One of the most metropolitan cities in the world, one of the most striking things you’ll find when you move to Kolkata is the friendliness of its people.
The city prides itself on its diversity of languages, religion and culture and once you get used to the hustle and bustle you’ll also appreciate some of the beautiful architecture.
Generally speaking, the people here are not easily offended, but you’re advised to use your common sense and respect any cultural differences as well as holy sites and rituals.
Kolkata has many festivals throughout the year, which you’ll be encouraged to join.
On the bank of the Hooghly River sprawls the famed city of Kolkata (Calcutta). The "City of Joy," immortalized by India’s most widely celebrated poet, Tagore, the humanitarian Mother Teresa and the mercantilist British East India Company, is at long last emerging from an extended period of economic stagnation.
These days, the city is India’s third largest in terms of GDP, and is the main commercial and financial hub of East and northeast India, owing largely to its strategic port location and a burgeoning IT sector.
As a trading hub, shopping in this city is always an exciting experience, whether you lose yourself in the bustling Burrabazar or the upscale Newmarket Mall. Local Bengali cuisine is exquisite and Kolkata’s restaurants are famed for their dazzling décor. With no curfew, after-dinner digestifs are readily available as this city grooves late into the night.
With a population of just over 15 million people, the city’s population density often feels more oppressive than it otherwise might, owing to the languid, tropical climate. In summer months, temperatures scale up to 40 degrees Celsius, with very high humidity.
Being a former Communist bastion, the city regularly grinds to a standstill as workers take to the streets. During this time, public transport all but shuts down and shops remain closed.
Despite its recent economic growth, poverty persists in Kolkata on a notable scale. While being a relatively safe city, do be aware that numerous scams are at work (particularly sped-up taxi meters), so you need to keep your wits about you at all times.
What is special or unique about your city?
Kolkata is a very intriguing city and has grown into one of the largest metropolitan cities of the world. It is the capital of West Bengal and remains one of India's most vital cities. Full of music, theatre, historical buildings and interesting side streets, this city has it all, including very friendly locals.
Additionally, it is the epitome of India's cultural heritage and a symbol of the country's unity and diversity.
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
One of the most striking characteristics of the city is the friendliness of its people. Another notable characteristic is the transportation and traffic. On the streets of Kolkata, you will find trams, double-deckers, rickshaws, scooters, pedestrians, trucks, cars, horses, and more - any form of transport you can think of, all sharing the same road. Trucks are not allowed inside the city area except between 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. You will also find electric tram transport, which is unique to Kolkata and is not available in any other part of India.
Are these impressions likely to change?
Not likely. Once people become accustomed to the hustle and bustle of the city, they will see what a magical place it is. They will start to notice the warmth of the people more than anything. Additionally, the beautiful architecture will stand out, including the Howrah Bridge, Vidyasagar Setu, Victoria Memorial, Indian Museum, the National Library and many other heritage buildings. The city's lush greenery will also make a definite impression. Most expatriates that have been lucky enough to experience Kolkata report fond memories that last a lifetime.
What is the local language?
Bengali is the local language. In West Bengal, most of the people speak Bengali and they are very proud of their language. Besides Bengali, Hindi and English are also widely used. Here are some Bengali words and phrases that may be fun to learn as well as help you while you are here:
How much? Koto Ta
What time is it? Kota beje Che
Thank you dhonobaad
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
You could get by without knowing Bengali or Hindi, but a basic command of the language will enrich your stay considerably. However, most people speak English fluently, so if you have some knowledge of English, you should be fine.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
According to Kolkata culture, everyone should respect their elders and maintain peace and harmony among themselves. Kolkata prides itself on its diversity of languages, religion and culture, and everyone is expected to respect these differences and avoid offending other residents. Generally speaking, people of Kolkata are not easily offended. Use common sense and respect holy sites and rituals, and you will do just fine.
The following are some tips to avoid offending the residents of Kolkata:
- Status is often determined by a person's age, university education, and profession. Be aware that government employment is considered to be more prestigious than private business.
- It is acceptable for men and woman to wear pants. However, on more formal occasions the pants should be dressy.
- Shorts are acceptable for men only when jogging; women who jog should wear track pants, but that is not compulsory.
- If you host a meal, keep in mind that Indians have various dietary restrictions. Generally Hindus do not eat beef, Muslims do not eat pork and many Indians are strict vegetarians. But these are not hard-core rules. Some do eat beef.
- Alcohol should be avoided until you are certain that your host approves it. Even if it is okay, do not get drunk.
- If you're invited to dine at somebody's house, a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates is the common gift to bring. It is typical for guests to arrive late regardless of what the invitation says.
- It is impolite to help yourself with second servings. Wait to be asked and for someone else to serve you.
- Remember when entering religious places to remove your shoes. Some temples also require that you remove your hat. Even in homes, visitors usually leave their footwear at the door. So, ask if you need to remove your shoes. They will be very happy that you did.
- Be respectful when visiting holy sites, no matter what condition they are in. Smoking and drinking are prohibited in holy sites. Always speak in soft tones. Some sites do not allow non-believers to enter.
- Indians of all ethnic groups disapprove of public displays of affection between men and women and most Hindus avoid public contact between men and women.
- Standing with your hands on your hips is perceived as aggressive and pointing with your finger is considered rude.
- Whistling in public is unacceptable.
- Never point your feet at another person as feet are considered unclean.
- To tip a taxi driver, simply round off the fare.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
The climate of Kolkata is characterized by oppressively hot summers, high humidity in the atmosphere nearly all year round and well-distributed rainfall during the southwest monsoon season. Winter begins in the second half of November and continues until the end of February. This is followed by the hot season, from March to May. The southwest monsoon season sets over the region in early June, bringing a welcome drop in the temperature. The heavy monsoon showers may disrupt city life. The best time of year is between October and March when the temperature is at its best and the festivals are being held.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
Overall, Kolkata is a very lively city, known to many as the "Festival City." The primary festivals are Durga Puja, Christmas and Eid, but there are many others as well. In addition, Kolkata has many important historical sites and monuments. You may grow to love it so much you will want to stay.