-Where were you born?
I was born in Canada and now I hold a permanent residency card for the US.
-In which country and city are you living now?
I live in the city of Chennai, India.
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my husband and our 11-year-old son.
-How long have you been living in India?
We've been living here just over a year.
-What is your age?
Eek! This interview starts with the tough questions first! I’m 36, and I’ll probably stay there for next 15 years.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in India?
This question makes me laugh because I had no notion of ever living in a developing country such as India. We had been expats in the US, UK and back to the US, so the notion of living abroad was not foreign to me. My husband came home from work one day and said, "Start researching Bangalore." To which I replied, "Where’s that?" Thankfully for him, I’ll say yes to just about anything…including India.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
I don't have a work permit here. I'm operating on the assumption that I can write while I'm in India and sell my books out of the US. We moved here with a multinational manufacturing company, so they handled our visas and my husband's work permit.
-How do you make your living in India? Do you have any type of income generated?
Currently, I'm writing books. Each expat assignment has given me a different opportunity. At one time I worked in multi-level marketing, another time I had a consignment bookstore, I've done photography and this time I wrote a book. I've been blessed to be able to try my hand at so many things of interest to me.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I do not speak the local language, but so far, I haven't had any real need to. Most people that I've interacted with locally have had enough knowledge of English—along with my crazy hand motions and charades—that we’ve been able to communicate adequately. When I get really stuck, my driver translates on my behalf. I'm not sure what I would do without him.
I'm not one to beat around the bush so I’m not going to be delicate about my thoughts on expats respecting local customs. I truly hate (strong word but it's true) to see expats and tourists behave so flagrantly disrespectful in their host countries. There have been times in India (a conservative Hindu country), or when I've traveled to Dubai (a Muslim country), when I've wanted to shake women walking down the street wearing a spaghetti-strapped crop top and shorty-shorts, and ask them, "What are you thinking?" I believe we represent our countries when we travel. We're ambassadors. If the custom is to dress conservatively in a country that we’re visiting, it's our duty to respect that custom.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I do miss my family, especially when someone is ill and I can't be there. I don't really miss the town where I grew up, and although the people there don’t "get me" anymore, I still miss them and my former relationships with them. I'm actually closer to some expats friends than I am to my blood-family. They're the people who have become my family over the years. My expats friends have a better understanding of my life and we've bonded over those shared experiences. As for home, home is now wherever my husband and son are. I'm a bloom-where-you're-planted kind of person.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I'm always hatching my future travel plans. I usually have our trips laid out at least a year in advance. When I look at a map, I feel desperate. There just isn't enough time—or money—to travel to all the places I'd like to go. We've just returned from Egypt. Now I'm gearing up for our summer trip around the world—just me and my son—to nine cities in 55 days.
Where we go next and what my interests are at that time will determine what I end up doing as a serial expat entrepreneur.
-What is the cost of living in India?
The rate of inflation in Chennai is staggering. House and apartment rental prices are skyrocketing. It's becoming impossible to find decent housing (by North American standards) without paying a fortune, and because the big companies are paying big rent, the rent keeps increasing. So expats who aren't here with large corporations can't find decent, affordable housing...and that's if the landlord will even rent to them without the support of a multi-national company behind them.
There was a shop that some expat friends were enjoying. They last time they went in the prices had nearly doubled. I've heard that a local expat magazine will be doing an article on this shop which means the prices will likely go up yet again.
The local grocery store that caters to expats and carries imported items is price-gouging. The expats horde items when they're available because they don't know when it will be shelved again, and that drives the prices up as well.
I believe it would fairly inexpensive for expats to live on the Indian economy if they were willing to live in Indian housing and live solely on local dishes.
-What do you think about the Indians?
The locals have been very kind to us. There is a sense of entitlement here, though, so foreigners are charged exorbitantly high prices because of the color of their skin. There is certainly a feeling of always being on guard. Besides that, we have had some lovely experiences here with the locals at Hindu weddings, Pujas and other local festivities.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in India?
One of the main positives for me is the ability to travel around India and to nearby countries. India has many languages, religions, customs, festivals and foods, which makes it ones of the most fascinating countries in the world.
Like anywhere, there are always negatives that balance out the positives. There is a huge chasm between the pride that Indians feel about their native land and how they treat their land with very little pride at all. If visible dust and rubbish are hard for you to take, India might not be the place for you.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in India?
1) When you get frustrated, keep in mind that WE are what is different in India, not India itself.
2) Go with the flow or you can make yourself crazy going against the grain.
3) A sense of humor and the ability to laugh at yourself helps.
4) India has been the way it is for thousands of years. You won’t be changing it to "your way" in the short time you live here, so get over it.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about India?
I've been blogging since the day we knew we were going to move to India. I don’t take myself very seriously so please don’t take me very seriously either. My blog address is http://www.earthtodanie.com.
My first book is titled The Expat Arc: an expat’s journey over culture shock, and is available exclusively at Amazon.com. It details my journey through the stages of culture shock in India. I'm not an expert and my book is not filled with advice. It's just a fun read allowing the reader to see how even experienced expats don't always do culture shock "right" and still come out the other end just fine.