I Got Lost in Bangalore's Tech Workforce
A glimpse of my impromptu nomadism in India.
For more than two years now, I've been traveling while working in various locations around the world. I started by visiting the best-selling destinations for Digital Nomads, but eventually I became annoyed by the overly gentrified aspect of these places. To be fair, there is nothing wrong with visiting destinations that are frequented by many foreigners, as it's generally a good indicator of success, and also because many people simply enjoy being around like-minded people. The thing that bothers me the most is that it rarely results in a good sampling of the local population, which I find a bit shameful when I'm traveling ten thousand miles to end up surrounded by the same people. As a nomadic worker, I spend most of my time in shared workplaces, while it's often my main vector for meeting new people. As the title suggests, I recently visited Bangalore for this purpose, and it turned out to be a surprisingly authentic experience.
The name of the city may ring a bell for its reputation as the tech hub of India. Beyond that, it's far from being a popular destination for tourists, as there aren't many fancy things to do besides a few beautiful parks and a palace to visit. What remains is a large and congested city that might discourage most travelers from staying longer than one night. My first impression of Bangalore could be captured in one word: intensity. The food was intense, the traffic was intense, the constant staring of people was intense, even the overwhelming popularity of Crocs was intense. I think almost every place I visited would probably be a playground compared to Bangalore. Finding a decent workplace was also a difficult task. I was initially confident after noticing a large swath of coworking spaces on Google Maps, but in reality, most of them were corporate spaces, their interiors were not great, and it was a never-ending battle to reach the right person who could provide the pricing information for a monthly stay. Finally, I found a place that met my requirements, and the next day my new desk was in a five-floor building filled with dozens of Indian startups. Part of my expectation was to work in a place where a few people would look like me, and ironically, I couldn't set the bar any higher since I was literally the only foreigner in the whole place. The first few days were a bit weird, most people looked at me, probably because the p-value for seeing a 6'3" white guy was close to zero, but more importantly, I was wearing shorts – which I later figured out was a faux pas. And whenever I had a conversation, people systematically asked where I was from, what I was doing here, and my marital status.
A few more days in the office passed, and the alienation phase faded as people got used to my presence, while I started having regular conversations with some of them. It was strange because I had always thought of India as the complete opposite of the Western world, which is very different in many ways, but I didn't notice any significant cultural gap in the workplace – which could be due to the fact that people from higher social classes are more secular. However, the instance of receiving a Whatsapp message with a banner wishing me a happy International Men's Day from a female colleague was completely unexpected, but frankly quite pleasant. Another thing I found surprising is that less than half of the population speaks Hindi, as the country officially counts 780 different languages, which sometimes manifest through English as an intermediary language among Indians. The English proficiency of individuals also varied greatly; some of my interactions were very limited, while others were almost as good as with native speakers – if not better. Of course, one of the most important aspects was food, which was part of the reason I came to India and played a crucial role in my social integration. As a rule of thumb, whenever I visit a place, I try to follow traditional practices, eat everything, and finish everything I've started. This may seem obvious, but it makes a big difference, as people are usually very appreciative when someone shows openness and commitment to their food. Admittedly, many aspects of the Indian food culture were genuinely enjoyable, such as the variety of spices, mixing all the ingredients by hand, or the fact that people brought their own home-cooked meals to share during lunch.
Overall, my experience in Bangalore has been positive. I had many opportunities to socialize with Bangaloreans because people are naturally curious when they see something new, which is usually fruitful in fostering social interactions. The fact that Bangalore is not as touristy as other major Indian cities makes it a bit more authentic, to the point that when I saw other foreigners, I wondered what they were doing here. Another positive consequence of having very few tourists in one place is that scams are underdeveloped, which is one of the most unpleasant aspects of traveling in India. I became aware of this in a very direct way when I went on an excursion to Mysore (a neighboring city popular for teaching Ashtanga yoga) and suddenly people were trying to scam me at every corner. I found it quite difficult to stay calm, and at some point I just lost patience, and my response to scammers radically changed from gently declining robbery attempts to negotiating with rickshaw drivers like Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder – which was bad, but proved highly effective. These few annoying moments didn't have much impact on my stay, although I wouldn't necessarily recommend Bangalore to everyone, as its unconventional aspect makes it attractive, but certainly not an easy place to live. At the end of the day, it has never been easier to explore uncharted territory, but it remains more suitable for people who are adaptable and able to live alone for long periods of time – the rest is a matter of savoir-faire.