A particular society at a particular time and place, the tastes in art and manners that are favoured by a social group, all the knowledge shared by the society – all of these can be considered as a culture.
When you arrive in India, it just takes only few minutes to understand that its biggest problem is omnipresent chaos, and it takes few years to understand the good sides of the country. When arriving in Poland however, the peaceful atmosphere is striking you during first minutes but after some years of living here you understand what is actually wrong about the country.
This brief introduction sums up our personal experience with two different cultures. No two cultures are the same, and Polish and Indian cultures differ a lot. It seems impossible to define and to understand every aspect of any culture. However, I’d try to point major cultural differences which me and my family have experienced.
Religion and Language
Although India is a land of many religions whereas Poland is mainly a land of one creed, beliefs are the most important aspect of both Indian and Polish lives. The majority of Indians are vegetarians due to their belief in Hinduism, Jainism or Buddhism. It's worth to mention that even though Buddhism was founded in India, there are less its followers than in other Asian countries.
India has 22 official languages and many religions. Now, try to imagine moving from one province to another within Poland and that you need to a learn a different language – this is something beyond imagination of the Poles since, almost whole country speaks one language and follows one religion. This makes the social system coherent whereas in India system adopts to many languages and religions which in turn makes it more complex. Besides local languages, most of Indians speak English (in fact there are more people using English in India than anywhere else in the world) so you can get along pretty easily even though if you don’t know the local language. At the same time in Poland, if you don’t know Polish it is not easy to communicate.
We have found a common ground between Polish and Indian cultures – the family relations. Indians are very much family oriented, just like Poles. In Indian culture family values are given more prominence than the individual ones. For the sake of family, Indians may even forsake their individual wishes and one’s happiness. All the decisions made are concentrated around the family, and I think that Poles share the same feelings. However, time, place, tastes of society and exposure to other cultures are changing India fast. More and more Indians are becoming self-oriented and individual values are getting more prominence than the family values. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence...
Service versus Self-Sufficiency
India is a service based culture in every way. Walking into a store customer can find people following him around and offering help, even with the smallest things. There is virtually nothing that could not be done by a hired help at a relatively low cost. This is probably (and partially) a legacy of the caste system, which is deeply embedded in Indian culture, and most certainly a result of India’s two largest commodities, people and time. India is a home for more than 1 billion people now. Because in Poland labour costs are high, people are more independent than in India. Companies in Poland – from Biedronka to Costorama – are constantly developing self-service strategies so in the result their customers become more self-sufficient.
Law and Order
In Poland few people snub the road rules. If you are driving in India, you can notice quite easily that almost all Indians violate the road code, including red lights and obligation to wear helmets (on the contrary, the very same people are law abiding citizens when abroad). In India you need a skill to drive whereas in Poland you also need to follow the rules.
Judges are respected members of society, but this does not help in land disputes which in India can last generations without chances for solving the problem. Poland relies heavily on the law when settling down all disputes – one have to sign agreements for almost everything in here. The common factor between the countries are red tape procedures, in other words the bureaucracy. Currently Poland is adopting the western standards – from our personal experience we can say that it is now possible to find an official or a police officer who is able to speak a foreign language.
Indians are bold in cooking and there is nothing that could be over spiced in their cuisine. Indian food is not only about being “spicy” – it is important to distinct the heat of the taste, from the richness of the spices. In India, the heat is generally applied selectively with the use of chilli, whereas adding spices is about flavouring.
We had this intriguing question, why do Poles eat relatively cold meat and food in general, mild in taste and without much seasonings. The answer may lie in the climate. Cold meat serves to produce heat which is essential to adopt to the climatic conditions. In India chilli's heat is valued for its ultimate cooling effect on the body while evoking perspiration. Other spices are used to bring the flavour to the food. Eating habits are entirely different in our countries. Indian food is full of spices and truly diversified as its culture. Polish food is bland and lacks variety. What is more, in India people who are obese are mostly wealthy. A box of cereal or a meal at KFC/McDonald’s costs equivalent of 40 to 50 PLN, while a bag of carrots or yoghurt costs less than 2 PLN. Water is served free in most of the restaurants across India – in Poland coke costs less than water. Snacks like crisps or fries, are cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables.
In India drinking alcohol in a company of your elders or family members is a taboo whereas it is socially accepted in Poland. Our law does not allow companies to advertise products related to alcohol and tobacco, which is a common practice in Poland.
Street signs Versus Landmarks
In Poland any street of a city is identified by a unique name. Usually, you can get into a cab and say where you want to go and most likely you reach your destination. In India a passenger almost always has to know where he goes and this almost always includes landmarks, as only few streets are properly labeled. In India you can find streets by numbers like “1st Cross” or “2nd Cross”. This may be a bit different in metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Delhi or Bangalore but in the other agglomerations maps are useless.
India being a huge country is diverse in every aspect of its culture, geography and climate, since we have many religions and due to the vastness of the land. Poland is unique in its own way (one religion and one language); also geographically it is less complex than India. But we are happy that we have experienced both worlds, and that for the last 7 years we have been calling Wroclaw our home.
By Preethi Nair