Where's your country? What's your name?
Those are the two questions you are bound to be asked thousands of times when travelling through India. Indian people are very curious, straightforward and not shy: they see nothing wrong in interrupting your conversation or anything you are doing just to satisfy their curiosity.
If you're sitting somewhere, having a break, drinking a coke or munching some biscuits, you can be sure that it is only a matter of minutes before somebody stops in front of you, to ask some questions or simply stare at you. Their English is frequently non-existent (as is our Hindi), which makes it often a frustrating affair, but this does not bother them. It is OK for a while, but when asked those same questions over and over again, one can start to lose patience. So we've adopted a few tactics to get over this situation.
If we are relaxed and do not mind the disturbance, we tell them that we come from Germany and France. They love Germany, the country of football, big cars and Hitler. Surprisingly, Hitler is for many Indians a positive figure: he supported the Independence movement during WWII in the hope of weakening British Power and they have not forgotten. When you remind them of Hitler's crimes, they just dismiss the conversation. As for France, they rarely comment on it.
If we feel cheeky and want to tease them, we pick an African country, China or Japan. This unsettles them and is a good way to test their English: if it's good enough, they will ask again as they do not believe us. If not, they will simply grin and move away. However, something funny happened to us once in Janakpur, a Nepali town near the Indian border: instead of answering, we asked the guy to guess. He looked at us and replied instantly “Chinese”! We smiled and agreed, wondering about his idea how Chinese people look. But it was not all: on the same day, amused by this story, we always pretended to be Chinese and incredibly, most of them seemed to believe us. What was going on in Janakpur? Were they expecting a Chinese invasion? Weird.
If we are not feeling cooperative, we tell them we come from Belgium! Most of them do not relate to this country at all, they look perplexed, just nod and walk away.
The second big question about our names should be easy to deal with. However, since nobody can pronounce Véronique, she has turned to rename herself Maria or Anna. Thomas' name is no problem, but if he feels annoyed, he will answer Max: surprisingly, they do not like this name very much.
At this point, most people who are just curious or cannot speak English very well will be satisfied and move on. Some will persevere and this can lead to very interesting conversations, revolving mostly around Family, Religion and Wealth.
Can we take a picture?
This year, we were confronted with something new and unexpected: most Indians are now using mobile and smart phones, and foreign tourists are becoming the target of even more attention. They might take a snap or two on the go, which is fair enough, but think twice when asked to pose with them. This can become a quite tiring affair: all of a sudden, the whole family wants to be on the picture: the Children, Father and Mother, and here comes Auntie and Grand Ma! Not to speak of the next family, who has spotted the proceedings and hopes to be the next in the queue for a photo with us. We wonder on how many Facebook pages we are now: “Me and my German Friends, visiting the caves at Ajanta…”
It happens quite often that we are walking down the street, minding our own business when a complete stranger suddenly comes to us and wants to shake hands. This is a tricky situation: if we decline, the person is often hurt and can get upset (sometimes naming us racists). Just for that, it pays to hold something in your right hand and smile in a sorry way when asked. We have the suspicion that Indians are taught at school that this is the way Westerners behave among themselves. If we try to explain that we do only shake hands with friends or acquaintances, but surely not with complete strangers on the street, they reply that we are now friends as we are talking with each other, so we should shake hands, shouldn't we? Now, that's a problem!
$updated from: Blog.htxt Mon 03 May 2021 16:08:30 trvl2 (By Vero and Thomas Lauer)$