When I first moved to Bangalore I was living in a hotel and alone in the evenings and all weekends for the first five weeks. Then came my first night out on the town by invitation of my new hairdresser and –happily—from that night on I started making my very first friends in Bangalore. With that came the fun of starting to get to know a new city and the people, which for me also included the conscious decision to try and build a friendship group made up of primarily Indians and not expats.
To be honest, there aren’t as many foreigners living in Bangalore as I thought there would be, especially when compared to the amount of expats who live in Barcelona. Not that I mind though because I don’t want to live in “expat world” in Bangalore anyway. Since I’ve been here I have often seen groups of expats together, maybe with one Indian friend. But I haven’t seen as many groups of Indians together who also have one expat mate with them. Like all around the world, expats often tend to stick together. When I first started socializing in Bangalore I only made friends with Indians (both in Chennai and here), which I was quite happy about. But over time that has changed a bit. And I have sort of mixed feelings about it.
My very first expat friend was a really nice Aussie guy who I had chatted with a bit and had a good laugh with while we were waiting in line at the FRRO office when I first arrived and we were both there finalizing our residency papers. Then I saw him again by chance a month later at one of my favourite bars, Love Shack. With almost 7 million people living in downtown Bangalore you have to admit that this was quite a coincidence. I pretty much forced my business card on the poor guy in hopes of finally having a happy hour buddy, since my Indian mates at the time all had different working hours than me and it was impossible to hit happy hour together. But...he was there with a large group of expats and that raised a red flag of sorts for me because I was purposely trying to avoid expats. Not because expats are evil, obviously I AM one, but because I really wanted to build a network of Indian friends. Obviously there are benefits to diving into the expat world like common experiences, more liberal values (haha, I know it sounds strange but it’s my opinion so please roll with it) and the fact that so many expats are here working for tech companies and for me it would be fun to sit around and talk about innovation. But I want to live the Indian adventure as much as possible and that includes enjoying the company of Indians more than other Americans or Europeans, etc.
Since then I have indeed made a few expat friends who I wouldn’t trade for the world. Yet for some reason I still shy 100% away from the formal expat groups, organizations, and parties. In fact, in the past 5+ months I have only been to one expat event and it was by complete accident. A friend invited me out and I said yes without knowing where we were going. It’s fantastic that these groups exist in Bangalore but it’s really just not my scene. Expat world aside, as far as nightlife is concerned...Bangalore is definitely my scene.
I can glam up and hit the town in Bangalore as much and as dressy as I did in Barcelona or Los Angeles. In fact, it didn’t take me long to learn a few funny truths about socializing in India. Now, to be clear, my limited opinion is based on nights out-and-about in Bangalore and also one Saturday night in both Goa and Chennai. But I have had the good luck over the years to dine, drink and dance in lots of different cities from L.A., New York, a bunch of places in Mexico, London, Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Madrid, Ibiza, and Berlin…to Dubrovnik, Marrakesh, and many others. So my observations are based on dozens and dozens of nights of solid international research!
Let's get the negative stuff out of the way first:
- The one thing I detest most about Bangalore night life is the fact that I am treated like a high school teenager. Hell, maybe even worse! I think my Mom let me stay out later than Bangalore does and Mom was massively strict with me to the point that I wanted to rebel and do EVERYTHING she told me I wasn't allowed to do! The same goes here. The closing time at bars and clubs in Bangalore is 23:30. THAT SUCKS and basically just makes me and my mates create after parties to do as we see fit!!! After living the past eight years in Barcelona, where bars don’t start to fill up until close to midnight, and the discos don’t start getting busy until 3:00 or 3:30am… this new curfew is quite a shock. I loved watching the sun come up after a fun night out…but now I have to be content with looking at the moon and hearing the church bells chime midnight instead. Honestly, I can’t believe that these laws were allowed to be passed. Someone needs to fix this.
- The saddest thing about the Bangalore nightlife is the ban on dancing. Sorry but what’s the point of having amazing clubs with fabulous DJs spinning incredible music without being able to dance to it? I just really can't get my head around the fact that a country like India, which prides itself on its long history of dance culture, would ban me from shaking my ass at a bar. Seriously!!!
Now, that aside...the good news is that there are LOADS of things that are fabulous about hitting the town in India:
- It's safe! I didn’t expect bars and clubs to be so safe, specifically from the standpoint that women can leave their handbags lying around – and even open – and there is no threat that something will be pinched. Unless you are at a private party with your friends, this is 100% impossible in Barcelona. You can never leave a mobile, a handbag or a wallet....virtually anything of value....out of reach, even in the VIP lounge. Theft occurs everywhere and people have to be on guard 24/7. It’s really a problem.
- It's modern! I adore all the active online and mobile marketing and PR that the bars do every day. They also try to come up with daily parties to keep things fresh.
- The music! I adore house music and the DJs play really hot sets throughout the night. Although in my opinion the music is played WAY too loud both here and in Chennai and Goa.
- The seating at the bars! I know that in the U.S. there is lots of seating and tables but it’s not common at all in Spain so it’s a fun treat for me. Since most clubs are "resto-bars" it also means that I can combine my dining and partying...they are one-stop shops!
- Cosmos! After living in Spain for 8 years where the only place you can order a cosmopolitan is at a specialty cocktail bar and not at the hot clubs where I liked to go, having the option to order any drink I want again is definitely a TREAT.
It's a real shame that I moved to a city with such backwards rules, such as no dancing and early closing hours but what can I do? I moved half way across the world to experience India and today THIS IS INDIA. I know good and well that I have already cut myself off from part of the Indian world simply by the lifestyle that I live and the fact that I go to the exclusive bars, clubs and restaurants in town. I know that those spots are not “real” India for most people. I suppose that is part of why I want to avoid the expat circle if I can. I guess that for me I feel like I will be losing out on even more if I also build my life around expats.
Who knows what will happen in the future but for the moment I don’t shy away from amazing foreigners who I meet, I embrace them. Yet at the same time I don’t hunt them out either. I suppose it’s always about finding a balance, isn’t it?