25 random things about life in Mumbai

…that I’m worried I’ll forget now I’m not there.

  1. Small change is almost always an issue. You’ll find life a little easier if you have a separate coin purse (or manly coin wallet) for ten and twenty rupee notes and small coins, particularly for catching autorickshaws.
  2. Ordering a whisky sour, even in a fancy bar, will not give you a delicious lemony frothy thing. It will be whisky and lime juice. Enjoyable for what it is, but not a proper whisky sour.
  3. Many Indians assume that non-vegetarian foreigners do not just eat meat, they eat nothing BUT meat. More than once, a well-meaning waiter ‘corrected’ my restaurant order from vegetarian to non-veg.
  4. It is completely usual to a) give your bag to a security person when you enter a store, and b) have your receipt stamped when you leave. It is not a comment on you. I have been told that the receipt-stamping was originally VAT-related and designed to make sure that each individual item in your bag had been rung through, but now it’s just one stamp.
  5. Even if you’ve not done it before, using some kind of face wash each day will pay off. Mumbai is very, very polluted and even if your skin is normally clear the combo of pollution and sweat is likely to lead to pimply results. Himalaya, Biotique and VLCC brands are all good, cheap and available in supermarkets.
  6. Not to be indelicate, but talc is also a good idea. Particularly during monsoon.
  7. I lost some lovely and expensive clothes to moths, and one leather bag to damp. Buy a lot of mothballs, and use them. Also use dessicant or damp-rid.
  8. When you first arrive in Mumbai, if you are there long term, you will have completed a mountain of paperwork and there will be another mountain to come. You may be tempted not to get a local bank account. Resist this temptation. It is a giant pain in the ass to have a ‘foreign’ bank account, as many Indian e-commerce websites won’t accept your credit card and paying bills is very difficult. Cash withdrawals from ATMs are also generally capped at Rs 10, 000 (approx AUD$200).
  9. On the ATM theme, ATMs are not infrequently out of order or out of cash. To the extent that it’s secure and sensible, stock up on cash when you can.
  10. Locally-brewed Indian beer is…variable in quality. Budweiser, however, is one of the few brands that is not sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup and is generally pretty good. I also liked the Indian Pride spice-flavoured beers, but I have been told that this is weird.
  11. Stock cubes are very hard to find and for some reason insanely expensive if you do find them. Stock up (boom tish!) if you can before you arrive. Olive oil and coffee (the Indian brand Karma is perfectly ok) are readily available. However,  I also had some trouble finding reliable bakers’ yeast.
  12. During monsoon, carry an umbrella at all times. Sure, it’s not raining right now. It will be.
  13. That said, if you are in the city or in a crowded area and it isn’t raining very hard, suck it up and go without. You won’t get very wet and you won’t poke people in the eye or have to maneuver an umbrella around obstacles.
  14. If you are at a monument or a museum (particularly the Prince of Wales Museum) and they have photo passes, get one if you want to take photos. You’re likely to be caught by one of umpteen security guards otherwise.
  15.  It is customary to give a bonus at Diwali (in November). The usual bonus is one month (although you can pro-rate this if you have been there less than a year). In my experience gifts other than cash are received with a bit of confusion.
  16. I found it quite hard to get used to the number of people that would come to the door without notice (let alone scheduled deliveries). I worked from home, and started to feel a little bit hunted. Male or female, you’ll find it useful to have a robe or kaftan that you can throw on and answer the door in without startling the populace.
  17. Flipkart.com is an excellent, reliable source of electronics and cheap books.
  18. Do not bother trying to order online from overseas. 70% of my parcels did not arrive, and I had to pay 30% duty on one of the parcels that did.
  19. In all but the most expensive and Western-friendly hotel restaurants, if a restaurant says ‘steak’ on the menu, they mean buffalo.
  20. It took me almost 8 months to figure this out, but fresh lime soda – one of the best things about India, I love it so – can be ordered sweet, salted, or MIXED, ie both sweet and salted. Mixed is delicious and tastes a bit like a cocktail in the best possible way.
  21. When you first move to Mumbai, schedule a weekend away (or longer) in the first couple of months. Just so you can take a breath and regroup.
  22. I didn’t really enjoy India, or Mumbai, when I first moved there. I came to enjoy it, but I will say that if you are having a hard time in the first few months (or longer) – accept it. Try to fix it, but accept it. Often, you’re finding things difficult because they are difficult.  It does get easier, but you’re neither a heathen nor a snob if you get frustrated. Just find ways to deal with and get around the frustration.  I exercised a lot. And drank cocktails!
  23. Keep your boarding pass and passport with you when you go through airport security (you will be frisked). They stamp the pass to verify that you have been through different stages of security. Although there are separate checkpoints for men and women, you often need to put your hand luggage through one central conveyor belt.
  24. Use anti-bacterial liquid soap. I have always thought it was a bit of overkill, but particularly if your bathroom tap has no hot water (and it is likely that it won’t), it makes a difference. Try to buy the sensitive skin version if you have dry skin like mine, as otherwise your hands will get red and chapped. I could never remember to both take and use hand sanitiser, but many expats do.
  25. Finally – it goes without saying that poverty and disadvantage are pandemic in Mumbai. My own view is that, as a foreigner, you need to decide what you think is an ethical and generous response – and do that. Being paralysed by distress is no more ethical than deliberate disregard.   We decided to make a monthly donation to Operation Shanti. Others I know volunteered. Accept that any response you have is by nature partial and made to some extent in the dark. By the same token, it is likely that you will be approached by people in your life (eg building or domestic staff, although I was asked by an auto driver one morning) more than once and asked to give money for something like medical bills.  Constantly being suspicious is corrosive. Decide that there are some people that you are going to trust. Take that leap. Don’t give money to everyone who asks, but don’t assume that everything is a scam.