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A home away from home

delhi Updated: May 04, 2012 23:14 IST
Manoj Sharma

There was a time when the Capital’s expatriate population was confined mostly to foreign embassies. Over the last few years, however, the expat community has not only expanded exponentially, but its profile has also changed.


A major part of it now comprises those who have come to the city looking for better jobs and business opportunities. And unlike before, they have become an integral part of the city’s social fabric, swearing by its myriad charms, especially its ‘friendly people’ and ‘fantastic food’.

For Lebeaun Alex, a French national who came to Delhi in 2005, and set up Shanti Travel, an Okhla-based travel company, India is a land of amazing diversity, and immense opportunity. “There is no better place than India to run a travel company. The country is geographically so diverse that there is never a tourist off-season here. What is also attractive is that Delhi has now truly become a global city — at par with other major Asian cities such as Hong Kong and Beijing,” says Alex.
Today, Alex has more Indian friends than expats in the city and is in love with his life in Delhi. “I love dosas and often have tea at roadside stalls near my office with my French partner,” he says.

Like Alex, there are about 2,500 other French expats in the National Capital Region, and many of them are entrepreneurs running diverse businesses such as web-designing, e-learning, travel and textile companies. About 40 companies in Delhi and the NCR are owned by French people, with more than a dozen based in Okhla. The French community in Delhi is close-knit, and it even boasts of an association of French expats called ‘Delhi Accueil’ with over 600 members.

Christine Spliid, 27, from Denmark also loves her life in Delhi. She came to India four years back to work with a marketing and PR firm. Last year, she quit her job to open a shop of crystal decoratives at DLF Emporio, in Vasant Kunj.

“I love Delhi and its vibrant culture. Almost every week I get invited to an Indian wedding in the city, which is so much fun and an exhilarating cultural experience,” says Spliid, adding, “Yellow dal and mixed vegetables is my staple diet. Besides taking lessons in Hindi from a private tutor, Spliid also likes to watch Hindi TV shows to pick up the language. “I loved watching Kaun Banega Crorepati,” she says.

Spliid is not alone. There are several expatriate women in the city who run successful businesses, ranging from advertising agencies to restaurants and arts galleries to fashion stores.

Richard Price, 28, who came to India in October 2010, is a great fan of the city’s work culture and street food. His favourite time of the day is when he gets to steal away from his office in DLF Cyber City, Gurgaon to dig into an omelet at the roadside vendor near his office. “Unlike in Europe, people here feel privileged to have good jobs. They come to office with happy, smiling faces and look forward to work. And after work they like to head home instead of going for a drink with friends or colleagues,” says Price, an associate director with IPAN Hill & Knowlton, Gurgaon.

His view is supported by Spliid. “In India, people are cordial and helpful. In Europe, no one takes a work-related call after 5pm. Here people are so much more dedicated to their work,” she says.

Adds Price, “My parents who are in UK. They keep asking me for pictures of my office and house in Gurgaon.”

To help expats settle down in the city and connect with each other, there are several online Delhi-based expat community and groups. The largest online group is the Yahoo group, Yuni-Net. There are also DelhiNet and Gurgaon Konnect — exclusively for expats in Gurgaon — which boast of about 1,800 members.

That’s not all. Many restaurants in the city organise expat nights regularly. Delhi also boasts of several international convenience stores, where one can buy anything from French cheese to Korean shrimp nuggets. In fact, Delhi and NCR has as many as four Korean stores, which sell a wide variety of Korean snacks, spices, drinks, and canned food that is flown in every month from Korea. They primarily cater to the Korean community in the city, which is about 5,000 strong.

“Koreans feel at home in India, though they like to socialise mainly with fellow Koreans because of the language problems. They are into jobs and diverse businesses. There are about 170 Korean companies in Delhi and NCR,” says Baek -Kyu Kim, president, Korean Association in India, who also owns the Gung the Place, the city’s most popular Korean restaurant in Green Park.

The Korean association, with its office in Safdarjang Enclave, brings out a monthly community magazine called Namaste India.

Expats in Delhi, however, are still struggling with the city’s traffic and pollution. “The traffic here is maddening - I simply cannot socialise with my friends in Delhi after office. But as for the law and order, I feel safer here than in Brixton and Elephant & Castle, where I lived in London,” says Gurgaon-based Price. Spliid agrees. “My hometown, Copenhagen, is much less crowded and less polluted. You simply cannot walk in Delhi.”

Alex, who is pretty clued in about the city issues, rues the poor conditions of roads in Okhla and blames it on the tussle between the MCD and the Union government. “About 1.2 lakh people come to work in Okhla, but the infrastructure is so bad,” he says.

So, Delhi isn’t as great as he thought, then? “I am happy in Delhi, and have no plans to leave,” he says.