In Ethnography for Marketers, Hy Mariampolski describes the tools ethnographers need to truly understand cultures and people they are studying. One such cultural tool is physical space. In India, there is no sense of personal space. Physical space is consumed as a collective, maximizing the space until there is no more. And this indeed reflects upon the culture and society as a whole. The way that Indians drive is a visual representation of their cultural value of “paisa vasool” and repurposing. Nothing goes unused in Indian society and maximum utilization is the only way of living. Thus, rickshaws and bicycles alike pack the road, paying no mind to those thickly painted white lines on the pavement. Fresh off the plane, we found ourselves grabbing our seat belts and holding on for dear life when we saw cars, bikes, people right against our bus windows. But that was because we were looking at Indian traffic in comparison to American traffic, where space is given to each individual vehicle. If a car violates the restrictions of the lane in America, we react. They are either not capable of driving a car (intoxicated, a learning driver, distracted) or just a bad driver who we would like to not be on the road.
But back to India. The jam-packed roads reflect their utilizing lifestyles, and also the fluidity of Indian culture. The physical presence of past empires, rulers, and people shows that in India, there is no one right answer, there is no one right way of doing anything. Besides repurposing. That is something that is not flexible. But outside of that, Indian culture is fluid and flexible. The tolerance of the Indian people is yet another thing that truly impressed me and set my own expectations much higher of people. They see diversity, they accept diversity, and they respect diversity – something that many Americans truly struggle with. But it’s easy to see how the Indians do it – their entire culture is flexible and thus makes an environment where tolerance is the norm, not the ideal. And it’s very obvious how much they gain in being so flexible, so fluid, so accepting of everything and everyone, because together, more people can achieve so much more. But this environment of tolerance and respect much be established before Americans could even dream of this collective culture.