The day I was ashamed to be an Indian in a foreign land

It was the first day of my long awaited ten day vacation in Switzerland. As I got up earlier than what I had set my alarm for , I took a good view of the city from the 8th floor window of my hotel room. In a few minutes I was all set and ready to explore the scenic beauty of the beautiful city Zurich , I thought to myself.
Not able to wait another moment more , I almost ran out of my room . But the rumbling sounds emanating from my starved tummy stopped me in my steps.
I realized I was famished and more than that had a strong urge to have a cup of steaming hot tea ,something I am badly addicted to .I rushed to the restaurant with my husband and quickly seated myself at the nearest table after confirming my name and room No. to the reception lady. 
I screened the whole table. It was full of warm welcoming food and delicious cakes and muffins. There were varieties of cereals and fruits neatly cut and decorated on cute plates and ofcourse there was lots of milk and cheese, something Switzerland is famous for.
But up till now I couldn’t find what my eyes were searching for feverishly, Tea! 
I looked a second time again, this time more closely inspecting every single item on the table for a hidden jug of hot water, milk kettles or a teabag box and finally found two small kettles lying at the end of the big table.
 I rushed to the spot , picked up a cup ,poured the hot water , added some milk to it and 2 pouches of sugar , then I looked around and surprisingly found no tea bags.
Surely that they had to be here somewhere…. I looked around again but still no tea bags
Seeing the quizzical look on my face, a helper who was standing some distance away approached me “Hi, Can I help you with something”, she asked cheerfully though in a strange accent. 
“Well, I don’t seem to be able to find tea bags”, I replied hastily without even looking up at her, still searching for them on the table.
“Please wait”, she said in a hushed voice and moved away. 
She came back in a jiffy with a closed wooden box, the kind my mother used to store her favorite pieces of jewelry. I wondered what she had in that box, not jewelry for sure!
She opened the lid of the box slowly as if she was about to show me a precious gem or pearl and yes there they were, a wide variety of tea bags right in front of me. I was puzzled why they were not on the table, why they were kept in a separate mysterious box but I was so much in need of a good tea that I decided to park my questions for later. 
Before I could pick a tea bag she asked again, “which one would you like to have” , I found the question again a bit strange because I could have picked up one myself, still giving her the benefit of doubt and imagining that she was being extra courteous I pointed at the Earl grey black tea bag. 
She happily handed me one and turned around closing the box. I was so startled by her actions, I wasn’t sure if she was being rude or was just in a hurry. One thing was for sure, she was certainly acting way too possessive for a simple teabag box.
I suddenly realized I needed another one for my husband.” Excuse me, can I have another one”, I shouted from back.
She turned around shocked as if I had asked for her second kidney, “I am sorry you can just have one, the smile completely gone from her face now.
“But I need another for my husband” , I protested. 
“Can you please ask him to come and get it, I would be happy to serve him”.
Oh Great! I now need to give a proof that I am asking the second tea bag for my husband (who is not a robot)…. what the heck, I was way more than infuriated.
This is a buffet, I can damn well have ten teas at breakfast if I want to and I have already paid a heavy amount for this in advance, I shouted at her in my head.
 “Well I need more and I think it’s very rude of you to refuse”, I replied as coolly as I could gather the patience to, not wanting to create a scene and spoil my mood.
I saw her expressions change instantly; she suddenly became gentler and handed me over two extra bags. “I am sorry, I don’t want to be rude, but I am just following instructions from my manager. “
“Instructions, you mean you have been instructed to hide away teabags”, I asked now visibly aghast at her explanation.
“Well, you see, it is nothing against you, but some days back, we had a group of Indian people staying in our hotel. We had the tea bags out in the open then, but one lady from that group used to take 15-20 tea bags at a time every day. She finished all our boxes”, she replied in broken English, still looking a little shocked remembering the experience.
My face fell to the ground at her last sentence, feelings of shame and humiliation painted my face as I looked down staring at the ground looking like the kid who had been asked to stand out of the classroom, trying to think of ways to escape the embarrassment. 
I knew she wasn’t lying or making excuses. I could already imagine the whole scenario in my head..a cup of tea costs a lot in Switzerland( if you compare and convert it in Indian currency).The lady in question clearly found it a waste to spend so much on cups of hot water.
So she must have decided to make it for herself and all her family members in the hotel room taking the hot water from the bathroom tap which is drinkable.

