Sounds exotic. But sounds can be deceptive. Long long back, we stayed in Paris ( well actually a suburb called St. Germain), but well, to sound pricey, Pari, with an accent. Before the travel, we were warned that the French speak French and only French and we had to take a few weeks of lesson before embarking on the journey. The lessons did a lot of good, they taught me that a dictionary is a must for anything beyond “bon jour”.
Learning is beyond cultural and language boundaries. Couple of days after we landed, we had to pick up our rental cars. We were also supposed to get a day’s driving lesson the very next day. Notice the cliche, pick up the car a day before, drive it all the way home, and go next day to learn how to drive in France. Wrong way round? When in France, do it the French way, I guess.
I don’t know why the French don’t drive on the left of the road like the more familiar half of the world. It took a few minutes to get used to the gears on the right hand, it was all उल्टा-पुल्टा really. The route was unfamiliar, you had to follow rules, you could not honk, signboards were in an alien language and all the silly things that you see in the west. I stopped at a red light and as it turned green ( it was dusk, up above the cancer, it gets to be night at 4-5 pm). As the light turned green, I drove right into a full beamed cluster of four wheelers, horns blazing, brakes screeching as I realized, I had mixed up left and right. Survived as I overcame my folly and reacted quickly enough.
The journey home was not yet over. I had to get lost. Took one wrong turn and moved around aimlessly before my sense of direction prevailed, retraced the car steps back to the wrong turn and took the right left turn. Needless to say, the driving lesson next day went pretty smoothly except that my trainer thought I was a pretty dangerous driver.
Our apartment had wooden floors and I had a 6 year old who loved stomping around and talking at the top of his voice. He was specially high energy in the evening, when I would come home from work and cook. Now if the French want to sleep at 6 pm, it is their problem, how can I stop a kid from playing during normal play hours. Soon enough we were paid a visit by our neighbors from one floor below. The lady, who was expecting, started off in a full volley of French, giving all the local गाली she knew ( or so it felt like), no matter how many times I said “ja ne comprends”, she refused to acknowledge it. Her husband / boyfriend, hovering apologetically around in the background, explained “she resorts to French when she is excited, she is not able to sleep because of all the noise, so can you please” and then onward we had to tiptoe and whisper around the home.
Being a vegetarian has its own problem in that country. If you ask for a vegetarian burger, they remove the patti and give you the bun along with the घास-फूस. French fries too smelled strange. Our lunch used to be a mess in a mess where we would get a good variety of bread, yogurt, but with it, boiled spinach and beans. For us Indians with our spicy tongue, ingesting that is a huge issue, the food refuses to go down the food pipe. And doing that every day was no mean feat. The only good outcome was that we lost all the fat we had gathered in 30 years in India in those few months and I could fit in a waist size of 30″, which was like once in a lifetime achievement. I have never been able to fit into the clothes I bought there ever since. Our weekend grocery shopping would happen armed with a dictionary, you pick up an item, read its spelling, find what it is called in English and whether our Indian vegetarian tongues could handle it.
In India we are so used to working on weekends and holidays, we did not expect anything different there. We decided to visit office on a Saturday, and reached only to find the office was closed and locked and there was no way we could enter. Monday we asked our friendly cubicle hood neighbor, and his response was – why do you need to come to office? Don’t you have anything better to do? You are in Paris, man! And then he clarified, you actually need permission from the commissioner of police to work on holidays and weekends and it just isn’t worth it unless the sky is falling. So we decided to put our weekends to better use.
Crossing the road was a funny experience. Being used to Indian traffic that refuses to acknowledge the presence of pedestrians, you think a number of times before you put your foot forward. I did, and retracted it as I saw a car coming. But the car stopped. I too stopped. We both waited for the other to go. After a couple of minutes, the driver opened his window and shouted some gibberish. A kind fellow behind me told me to cross the road as he could not go otherwise. Well, you live and learn.
You can find Indians selling Eiffel Tower miniatures and key chains around the tourist attractions and as expected, that is one place you can haggle till he comes down to 10 key chains in one Euro. And that guy doesn’t leave you at that. Being fellow countryman, he keeps following you till you buy picture postcards, and the imitation goggles also and then tell him in no uncertain terms to buzz off. The middle class mentality forced us to convert every cost to INR before a purchase and exclaim- कितना महँगा है। we are so good at the mental mathematics, we look for the bargains where the white guy would not dare enter.
The country honks one day in the year, all the frustration comes out as all cars go around Champs-Elysee’s and honk to celebrate the onset of the new year.