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Ohh, everything's okay!

Fifteen days ago, we met at the airport. Oh no, I'm not about to narrate a romantic encounter; my French Exchange partner! Raphaelle looked like a little, shriveled up creature when we first met at the airport because first they had taken a train from Grenoble to Lyon, then from Lyon to Paris where they spent the night at the airport and then they took the plane to India; so everyone was very, very tired. And so it began.

There are so many, so many, things I could say about the past fifteen days, its not even funny. When Raphaelle came to live with me for two weeks, she was an absolute stranger to me. Our virtual conversation had been limited and we didn't know each other at all. And of course at that time, I didn't know that language was gonna give us so much trouble. And to spend all hours of two weeks with a person to whom you have never spoken in your life is a scary thought; especially if you don't share a common language.

The French pronunciation is so different that even if you know the word they are saying, you're not able to understand. One time in the car, Farah and Raphaelle asked me, "Can we 'ave zose, circle, circle, sweet zsingz, uhhh, orange and sweet?"
"Jalebi?" I asked.
"Yeah, yeah!" they said. "Can we 'ave zose with onioney?"
What I could make out of that peculiar word was...onions.
"You want to have jalebi with onions?" I asked, weirded out.
Everyone burst out laughing; jalebi with oninons would be the strangest thing ever.
"You know, zat, 'onee? 'Oneen?"
"Honey!" Jili offered! That makes much more sense.

There were so many hilarious situations like these, when we couldn't understand what they were saying and interpreted something else entirely. In the beginning, I felt like banging my head on the wall out of frustration but as the days passed, we understood each other better and by the time they were about to leave, I could complete Raph's sentences easily. If were standing in a place, Raph would say, "What we wait?" which meant, what are we waiting for. If she wanted to know how much time was left till we reached a place, she would say,
"How many times, we uhhhh, we....uhh..."
"-reach?" I would say, and she would nod. Every time they understood something we would say, there would be an expression of great realization on their faces and they would say, "OH! Oh yeahhh!"

And the French, or maybe Europeans in general, have amazing manners. Too much of them, if you ask me. After every second sentence, Raph said thank you. No kidding. When she asked me if she could take a shower and I would say, yes, of course, even then, she would get a big smile on her face and say thank you. It's very French to say thank you, she told me. And every morning and night, she would wish everyone in home good morning and good night. " At my 'ome, " she told me, " we wish each ozerr all ze time. My muzerr make me, uhh, kiss 'er goodnight everyday."
I can't remember the last time I kissed my mother, let alone kiss her goodnight. It makes me wonder if I'm a little ungrateful to the people I know.

Their food habits are equally proper. And strange, if you ask me. She eats no spices at all. She can eat anything at all, if there's no spice in it. And I mean no spice AT ALL. I don't understand how they swallow all that bland, plain food. I find food pretty much tasteless without spices.
"Izn't it....odd," she looked at me to confirm if the word she used was right or not. I nodded. "Zat in France, it eez so cold but we do not eat spice, but in India it eez so 'ot and you eat so many spice. It eez....laugh, laughing?" she asked me.
"Ironic," I tell her.
"Ironic," she says.
But I guess its okay, because the French are more fond of eating sweet stuff rather than salty. Her every meal is incomplete without deserts. There would be a nagging voice in their head if they did not eat deserts. And in the breakfast, they have never taken salt. Never! Once I made her try idli-sambar for breakfast and she ate one idli with such a disgusting face that my mother took pity on her and gave her her beloved bread and confiture(jam).
And they eat so little! They hardly take breakfast and don't even snack in between meals. I live on snacks! Partially, because no matter however much I eat, I don't gain an ounce but I think everyone here is quite fond of little snacks. Hence the snacks before dinner tradition in Indian parties. "We will starve when we got to France yaa, " Navya said to me. " I'm gonna take lots of biscuits and Haldiram packets to France, in case they expect us to wait for mealtime or something."
"But my brozerr eat so much," Raph told me. "I don't know 'ow can 'ee eat so much. 'Eee do a lot of sport. I'm sure, if 'ee do not do sports, 'ee become a very, very fat man."

