We like to think that no one can know our country and our culture better than us. But there are times when we are shown a different India, through the eyes of our foreigner friends. This is the story of one such instance that left me speechless.
Life in Europe has a different appeal altogether. Notwithstanding the fact that life abroad in general teaches us new things every day, Europe is a different ball game all together, as it comes with the ‘extra’ baggage of mastering a new language, a new way of life. Living in Sweden for a little more than a year, I had very early digested the fact that I needed to learn and speak Swedish eloquently in a year’s time and like everyone, look for a job and work happily.
But my dreams were short-lived and every day the challenge of everything else being in Swedish sometimes made me restless, erratic and irritated. Despite the fact that all Swedes speak very good English, why are we addressed with Swedish first and then only English? So, just one of these days, muttering curses under my breath, I rang up one guy whom I had some business to deal with.
Like always, after I exchanged some pleasantries with him (In Swedish), I blabbered about why I had called him. I was planning a surprise for my husband’s 30th birthday and one of the gifts included an engraved T-shirt. And his company did that. So I needed his services. Julian, that’s what he said his name was on the phone, told me the address and said that he can get me the T-shirt as well as the printing for a nominal price by far as Sweden’s standards are.
I reached the venue (with some difficulty). Google maps was playing hide and seek with me and the weather being September wasn’t too kind either. Gathering my optimism and recollecting the smile on my husband’s face when he would see the gift pushed me to weather all storms and reach there. I saw a young boy, not more than 25, greeting me shyly as I saw the unkempt and cluttered little office (Very unlikely by Swedish standards again). Swedes are known to be quite tidy and clean.
Without wasting much time, he got down to work with his Apple Mac, while I studied the place with little disdain and began bombarding him with questions on the tenure of his business, clients and their scope of work. He was very sincere and absorbed in his work and replied to me in midst of his work. Then he said, “Since, you found our little place after such a great tussle, we don’t want you to take the trouble and coming down here again, I would do the printing right now for you in 10 minutes”.
“OK, I am now sure that these guys don’t have much work”, I thought but smiled and said “That’s super”. I picked a baseball sweat shirt and finalized the print and began chatting with him mindlessly again. I was taken aback by what he said next, “You are from India, right?” Ok, so that got creepy, it is uncommon for a Swede to be that sure about which part of Asia we are from. I nodded in affirmation. He paused and continued, “I love India; I have been there so many times”. Like other Indians who were used to foreigners visiting India, I am sure it was Goa. “Must be Goa then, eh?” He replied, “Yes, Goa but also Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and Ahmedabad”. “Okay, for travelling?” “For work, as well as visiting a friend.” “I have been in India at a stretch for like six months or so”. Wow, now that was something. “I said proudly, oh, that’s great, India is sure something. I have been in Sweden for more than a year and I struggle to speak Swedish, you must have noticed.” “That’s pretty crappy I guess, coming to a foreign land and not learning the language sucks”. He defended me and said, “I think, you are pretty good, the effort shows, I have been to India so many times and I don’t know even a word of Hindi”. “I feel terrible about it”. “But India is great; everybody speaks English, unlike here, where you would need to know Swedish at the back of your hand.” I was startled here, I was talking about getting myself acquainted with a foreign land and here was somebody who was teaching me about my own country. I didn’t say a word, paid him and left drowned in my train of thoughts. I had been pushing myself so hard (sometimes in anger) to adapt to learn a language that was clearly not my own, and here was a foreigner who goes to my country for holidays and still feels the need to learn the language, my language.
From that day, my respect grew two-fold. Firstly, learn the language for myself, not in order to accomplish something, not a job or the pride of knowing the common tongue. Secondly, my language is substantial to people across the globe and they acknowledge it. Finally, pre conceived notions are misleading, what I mistook to be a Swedish lad, taught me a thing or two, that made me remember my own motherland at a global level. The land, which we sometimes undermine in this race to intermingle with the white skin. The language that sometimes we don’t speak to show that we are a class apart from others. Be proud of your language abroad, practice it like they do theirs and carry with you a little India always.