1 August 2016

Marietta Utami - Expat in India

Marietta Utami - Expat in India

We’ve had the chance to talk to Marietta Utami, 30, an Indonesian expat who moved in with her husband in Delhi, India.

For Mrs. Utami, it has not been an easy transition, mainly due to the cultural differences. “Holding your husband’s hand is considered to be “crossing the line” and wearing skirt showing your calf is “improper”. Though the parties are there and the males drink, it needs a very open-minded family to accept that the female member of the family drinks,” she said.

Nevertheless, in her two years there, she has managed to make friends with fellow Indonesian expats from work, classes and the local embassy. She enjoys her time with her husband and particularly loves the parks in the country. Read more about Mrs. Utami’s experiences as an expat in India, in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from? What made you move out?

A: I came from Indonesia. My parents are from Semarang. However, I grew up in a small city called Bekasi and a hot city called Surabaya, before I got married.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: My husband is an Indian and he works in Delhi. I chose to be with him and build our family wherever we have a living. Therefore, I moved to Delhi.


Q: How long have you been living in India? What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in Delhi?

A: It’s been two years since the first time I came to India after getting married. Just a couple of months ago, I had to undergo several months of horrible summer in Delhi. It’s very hot and dirty, everything smells, and it seems that Delhi had lost her charm. There was absolutely nothing keeping me in Delhi, except the commitment I’ve made with my husband. Now I can see it better, knowing that summer is a hard time for everyone and that everyone has the same problem. I don’t need to be so anxious about it. Just wear some thin cotton clothes, enter the room and turn the air-conditioner on.


Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance were particularly difficult in India? What was your experience with these?

A: It might be difficult to get international health insurance before settling down here. However, I reckon it should be easier once the PIO is done. To get the PIO, it took us several months. After that, working permit, business permit, and any other basic necessity to live in the country is made easy. Well, since I don’t wish to vote or join the army.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I live with my husband. However, his family lives 30 minutes away. We interact very frequently with his family. I can feel their tolerance towards my adjustment. At times, we do have major differences; they don’t understand my addiction to meat products, or why do I sit for an hour just to chat with my father-in-law. They find it unusual for me to interfere on where my husband goes, with whom, and why. In India, usually daughter-in-law don’t sit for hours with their father-in-law, they respect their husbands by not interfering so much. On the other hand, I can’t help myself but wonder why husbands respect their wives by leaving their wives at home just to drink – why not take her with them? Why do they respect male in-laws by covering their heads, but disrespecting female in-laws by sitting on a chair when they sit on the floor? In my culture, it’s considered to be impolite to place your head higher than the elders’. Anyway, both sides usually just smile and say, “Aise hai. Koi bat nahi (translated: That’s the way it is. No problem.)”. In terms of lifestyle, they consider my regular spa schedule as lavish while I consider their regular gold shopping schedule as extravagant.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in India? How did you manage to find a social circle?

A: It was a bit difficult to meet friends and new people at the beginning. Then, I started joining some classes and courses. Now that I’m working, I get to interact with so many new people. There are so many Indonesian friends at the Indonesian Embassy whom I could make friends and joke around with using my mother tongue.

Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: The best thing to do in Delhi is to take a walk in the park on a breezy afternoon. I don’t know if anyone would enjoy the food in this place, because I’m not really a fan of Indian cuisine. But, the parks are gorgeous here. They combine the nature and history together.


Q: How does the cost of living in India compare to your home?

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: I don’t like coffee so I don’t know.

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: It’s almost the same price as Indonesia.

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: In Indonesia, we don’t pay that much of tax. That’s number one. And, number two, we don’t pay that much to eat local food.

  • How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Alcohol is much cheaper and accessible in Delhi, though the variety for import goods is not as wide as in Indonesia.


Q: How do you find the local culture and people in India?

A: The local culture is somewhat hypocritical. I know this word seems so harsh, so please bear with me to see the explanation. The thing is, on television, they show how open-minded India is. In music videos, they show so much of skin and sensuality. They brag about drinks and parties. However, in the real life, holding your husband’s hand is considered to be “crossing the line” and wearing skirt showing your calf is “improper”. Though the parties are there and the males drink, it needs a very open-minded family to accept that the female member of the family drinks. It’s pretty hard to comprehend.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in India?

+ Food kicks

+ Beautiful gardens, superb ones

+ Lots of ayurvedic medicines, especially for hair

+ Be with my spouse, of course

+ Lovely autumn and spring

- Horrible summer

- Confusing culture

- Food kicks (sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad)

- Safety issues

- Women suppressive environment


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Yes, very much.


Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Looking at my husband to remind me of the reason of staying here, go to Hauz Khas to eat some foreign food, visit the embassy of Indonesia, or simply call my family.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: Yes.


Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: Culture.

Q: What tips can you give other expats living in India?

A: Make sure you know enough good locals to interact with, so you can have the best experience and maximum security.

Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about India?

A: I do have some blogs at http://cupofchaionmy.tumblr.com/ and http://newcupofchai.blogspot.com/.