Tag Archives: expats

Professor Rowdy

We had an interesting experience on Christmas Eve. Daniela was making Fondue and needed a bottle of wine. I did not feel like driving all the way to the Cosmos Mall, so I went to the bar across the street from Palm Meadows. I walked up to the bar – an open air roadside bar that is typical here – and asked if they had an inexpensive bottle of white wine.

The bartender suggested a 900 rupee bottle. No way was I going to spend $18 on a bottle of wine to cook with. For that matter, I’d be averse to spending that much on a bottle to drink. Then he suggested a 700 RS bottle. I demurred. Finally, he produced a 600 rupee bottle. I mulled it over and finally decided to buy it. I handed him the money and took the bottle. I expected the price to be inflated. I’d guessed that the maximum retail price (MRP), the maximum price a retailer can legally charge, that was probably 450 RS. When I got home and found it on the bottle, it was 300 RS. They had charged me twice the MRP.

Daniela and my mother were annoyed. Sivakami, who was spending Christmas Eve with us, was absolutely livid!

They are cheating you because you are a foreigner! This is not right!

We debated just leaving it be. Siva wanted to go give the bartender a lecture on honesty and hatched a plan. She would take the bottle in a bag to the bar, ask for the same kind of wine and ask the price. If it was 600 RS, she would ask them why they were charging twice the MRP. We would quietly park in front. If they wanted to charge 300, she would call me over, produce the bottle and ask why they charged me 600. Daniela also played a critical role in her plan. Her presence was needed to prevent the bartender from changing the topic of the conversation to strange nonsense about Siva.

She got out of the car a bit ahead of the bar and walked down the street towards it. We pulled up in front of the bar and turned the ignition off. We watched her speak to them. Then she called us over. Daniela and I got out of the car and walked over. Siva turned to the bartender and asked:

So why did you charge my neighbor 600 rupees?

Siva began lecturing them about cheating foreigners and honesty in general, waving her finger for effect. She did this in English as she did not feel comfortable arguing in Kannada. The demography professor was a force to be reckoned with! Men here generally look down on women who even approach a bar. “After all, only prostitutes would do such a thing, right?” Yet here was a woman – in jeans no less – giving them a lecture about their lack of moral fortitude! The bartender and his two assistants looked like deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. They said nothing. One of the assistants took the bottle and nonchalantly started peeling the MRP sticker off. I snatched it out of his hand and snarled:

Don’t even think about it!

Shiva saw what happened and chimed in:

Hey man! If you remove the MRP I’ll call the cops!

Then she resumed lecturing. One of the bartenders regained enough of his senses and put three hundred rupees on the bar. I took the money and the bottle. Then we walked off, but not before Professor Rowdy told them that this would be the last time any of us ever bought anything there again.

The wine – a white grown here in Karnataka – was not terribly good; but it was delicious!

Siva later told us about some more background to the story that she heard from her driver. Apparently most of the Palm Meadows residents won’t actually go pick up a bottle of wine from the bar. If they want a bottle of wine in the evening and are not willing to travel far, they often send their driver to pick one up. There seems to be a system where the bar charges the driver the MRP and the driver informs his employer that it was the inflated price. The bartenders and drivers are in collusion. If a foreigner shows up, they give the inflated version of the price to keep the charade up.


The Pooja – Part II

So the puja was over. Now it was time for everyone to go over to Guru’s house for lunch. We hopped into various vehicles and drove the short distance over to the “house”, which lay down a dirt alley. It was a typical three level concrete box, ringed by concrete balconies, that is used for a house here. The thing is… the house did not belong to them. They had rented it out for the occasion. Was their house too small? Were they simply embarrassed that it was not “good enough” for the expat guests?

Then we were called into the living room to eat. There was a television running, with some cartoon channel on. Why they had a TV on, I’m not sure about. Was it because Indians are all like my mom and just leave the TV on at all times? Or did they want to make us more comfortable by running the TV? It could be the latter. It could also be the former. Back in grad school, we would often go over to eat at the house of one of Daniela’s labmates, a woman from Jaipur. She and her husband also always had the TV on.

We were served lunch, rice with a delicious type of red vegetable stew that I commonly see in budget restaurants when they offer a generic “South Indian menu”. As we ate, Guru’s boss, a German who works for the same company as Daniela and I, told us (in German) that they had to spend about $2000 on bribes in order to start the business; mostly buying the goodwill of the local police inspector so that background checks of potential maids could be carried out in a timely manner. It seems that you have to bribe them ¾ of a year’s salary to get them to do the job that the public is paying them to do.

What I did not notice at the time, but Daniela did, was that only the expats were eating. All of the Indian guests waited outside during this time. I know that often women in conservative Indian families won’t eat until after the menfolk, but I never realized that that this extended to certain categories of guests eating before others. Dani was particularly disturbed by this. Somehow, after being here for a coupel of months, I’m not surprised by it anymore.

The Grown Up Grad Students – a.k.a. the expats

We were invited to a small gathering at the home of a neighboring expat family. Their daughter is a classmate of Charlotte’s. The gathering was a mix of expats and Indians. A friend of the hosts was giving a house concert as a warmup for being on stage here in Bangalore. The group consists of two Bangaloreans and a professor of music from Colorado. All of the people there were highly educated, eclectic individuals with interesting histories. These are not run of the mill yuppies. Lawyers capable of navigating across borders don’t exactly grow on trees.

Afterwards, Daniela called them “grown up grad students”. It really seems that way. The kinds of people we met in grad school are the same kinds of people we seem to be meeting among the expats here. In a way, when we are around other expats, we are a bunch of grad students again; except that nobody is living in ratty student apartments anymore, everyone has kids and everyone works for a multinational it seems.