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September 25, 2020 / catherinebwrites


European family with servants in India c1880's


I blame those Sunday night t.v. dramas where Indian servants in immaculate turbans serve tiffin to snooty Memsahibs who believe themselves to be superior to “natives”. It’s led us to believe that every Indian speaks flawless English with a head wiggle!

Obviously many Indians do speak flawless English, but they’re mostly the educated classes. Indians who earn their a living from tourists will speak enough to perform the service they offer but possibly not much more. They are less likely to have high levels of education. They’ve learned English from watching T.V. and being around tourists. And they got where they are through native intelligence, persistence and very hard graft.

Most Indians do have a few words and phrases in English. But however limited their command, people all over India are happy to help a stranger so, keep it simple, use gestures, be inventive.


“But the beggars!” They cry when you tell them you’re going to India.

Yes, of course, they have beggars but so does every country on earth. In India they are often children and yes, if you give them money, more will come. And yes, it is heartbreaking but…

You cannot save every poor person in India… unless you’re a squillionaire. Although they mostly like spending their money on private jets and telling themselves that the poor are only poor because they’re lazy! Or because it’s the Will of God. Or because of Fate, or Destiny, or Cast.

assuming you’re not a squillionaire, HERE ARE SOME WAYS YOU CAN HELP

Donate to a reputable charity

Give fruit or food to child beggars

Give unwanted clothes or other goods to people who help you

Most people in India want to be their own boss. This is why you see people selling stuff everywhere. Kids selling strings of beads, flowers, cardboard airplanes. Stalls selling food, toys, chewing gum, crockery, brass ornaments, dentistry, clothes, books, bags, shoe repairs. You’ll see families who living under the plastic sheet they pull over their stall at night. You’ll see tiny dark rooms where men make suits, or cheese, or throw pots or bake bread. Men will offer to guide you to the sights, a shop, a mall, find you a taxi, a tuk-tuk, a bicycle rickshaw. They are NOT beggars. They are NOT con-men – well maybe some are. Most are just poor men hoping to earn a few bob to feed their family.

Learn to say “NO

There is no way on earth you can take up the myriad offers you get in India. Just say “No.” You don’t have to be rude. Give the respect of looking at the person when you say a firm “No thank you.” Street hawkers are persistent but they know when they’re on to a loser. They know that women are easier targets so they ply us with tales to make us feel guilty. Stay firm. Stay polite. Unless of course you really do want to buy the bangles, the beads, the turbans or the other gee-gaws on offer.

Give generous tips

Tip drivers, guides, waiters, boatmen etc., anyone who provides a service for you. These workers rely heavily on tips for their income. Ask in your hotel for guidance about how much you should tip, you’ll be surprised at how little is considered a good tip.

Be generous. Be generous. Be generous.

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