Bride covering eyes with veil

Navigating northern India, navigating new social skills with ADHD

MD. Hasibul Haque Sakib via Compfight

If social skills are foreign to adults with untreated ADHD, then imagine what it’s like to have ADHD in a foreign country. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

Having just returned from a two-week vacation in India, I’m still absorbing all the lessons learned. (Unfortunately, absorbing ideas is about all I can absorb at the moment; I’ll spare you the grim details.)

Having only recently decoded my own country’s social rules, I suppose it was too much to hope for to bone up on acceptable social interactions in a land so different from my own. Besides, given my time management challenges, I barely had time to pack and catch my flight let alone school myself in the niceties of communication between the sexes in a country as complicated as India. In hindsight, this proved to be a grave error.

Where I go, so goes my ADHD

The frantic look of alarm in her eyes as she repeated this was terrifying.

About half way into my trip, I suddenly found myself on the receiving end of unwanted amorous advances. When I mentioned this to my traveling companion (who’d been to India before and who was aware of the customs) she said, “You can’t touch the men here. You mustn’t.” The frantic look of alarm in her eyes as she repeated this was terrifying. Now she tells me! Oops.

Too late, I realized that my unconscious habit of touching someone on the back or arm in conversation had been misinterpreted. The person I confided in was one of the trip chaperones. In spite of having had numerous briefings prior to our departure in which we covered the do’s and don’ts of behavior (mostly having to do with managing high-pressure sales tactics) this seemingly important guideline had somehow been overlooked. And, as luck (or lack thereof) would have it, the omission directly targeted my personal Achilles heel. I didn’t come up with the term “blurtatious” for nuthin’.

Selectively touchy-feely

As I traveled, I marvelled at my observational skills, making detailed notes as we journeyed. Yet somehow I missed what now seems so obvious: in northern India, I observed public touchy-feely behavior only between men; between women; or between young newlyweds (identifiable by the huge number of bangles worn by the bride. That much, I learned).

Nowhere did I see casual physical contact between the sexes.

Admittedly, it might have been hard for me to restrain my natural, lifelong inclination towards casual physical touch during conversation. Yet if I’d known the consequences of my actions I might have had a fighting chance to at least try to follow the rules instead of telegraphing that I was available to be wife number two, concubine, or dinner date.

Live and learn

When traveling in the future, I’ll use one, or possibly all three of these strategies when visiting a culture so different from my own:

1 ) Take the time to learn all I can about social norms between men and women;

2 ) Remember to ask my travel companions specifically about appropriate communication between the sexes, etc. before having to fend off unwanted dinner invitations, gifts, marriage proposals, or groping;

3 ) Err on the side of caution and make like an HBO series and curb my enthusiasm when interacting with others (bottle my bubbliness and keep my hands to myself).

In hindsight, I think I know why my more seasoned travel companion has her arms crossed tightly across her chest in all my photos. Next time, I too will assume the position.


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