India, take 1
When the opportunity came up for me to go to India for work, I was divided. Half of me wanted to go, to see a new country, and especially one where one of our dearest friends hails from. The other half of me was annoyed with the six months it took to get a visa (and the bureaucracy that makes France look like child's play), and I was also worried about food poisoning since almost everyone I know has gotten sick there. As a side note, getting food poisoning in the middle of a business meeting or during a long drive where no bathrooms are available pretty much sums of two of my worst work-related nightmares...
In the end, I was slightly underwhelmed. Before I left, everyone kept saying "It will be like nothing you have ever seen!", and I suppose that never helps expectations. The best way I can describe it is that it reminded me of a mix of many of the places I visited last year - the temples and tuk tuks of Thailand, the traffic of Manila, the honking (oh the honking! dear lord the honking!) from China, the simultaneous colorfulness and dustiness of North Africa. But the friendliness I was expecting was not really there, at least not during this trip - one shop owner even called me an asshole when I negotiated a discount on a silk rug for my boss.
I imagine the staring can be jarring for some people too, but I've grown used to it during my travels, so it doesn't really bother me. But what I didn't anticipate was the difference in the staring. Some folks would stare in the normal way because I am blonde, but the young 'rich' men with popped collars would stare very lasciviously, no matter where we were or who I was with. I'm talking up-and-down, full-on, shameless ogling that gives you the heebie jeebies. And then on the other hand, I'd have the older men that we met with in business meetings who wouldn't look at me at all - they would look around me or near me, but never directly at me, which was equally disconcerting.
I also wasn't expecting to eat so much meat. Meat meat meat. It never ended. I didn't eat a single vegetable until the 4th day in, and that was only because I very strongly insisted we order at least one plate of vegetables. I normally eat meat 1-2x per week, so it was definitely an overload for me. My boss and co-worker loved it though.
The pressure of being appropriately dressed was also a stress for me. Luckily our friends were able to help me choose some outfits that were both respectful and modest enough for business meetings yet also breathable for the hot temperatures. But it also made me slightly angry that I had to adapt my attire so much as a woman, whereas my boss and co-worker could just wear what ever they wanted and no one would blink an eye.
And maybe that's what's clouding my view overall - this is the first time in the nearly ten years I have been working for The Company where I have attended business meetings with my boss, and I was really hoping to shine and show off my skills, but the general deference toward men throughout the whole trip didn't really give me an opportunity to do so, leaving me feeling slightly defeated. He even mentioned after a few drinks that he was disappointed that I hadn't been more forward. I tried my best to explain that it's such a fine line as a woman some times - 90% of the time I work with men of a certain age, and it can be really difficult (for me anyways) to find the balance between being assertive while also trying to respect cultural differences, especially when it's a country I don't know very well yet. At the end of the day, I just wanted to reflect a positive image of my company, and I erred on the side of caution instead of 'in their face'. It's frustrating at times - sort of damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Anyways. I'm probably just tired after the 3am departure, the 10h flight and the strange 4.5 hour time difference. Our meetings did go well overall, so if things keep moving along, I will likely go back 2-3 more times this year. At least now having been there once accompanied, I'll feel safe going back alone (however I was surprised that the presence of my boss and co-worker did not stop people from touching my butt in public). And who knows - I may be treated completely different by everyone the day they will be forced to deal with just me instead of my male colleagues.