5. Shopping, Driving, Complaining in India (25 August 2004)

Shopping in India

I hate shopping in the best of times.   Since moving into our house, I have spent most every day shopping.  Before we moved here, I knew that we would have to furnish an empty house.  I saw it as a challenge.  I imagined finding the Indian version of Ikea, going from department to department, saying “I’ll have one of those, two of those” etc.   My first mistake was thinking that there would be an Indian version of Ikea.  My second mistake was thinking that I could say “I’ll have one of those” and that the one of those would be delivered the next day.

From my experience so far, I can only surmise that the average Indian wants every piece of furniture custom-made with their own selection of fabric and wood.  Virtually nothing in a shop is ready for delivery.  And, while the shop may provide the wood, it is likely that you will have to go to another shop to buy fabric.

Being someone who gets my ideas from seeing things in shops, furnishing our house has been a difficult and time-consuming journey.  “Journey” in most cases means from furniture shop to fabric shop and back to furniture shop.

Delivery of Items Purchased

Placing my first order for household furnishings was a relief.  Finally, I had accomplished something.  What I had yet to discover was that placing an order is only half of the journey.  The next challenge is actually getting what I ordered.  Take our curtains, for example…please take our curtains!  We ordered curtains for the living room and dining room.  We were reassured that the tailor came to our house to measure the windows.  We then calmly waited for curtain delivery, which happened as promised, only 2 hours late.  Much to our surprise, the curtains delivered were not at all what we had ordered.  The fabric was the right one but the style was not at all what we had agreed.  The shop owner came for delivery and, as we looked on in shocked surprise, she kept saying “wait and see them, they will look very nice”.  Unfortunately, her taste was quite different from ours and (fortunately for us) she would not be living in our house to enjoy her design. We promptly sent her back to the shop with the curtains, after refusing to pay more for the re-design.  The correctly designed curtains were delivered the next day.

We purchased quite a lot of furniture from the “Looking Good” furniture store.  Since I want our house looking good, I thought this was a good place to shop.  Another mistake.   Our dining room table and 6 of 8 chairs arrived last night (only 3 hours late).  The fabric I had selected for the chairs was a beautiful gold colour with a fleur de lys pattern (hommage to my former life in France).  The fabric was on all 6 chairs, which was good!.  But 5 of the chairs had the fleur de lys going in one direction and a 6th chair had the fleur de lys in the opposite direction.  Now for those of you who think I’m being picky, I must say that I didn’t really care which direction the fleur de lys went…but I do think it a matter of good taste to have all the fabric on all the chairs going in the same direction.  One chair will be sent back to the “Not so Good Looking Furniture” store today.

The Cherry Tree

I’ve often thought how wonderful it is to have fruit trees at home (we have them in Norway and they are fantastic).  Our house has a cherry tree just outside the front gate.  “Marvelous” I thought when we first saw the house.  “Dreadful” was what I thought after we had moved in and I realised that cherries fall off the tree and stain everything they drop onto (in our case, our upstairs terrace and the entire entryway).  Not only do cherries naturally fall off a tree, but in our case, they were helped by a family of monkeys who visited everyday, shaking the branches so that more even cherries would fall off the tree.

We decided to spare most of the tree but not branches hanging directly over our house.  After consulting with some of Hans Einar’s colleagues at the office, we were told that one cannot just cut down a tree that grows on public property and that we would need permission from the local authorities.  Two days later (a quiet Sunday morning), a gardiner mysteriously showed up and cut down the branches (please don’t tell the local authorities).   We are happy.  The monkeys are sad.

Driving In India (Part II)

Well, we did it!   We drove in Bangalore.  Granted, it was a Sunday afternoon, there was virtually no traffic due to a trucker strike and it was only 5 kilometers but we did it and are very proud to report that we survived.  

Here’s how it happened:  after sulking around on Sunday morning, we threw off our feelings of being home-bound without a driver and took the brave decision to DRIVE IN BANGALORE (capital letters provided to show how momentous a decision this was).    First, we had to pick a destination.  A local shopping mall not too far from home seemed like a good choice because (1) it was not too far from home; (2) we knew how to get there and (3) it involved only one turn.  Then, we had to plan our itinerary.  Now, in Norway, France, the US or Canada, the itinerary would have been “drive to the mall”.  In Bangalore, the itinerary went like this:

  • drive 2.5 kms straight along the side road, avoiding any and all traffic on the parallel main road.
  • when you get to the first intersection where you need to turn and join other cars, abandon the car and walk the rest of the way to the mall.

We shared the driving so neither of us would be totally stressed out about the whole thing.  We were VERY proud.


While some of you may be shaking your heads right about now, wondering how I can live in one of the most fascinating and exotic countries in the world and do nothing but complain.  I will now say a few words in my defence. 

Complaining is how I cope with the small and big frustrations of this very unique period of settling in.  What many of you don’t know is that, by the time I have written a Bangalore Brief, I have already vented many of my frustrations in real time while playing online backgammon and “chatting” with my mother and sister.  With the 10‑½ time difference between India and the middle of North America, this event occurs almost every day and sometimes twice a day.   A recent internet chat between me and my mother went something like this: 

My Mother:    what plans do you have for today Roberta?

Me:  electrician at 10. rented furniture pick up at 11. then going to the bank to set up an account. all thrilling stuff in this exotic country that is India…and more  furniture delivery at 7 p.m.

My Mother:    you sound depressed Roberta, are you or are you just frustrated?

Me:  I wasn’t depressed until I started playing backgammon with you! [she was beating the pants off me]

My Mother:    Well I feel better about that.

Me:  Actually, this whole settling in process has been frustrating. There’s no way around it. I have good days and bad days (and good moments and bad moments). Not surprising but I’ll be glad when it’s over and I can start just doing normal things…whatever those will be!

My Mother:    hand in there darling. the best is yet to come

Me:  where should my hand be?

My Mother:    lol..around the hang

So you see that my frustrations are vented with my family and, thankfully, soothed by their wit and humour.  If you are ever frustrated, I highly recommend playing online backgammon with my mother or sister…but be warned, they will probably win…

3 thoughts on “5. Shopping, Driving, Complaining in India (25 August 2004)

    • You write about your travels in such colorful ways that I feel as I am there with you! Vicarious travel is fun as I will never get to most of the places where you have not only traveled to but LIVED in. I admire your adaptability and courage!!

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