For expats, Bangalore is now home

Diners of 14 nationalities packed into a small, Indiranagar restaurant on a Tuesday night — a sight that would surely be enough to suggest, anywhere in the world, a triumph of globalisation.

But the expatriates dining at the Medici restaurant gave mixed verdicts on Bangalore as a global city.

“I try not to use extreme words like ‘hate’,” said Renee, a tall, glamorous mother of three from South Africa and a long-time resident of the United States. “But we lived in Beijing before this, and this was a shock.”

Her family had moved here in January for her husband’s work, “and this is the first night I’ve been able to wear my red shoes”, she said, sipping vodka in a silver cocktail dress and high heels. The city was too conservative by global standards about accepted dress and behaviours,

Renee said. Steve, a London banker, recalled his disappointment at seeing Brigade Road for the first time, unimpressed by its lack of class.

“It was hard to believe it was Bangalore’s equivalent of High Street in London,” he said.

But this was minor griping, done almost out of habit after a few drinks — and, ultimately, out of affection: expats stay here because they like it. The Tuesday night gathering itself, organised by the Bangalore Expatriates Club, is testament to the city’s growing international makeup, and such events are sprouting all over the city.

On Thursday morning, the Overseas Women’s Club met for tea at Leela Palace. The thriving club keeps wives busy — and happy — with activities and charitable work.

That evening, there was a soiree for expatriates at The 13th Floor on MG Road. On Saturday, Chancery Pavilion filled with foreigners and local revellers in a party put on by the Expatriates Club president.

The international community has surged in the past five years, with more than a thousand people each in the Expatriates Club and the Women’s Club who call Bangalore home.

Still, when the question is how Bangalore compares to global cities, there are plenty of suggestions. Danish trade commissioner Ricki Larsen has lived here for 17 months with his family, including a two-year-old daughter with blonde hair, blue eyes — and a perfect Indian accent. They want to stay here for the long run, and, with that in mind, Larsen said the City could do more, starting with cleaning up its pollution.

“As an expat, it’s hard to compare the city of Bangalore with other cities like Shanghai and what they have — Disney World and green areas. Here, you have so-called green areas but they’re all covered with plastic because there are no bins anywhere,” he said.

“In other cities, you can go out at night, go to restaurants and meet with friends, and it’s easy to do that — even after 11 pm.”

It had been argued that shutting down the city at night reduced drunken driving and protected girls, but these depended more on clear policing, he said.

“These are some of the things Bangalore should really consider changing,” Larsen said.

“It’s subjective, but we would like things to be better for Indians. Everyone who comes here likes it, and they want to take it in a better direction.”

Denmark, where the population of the entire country is a third less than Bangalore, is a world-leading producer of upmarket furniture — lakhs of rupees per chair — because of its attention to design. It was the kind of craft that Bangalore had a growing consumer appetite for — and a greater imperative to adopt in its export manufactures, Larsen said.

The German Deputy Consul General, Friedrich Rahn, said foreigners saw great potential in Bangalore.

The climate was pleasant and the economy supportive of foreign companies. But from a global perspective, “there’s still some way to go in cleanliness and traffic conditions”, Rahn said.

“And the environment should be a topic to look at,” he said.

“I feel very sad about how many trees were cut down for the Metro. They will take 100 to 200 years to grow to that size again.”

Indians could take better care of their beautiful country, he said.

The German consulate was the first to set up in Bangalore, and a German cultural organisation has been in the City for more than 50 years. Rahn said the
exchange only grew and the consulate would be part of a 15-month campaign starting this year to present modern German culture to India.

Meanwhile, a source close to German industries warned of how easily Bangalore’s attraction for foreign companies could be lost. The Karnataka government’s push against beef, the source said, could be enough to drive corporations elsewhere.

“Germans wouldn’t come here to work if beef was banned,” the source said.
“German companies make precise analyses of places they’ve picked (to open offices). Meat might be the edge. Hyderabad and Chennai are also offering economically friendly environments and they won’t have these restrictions.”

Foreign corporations already stayed out of some Muslim countries because of food restrictions. The City’s cosmopolitanism was also going backward, with its nightlife declining even as its population grew, the source said.

But Stonehill International School primary principal Helen Sharrock, originally from Britain, said it was all a matter of perspective and staying positive. Bangalore was a “first-world experience”, Sharrock said.

“The climate is absolutely fantastic. The local communities are very welcoming and hospitable. For expats, there are fantastic restaurants, good shopping opportunities, and, if you’re willing to go out and look for it, there are lots of cultural activities.”

There were many plays in English and performances of classical Indian dance, she said. The problems, meanwhile, were easy to blame on Bangalore but were mostly the same anywhere.

“Any major city has traffic issues. Everybody has them. It’s just one of these things we live with ... And I used to complain about registering my car when I was in Germany,” Sharrock said.

“You have to step back when you’re frustrated and ask yourself: Haven’t I seen this before somewhere else in the world?”

Stonehill, established less than three years ago, was the first in the city to offer a completely global education system, with its curriculums attuned to similar schools around the world so children could be dropped in and out among them seamlessly, she said.

The school had 29 nationalities among a little more than 200 students and staff from 20 countries — a clear indication of Bangalore’s multi-culturalism, Sharrock said. But she also had a few suggestions for the city, mostly about promoting cultural activities for children.

“For a city with such a reputation for IT, it might be nice to develop a children’s technology museum,” she said.

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