This one time, Raph and I were waiting outside a restaurant for the others.
"Srishtee, " she says in her French accent. "In France, on zuh roads I see so many, so many people kissing and 'olding 'ands, walking togezzurr, but 'ere, I see nobody!" she held up her hands in surprise. "In our school too, zere are so many, so many coouples and zey are always kissing, but 'ere, nobody!"
It was quite funny.

And they loved traveling by auto-rickshaw. 'Tuk-tuk', they called them. Lets go by tuk-tuk.

But not everything was hunky-dory. My partner, and I'm not talking about the French in general, mostly didn't like Indian things. All she bought was 4 scarves and box, although she had carried a lot of money for shopping. She didn't like Janpath, hated Dilli Haat, couldn't stand Red Fort and didn't buy any souvenirs. She preferred going to the mall and the amusement park and parties and drinking rather than going to any historical monument or seeing anything ethnic. Which was a little disappointing, but it was okay because I tried my best and if they didn't take interest, it was their loss. I'm all ready to soak up everything French. :D

In the beginning, a lot of us couldn't establish a rapport with their partners. We were all so sick of them and their English. "These French people, " I said, "are like a bug you can't get rid of. And the worst part is, you paid for that bug. " We were all very glad when they were all taken to Jaipur without us for two days. Because staying with them all the time meant taking care of them every second of the day, and that is not easy. I will never take my parents for granted now. Even when we Indians talked, we talked about these French as if they were our kids; we discussed about their habits, their likes, dislikes, and all. So aunty-ish, I tell you.
And that when the French were so unconcerned and unaffected by all did we did for them. As soon as they saw their friends, they jabbered away in rapid French and forgot everything else. But I guess thats everywhere. Our teacher told us that we'll do the same when we go there, its natural.
French people were also quite flaky. Sometimes, their mood, humeur, was so good they couldn't stop gushing, how nice Indians were. And sometimes they were very curt and short. "I can't wait to go to France to create a fuss and watch them take care of us."
I couldn't agree more. These past two weeks, its like we don't have a life of our own. We take care of them all the time and have no time ofr our freinds, or for our hobbies. There's this constant nagging, worry in our heads if they are feeling fine.

There are just so many, so many things I've learned these past few days. Raphaelle is one of the most awesome people I've ever met. She travels so, so much and she told me all about her trips to New York and California and Egypt and morocco and Europe. She has great knowledge about every city she has visited and our shared love for movies made it very easy for us to make conversation once we were in the humeur. We have had so many long talks about different cities and places. You know how every city is mostly defined by a typical thing of that city? Like if someone says Paris, I would say fashion. If someone says New York, I would say Times Square or I dunno, maybe a fast paced life. If someone said USA to Raphaelle, she would say crazy people.Absolutely bizarre! And I used to think London is more industrial kinda city, more about jobs, Paris has more artists. But Raph says thats not true anymore. There has been a great mix of culture and you can't really define a city by just one thing typical to it. Its just a great, big, mish-mash now. In this mish-mash, so much mixes together and emerges as something entirely new and different. Like we start with primary colours, Red, Green and Blue but if we keep mixing and mixing, there's no end to the colours we develop.

We've had deep, insightful talks like these in addition to the extremely stupid situations. When Raphaelle saw my French notebook, she had tears of laughter in her eyes. " Zis eez my life, zuh things I do and you are studying eet! Eetz too funny!" she said, laughing.

It was quite sad yesterday, when the whole day we talked about her going away. Six months, we kept saying. We see each other after six months. "But you know, " Raphaelle said. "Six months eez nothing. Tell me, what izz six months in life? They'll pass like zis!" she snapped her fingers. "You go to school, you do 'omework, you ski in winter, make snowman, and zen you are 'ere!"

At the airport, everyone was saying all this cheesy stuff like, "Don't cry that its over; smile that it happened" and all that. But we didn't shed a tear. I mean, I was sad and all but I needed to be on my own for sometime now too!

As we were coming back after taking her to the airport, I remembered when two weeks ago, I had come to pick her up. When she had gotten in the car, she was sitting at the back and she had strapped her seatbelt on. I've never, ever put on my seatbelt, especially when I'm at the back. So I told her, "You don't need to put your seatbelt on, its okay." Raphaelle had smiled and said, "Ohh, everything's okay!" and kept her seatbelt on.

