Department of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology of the RWTH Aachen University

“Selfie please?!”

The smartphone is a technology that has conquered the world incredibly fast. The first generation iPhone is only nine years old, but already it feels to me that by not owning a smartphone I belong to a tiny minority. Until last year, I thought that the vast rise of smartphones is only a phenomenon in well-off countries. But soon I learned that even in developing countries, I get puzzled looks when people see my ancient clamshell phone.

Even though the smartphone prices in India are similar to German prices (they are somewhat cheaper, but the order of magnitude is still the same), most people that I have met so far own a smartphone. I think that the main reason for that is that the smartphone has become one of the most important status symbols in India.

Marc, Erik and I are three light-skinned German students in a city with no noteworthy tourism (namely Raipur City, capital of the state Chhattisgarh). Combine that with most young Indian adults owning smartphones and the outcome is…selfies, lots of selfies.

Back in Germany I was never a fan of the “selfie cult” that has emerged in the last few years. In my opinion, a lot of people take selfies for the sole purpose of impressing their acquaintances and boast about their seemingly amazing lives. A frequently seen example of that are people taking numerous selfies at sights instead of enjoying the view.

However, here in Raipur I have to get used to taking selfies everyday. Out on the street it doesn’t happen too often but as soon as we go to crowded places like parks or malls it is only a matter of seconds until someone gathers his courage and asks us “Selfie please?” By then, we are the center of attention. More groups of people will pull out their phones and ask for photographs. Once we start taking selfies with a few people, it feels rude to deny taking selfies with the other “aspirants”. Thus, whatever we were planning to do in this moment, we have to put it aside for a few minutes. The selfies typically go along with some small talk about where we come from and what is bringing us to Raipur.

 

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Selfie by choice, with some friends from Raipur

 

It’s a new and unfamiliar experience to attract so much attention and it leads to different feelings. On the one hand, it can be uncomfortable to be stared at so much. Whether it’s eating, getting some exercise in the park or shopping for a shirt – some things just don’t feel right when you are surrounded by observers. We sometimes have the impression that we are celebrities and indeed we have already been mistaken for cricket players and WWE members.

On the other hand, bringing a smile on the faces of strangers by just looking at them and greeting them with a small hand gesture does feel nice, too. Some people are also genuinely interested in us and ask us a lot of questions, not only about why we are in Raipur but also about life in Germany. These are times when I really enjoy sharing and exchanging experiences and knowledge with Indian people. It’s fun to learn about differences but also about similarities between Indian and German ways of life. Some of the views of Germany that the people I talked with had have been out-dated for a long time. For example, I have been asked if Helmut Kohl is still chancellor of Germany and whether I live in West or East Germany (I’m quite sure they didn’t mean the geographical area). But to be honest, my knowledge of Indian politics is just as limited, if not more.

Before finishing this post, I need to admit that we also had to ask for a picture once. By chance, we met the mayor of Raipur City, Shri Pramod Dubey. This time, it was our turn to be excited.

 

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Mayor Shri Pramod Dubey in the middle

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