Culture shock in Goa – who’d’ve thunk it!?

A naked, drunk cow sunbathing after enjoying a tasty steak sandwich in Goa © Craig FastEveryone says that first-timers to India receive a good dose of culture shock when they first arrive. That wasn’t the case with me. Previous trips to Marrakech, Bangkok, Hanoi and Beijing meant I was well prepared for Delhi – I took the chaotic traffic, pungent smells and abject poverty in my stride.

What I absolutely wasn’t prepared for was the culture shock I felt on arriving in Goa two months later. After travelling through North India, Rajasthan and Assam, I was used to keeping myself covered, not showing affection in public and sweating constantly.

I didn’t see a single foreigner in Assam; as soon as I arrived in Goa I was surrounded by too-cool-for-school student types sporting battered backpacks and those baggy crotch-kicker trousers that are a crime against humanity, let alone fashion. I hadn’t seen more than a sliver of shin or a flash of elbow for what seemed like an age; now I can’t take my eyes off the all the flesh on show (and I mean that in the least pervy way possible). And while a cow on the beach seems utterly normal to me, I am deeply shocked by the availability of steak on the menu.

In Goa, Christian churches and shrines dedicated to someone called Jesus Christ are the norm. The bread actually tastes good, unlike the pre-sliced white homages to blandness I’ve had everywhere else in India. The traffic is eerily quiet with continuous use of the horn replaced by consideration and awareness. Billboards line the roadside in a very Mediterranean manner. Alcohol is readily available rather than being itemised on the bill as ‘tall drink’.

I’m slowly acclimatising. I’ve been here for a week now and I’m starting to get used to all the flesh on show. I’m actually wearing a bikini on the beach*. And the other day, I let Craig hold my hand in public!

*Whilst it’s debatable as to whether this is truly culturally acceptable, wearing a bikini on the beach in Goa is certainly the norm among the western women here. This morning, though, I did see a very pale lone young female student being harassed by a group of eight lecherous Indian men on holiday, begging to take her photo.

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