 I felt as if I was the one who had been caught stealing those tea bags. Why oh why, did that Indian Aunty had to steal those teabags, why couldn’t she just bring some from India or just shop for some from the nearest convenience store. Clearly that wouldn’t have been so heavy on her wallet!
If you are reading this “not-so-dear” Indian auntyji, I know you love your tea and so do I but please, please, please stop stealing teabags, milk bags , sugar bags or any other confectionery item bags from buffets (and this goes for the hotel toiletries too). We are treated badly outside for your wrong doings. 
The money you save from your loot would be far more less than the pride and invaluable trust you lose on behalf of all the Indians you are representing. Please remember, there are others who have to pay heavy debts of embarrassment and shame for your free teas!
If you have  any such similar stories, please feel free to share them with us in the comment box below or write to us at theeurekalife@gmail.com. And meanwhile keep your hands off those tea bags! 
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I am Swati Chauhan and i live in the South of Sweden. A computer engineer and a Management graduate by education, I am a writer by passion. I write about personal growth, self motivation,increasing productivity, optimizing life,achieving goals,social skills and increasing the Happiness quotient of your life.


  1. Swati, I can totally understand your situation at that point of time. Touch wood, I have never been in such a situation but heard stories. Coming to the point of the idea behind not keeping the tea bags on the table and then giving the reason that you have mentioned is totally partial/biased. No one has given anybody the right to question other’s intentions. Not all are same..right. We usually make our opinion on prior experiences but someone who is in the hospitality industry and has seen variety of people with different personality, this kind of judgement is kind of rude.

    And I totally agree with the points Mansi has quoted in her comment.

    In the end, a nice read!! I hope you will not face this kind so situation again.

    Alpana Deo

  2. I rather find it strange that you didnt find the behaviour of hotel management as strongly racial and unfairly prejudistic. You rather go on to sort-of justlfy their reactions. Some random American enters a school or mall , suddenly gets out his and kills all ppl around. WIll someone please stop all Americans from entering schools and malls ? So many ppl from our neighboring country enter India to never leave again, will we totally stop giving visa to every applicant for action of those ?
    I am not so good at giving examples but I guess you get my point.

    • Hi Anurag,

      I would have surely found the hotel Management behavior racial and prejudiced if they had kept the teabags open for all and banned ONLY Indians .If you read the post in detail, I mention how the teabags were hidden from ALL .. So the hotel was not acting against any race or creed. They were just safeguarding their property after learning from a bad experience. I certainly don’t find it racial.

      Thanks for reading and sharing in your views!

  3. It’s really sad that u faced such situation. I hv travelled a number of places around the world but never came across such humiliation .May be I’m lucky but will never like to face it ever.

  4. Thanks Swati. I remember a similar situation in the US for sugar @ Dunkin’ Donuts in New Jersey.
    I think it’s a bi-directional argument… one can’t treat everyone same but again we need to fix our deeds too.
    Anyways, I liked the article… maybe little mercy on Indian Aunty & Unclejis 🙂

    • Sachin.
      Thanks for commenting. Glad you share in my views.I agree. Its two ways effort. But we do need to keep our actions in check when we travel outside.

      Thanks again and hope you keep dropping in more!

    • Hi Pratikshya,

      I don’t think it is just a certain someone.I think its a lot of certain someone’s living in India and outside. This article is not about tagging a country or its people but generating awareness as to how our little actions speak volumes of our character when we are out of our country, so that these things can be avoided in future atleast by the people who read this article.

      Thank you for reading and sharing in your views!

  5. Hi Swati

    I have read a couple of your articles before, and have thoroughly enjoyed reading them. Not because they praised India in some ways, but more so because I connected with them.

    I connect with this article too. However I think here you have missed a crucial point and that is Generalization and then converting the generalization into an act of Racial discrimination.

    I think the management must have been utterly racist. The most unfortunate part of this is that it is so unconscious that they might have not even realized it. I feel very sorry for their behaviour, and hope that they don’t behave in such a manner with anyone.

    Initially it can be said that since tea bags were hidden from all customers so it wasn’t racial. But surely it got racial the moment their employee refused to give another tea bag for your husband. Question ? What do you think, will she act the same with a European customer if she asks for another tea bag. Will she refuse her, and ask for her husband to come, and further lecture them about a previous incident of another customer using many tea bags ? The fact remains you are not responsible for behaviour of another person who came before you.

