When I arrived in India, it was winter, which means every day felt the way southern Californians say San Diego does all year round. When I began to furnish the flat that basically began as bare walls with odd plumbing, I wanted a Giza, which is a very small hot water heater.
I was asked a number of times why I wanted hot water. After all, they said, it would be summer soon.
There were many, many things that I did not understand when I arrived in this multilingual, culturally diverse environment, most of them because people were speaking several languages other than English, but I was prepared for a land of contrasts, expected India to be a modern country where even elephant drivers had mobile phones, so I thought I understood what was happening with the hot water.
I’d been treated before, in Latin America, as if I were the pampered American, and I was anxious not to give that impression here in my new home. Still. It’s hot water. I found I really couldn’t explain why I needed it. I finally decided that I just do. And to leave it at that. Pampered or no.
I bought the heater, paid to have it installed, arranged to have it reinstalled when the hot faucet was placed too far away from the cold faucet to pour warm water into the largest bucket I could procure, and proceeded to feel as pampered as one can when sitting on a tiny stool bathing with a plastic mug.
Then summer came. The first day I wanted a shower in the afternoon was the real eye-opener.
Apparently, the water coming into the cold faucet comes off a cistern on the roof. By the time I turn it on in late morning, the water is hotter coming from the “cold” faucet, than it is coming from the Giza. In fact, it’s so hot, I can’t wash clothes that shouldn’t be in hot water except early in the morning. The water coming through the RO machine is so hot that I have to let it sit before putting it in the fridge.
In short, once summer comes, you don’t need hot water. No matter how pampered or not you may be, you will have all the hot water you can handle, for free.
The moment of realization certainly made me wonder how much other communication was being affected by cultural bias. Although we were speaking the same language, it never occurred to me to ask why I wouldn’t need hot water in the summer and it never occurred to them to think I wouldn’t understand where the water came from. After about a month of 40+ Celsius (100+ Fahrenheit) degrees, it all comes clear, but it makes me wonder how the United Nations manages at all.