just a bit. I would even be happy to find tanning creams but still no joy. And of course there is the “old school” lying out but for the first time in my life I don’t live by the ocean or sea. And I can’t lay out by the pool here at my flat yet because I only have bikinis and was told that I should not lay out in a bikini here. NOT because it is prohibited but because I might feel uncomfortable with people staring, which is a fair observation. So what do I do? This is really a funny dilemma, and obviously not a really important one, but I would still like to get tan again without having to hit the pool at a 5 star hotel or fly to Goa.
My looks have played a huge role in my life in India so far. Although it’s wrong on so many levels, there are massive BENEFITS to being a tall, blonde, white girl living here in Bangalore:
- Aside from a couple of freelance projects through a friend, I can definitely say that my looks have played a role in the professional opportunities I have in India. The first company I worked for here was candid in saying that they wanted to give an ‘international’ feel to their executive team. I was only with them a couple of months, in the end it wasn’t a good fit. Since then my looks have definitely helped me to land a couple of my freelance PR and marketing projects because the owners of the companies were Indian men who made obvious overtures, which is not fun to deal with on a constant basis believe me. I am sure my looks also played a role in scoring my new job in cricket as media spokesperson for the Karnataka Premier League. Again, I’m not complaining but it would be nice to think that things really didn’t work this way.
- Although I find this VERY unfair and incorrect, when I walk into a shop someone almost always comes up to attend to me immediately, even walking away from other customers already inside. It’s embarrassing and I always say that I will wait my turn but the shop keepers rarely listen. Sadly, I suppose shop owners think they have better chances at a big sale with me than their Indian customer.
- This might seem like an odd benefit but there are a significant number of men constantly trying to make my acquaintance. I know this is due to the reputation that white girls have for being easy but to be honest this makes being single much more fun in India than it ever was in Spain. In Spain, my last date was December, 2009…I never found anyone really interesting to date but to be honest I was rarely approached by men there either. However, in India when I am out on the town with friends, I am approached on average twice a night by someone trying to ask me out. At first I was really flattered but now it just bugs the hell out of me because I know that 99% of the guys are just trying to get lucky with a white girl. In the past five months I have only said yes to a date with two men but both were very handsome and it turns out that both are highly successful at what they do, although I had no idea who they were nor how successful they were until after our first date when I Google'd them (one is in entertainment, the other a sportsman)...they were both gentlemen and we've stayed friends. It’s a nice twist in fate to be a hot commodity for a change, especially at the age of 40 when I rather thought things would start to turn bleak.
I know I’ve got it good in India but that’s not why I love living here thankfully…though it definitely adds to my experience. I’m looking forward to finding more and more benefits of my alien status as time goes on.