    On the very contrary, If I were a businessman in a good hotel, and I had an observation that Indian customers uses a lot of tebags, I will instead of protecting them will think of creative ideas to convert it into a great business opportunity to attract Indian customers.

    However the action the management there makes me wonder that even after centuries of exploitation, will Europe ever make serious attempts to get rid of such racial prejudices and discrimination.

    If you don’t find this generalization and racism, I wonder what will you call racist act.


  6. hi swati i read ur blog and really feel shame that you felt shame for being Indian. during an airshow in bangalore all crew who have visited have stolen toiletries from hotels and their stuff was thrown in dusbins in airport by security personnel.Hotel management should have felt shame to behave with you in that way and in their dirty belief that all indians will use up or steal tea bags. So feel proud to be Indian in any situation and pls if u can change the title

    • Dear Venugopal,

      Thanks for your comment.I understand your concern, its common practice to take away some stuff from the restaurant and it is really not a big deal but the hotel staff did not acted against me in particular as I was an Indian. They had kept the teabags away from the reach of all guests. The article is not to put down Indians or label them as people who steal from hotels but just to raise awareness of the fact that we are judged on our behavior the moment we step out of our country.
      Unfortunately, there is no way to change the article title without screwing up the SEO . Guess you will enjoy this article I wrote for Thought Catalog.. http://thoughtcatalog.com/swati-chauhan/2014/08/11-life-lessons-indians-can-teach-the-world/
      Thanks for reading and commenting again.

  7. i have similar experience when i went to sydney what happend was really disguising to the entire world

  8. I’m sad that you were put in this situation by a fellow traveler from your country. It is just more proof that behavior and actions matter in public and when you are mixing up several different cultures together, we must be considerate and on our best behavior. It is obvious that you are very intelligent in that you recognized it wasn’t a racist act to withhold the teabags, but one of self preservation of the hotel, what else could they do?

    As humans, we all have had times where we are judged by the poor actions of another. Is it not normal if your only experience with Americans were that they were loud and demanding that you would think ALL Americans are loud and demanding? Is that racism? I don’t think so. I’m American and I’m not loud or demanding, so maybe you would take the time to get to know me and change your attitude to say that once you met a group of loud and demanding Americans, but they are not all like that. And the same could happen for you.

  9. What kind of Hotels do you go to? please stop bashing indian aunties… The Swiss are much worse.. What gives them the right to act so superior and above all the rest?? Indians bring a hell of a lot of money to Switzerland and its time that the world starts respecting indian tourists. So what if some crazy indian aunty steals 15 teabags from a hotel buffet.. So what if they steal toiletries.. Firstly its not stealing.. And I know plenty of whites who do it too but no one seems to label those whites… Everytime one indian does anything wrong it becomes a huge deal. Are u even aware of all the illegal things white tourists are involved with in india, Thailand, Brazil and other developing countries? There are thousands of white paedophiles in these countries and drug dealers and many more doing far worse things than an indian aunty stealing teabags from a Swiss hotel… Yet the whites are not labeled because they are simply white and u are indian. Shame on you seriously for even writing such an article, I don’t step foot into Switzerland, Germany and Uk…. These three countries are racist as hell thats the truth and they treat indians who even spend millions on them like trash. Only when indians start respecting themselves will we get respect elsewhere. But indians are far too intimidated of white skin even now and happily take the abuse everywhere they go looking for an answer as to why it happens rather than realising that we need to stand up as a country and a community and command respect from the world. Most indians are selfish tho and dont care being abused by foreigners, There is a serious lack of unity amongst indians they hate each other and are constantly competing, it’s not so bad with the Chinese and Chinese have far worse mannerisms compared to indians but they stand United thats why no one dares to say a word against the Chinese. Ive seen five star hotels in europe cater to every ridiculous demand for the Chinese tourists..but indians are pushed into a corner and despised everywhere.. Its not because we steal tea bags at breakfast its because we are not United..thats all.

  10. Hi Swati,

    First of all you should not used the word ashamed of being Indian, Because someone’s wrong doing made that hotel manager categorise everyone like that lady, You should have protected the pride by replying not every indian is the same

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