Two weeks later, her words seemed true. That yes, everything IS okay. Its how you make of situations that make them okay or not okay. You can get along well with a stranger with whom you don't share a common language or culture and have the time of your life or you can sit and crib and cry about it.
Everything is okay; its what you make of it. There were good times and bad times but, all's well that ends well.

This was just one small episode in my life; maybe I'll have many, many more like these. If I get to make new friends and learn new things about different cultures, lifestyles and maybe even languages, I'm sure I'll love it.

You know how everyone and everything, people, things, places, all have separate distinct scent? Raph's scent is still lingering in the room, I sometimes catch a whiff of it. But I know it'll be lost in a day or two.
 Until six months later.

Cuz its not the end; its actually the beginning.

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6 Reflections:

ketpan said...

Srishti,

As usual, this was a fabulous narration. I didn't even realize when the post ended [snaps fingers like Raphaelle! ;) ].

But I also felt that you were actually quite ambivalent about Raphaelle. Towards the end of your post I felt as if you were feeling it is not proper to be fond of her. :) And that is why you tried to look at the whole experience from a more positive perspective.

Though, you had mentioned in one of the lines that what you wrote was to be not generalized to all French, it seemed you have in general developed a mild distaste for French people? Did you sense any condescension in Raphaelle for Indians? And most important, did you tell her about your blog? :)

But one good thing was that finally you blogged! I can't believe you spend so little of your time online. Looks like you run the risk of ending up a 'good girl'! :P

My blog is waiting for your kind attention. :D Or wait, I'll let you know through email what posts to read.

Take care.

Tangled up in blue... said...

Hey Srishti! This was rather fun to read! Man, I cannot imagine how tough it must have been to live 24/7 with someone who you've only just met and have that much trouble communicating with! I'm sure if I spent that much time with my besties I'd want to bash their heads in! :D

But you've dealt with the whole situation rather well and remarkably maturely!

Haha..that "jalebi with onions" incident is still making me giggle..but you know what, I keep wondering how strange our pronunciations must sound to French ears :D

We had these Swedish externs in the Medicine department last month, who were here in Bombay to spend a fortnight observing patients with "tropical diseases" they called it, and they asked us all these questions about why there were stray dogs allowed into the main hospital building, why patients were allowed to overflow onto mattresses on the floors and such..and the best we cud do was to sheepishly smile and tell them that we were overpopulated and underfunded and such, and they tried to be all "okay, third world country, we get it!" but I cud tell they were really majorly culture-shocked by everything they saw in Bombay..and to think, this is supposedly one of India's greatest cities!

They also were rather excessively polite we thought, coz they said "Thank you" after pretty much anything we did to help them, including telling them the time..maybe its a European thing to say a lot of thank yous in general..

There was this one guy Ylva who told me three times that he'd never met anyone in the six countries he'd visited so far who rolled their R's as much as I did..:D And luckily they spoke excellent English with what sounded like American accents so I didnt find it hard to get..

And I am so J that you get to go to France! :) Have fun, take lots and lots of pictures and write a huge big blogpost about it!

And Happy Diwali! :)

Incognito said...

Thaaaat was I guess you could call it a bittersweet experience.
Mais tout est bien qui finit bien. :D
(I still remember my french. Youpi!)

My mom went to France and you know there was this scent that was common with the french women and she Hated it. She actually used to not breathe when she used to catch a whiff of that.

But just like you I love it too.

I thought the french had quite an attitude as opposed to the germans. Especially spanish born germans ;)

But the hoot! is that you get to go to france!!

And switzerland! :D

Btw awesome awesome post!

The Blue Periwinkle said...

I loved the post!
absolutely loved it! :)

Stupidosaur said...

Its funny. When I see your lamp post profile pic, it often reminds me of a person who looked like that a few years back. More or less still does. And she too went to France as part of student exchange program few years back! However you mentioned two weeks only. She studied in school there for a whole year. And you mentioned Lyon, which is coincidently where 1 or 2 of her 'host families' out of 3 were! Best wishes for your visit!

Nothing but "Ficus" said...

Just wandered into your blog and found this damn good post!

Loved every word of it, and read it through without missing a single word.