Excuse me, do you speak English?

“Excuse me, do you speak English? “, a random South Asian stranger asked me. I couldn’t tell if he was Indian or Pakistani, but he definitely was a Muslim.

Now, whenever I hear those words, my metal GPS springs into action. There’s nothing more embarrassing than not being able to tell someone the general direction of a street or station. It’s a prestige issue for me. I like to think I am a stud at directions.

Anyhow, in that split second I knew that this wasn’t going to be a conversation about directions. The thing is, I had ten minutes to kill. I was a little early for an appointment, and I was ambling about anyway. So he asks me, “Why don’t people live with their families here in London”. Somehow the conversation suddenly morphed into one in Hindi.

I was quick to judge him. I thought he was going to tell me that the British don’t care about their parents, and everyone here believes in deserting their parents. I was steeling myself for that bit. Except he said, “There are so many people from all over the world here, I suppose they cannot always bring their entire families with them”. And he just looked so sad.

So I told him well, it makes more sense, given how small houses in cities are, or how people really prefer to be in their own space. He nodded. He said “My brother got married recently, and he wants me to move in with him. My life maybe easier, but I don’t want to disturb them. He doesn’t understand that. But it will be easier, I can’t even make tea.”.

Now that annoyed me. I tell him that making tea is a relatively simple process that can be mastered in about five minutes. He says he works for twelve hours, so he doesn’t have the time. I tell him half the world works for twelve hours, they manage to make their tea and their dinner. He asks me what I should do. He also tells me about the rest of his family. But my ten minutes of free-time were almost up. I tell him, “Talk to your brother. “. He tells me I am right. Says his Salaam, wishes me and my family well, thanks me for talking to him like his sister, and walks away.

Later on the phone with WA, and ask her why random strangers tend to feel so free to come and talk to me. She gives me a very unflattering explanation.

21 Comments

Filed under London, Self

21 Responses to Excuse me, do you speak English?

  1. WA

    unflattering it might have been, but you know its the truth

  2. Why should it be unflattering? Some people just give off a friendly vibe.

  3. WA: Aaargh! I will deal with you over lunch one of these days.

    anantha: No, no. She was hinting that I might come across as loosu/ illicha-vaai etc. :)

  4. It’s a gift Neha. :)

    These days when a friendly gesture is being looked upon by suspicion, having someone approach and speak to you with no qualms and leaving satisfied is indeed a blessing.

    No, am not kidding. I am very serious. Now.

  5. Neha: Yaaru yaara andha madhiri sollaradhu nu vevasthaye illama pochu ;)

  6. Maybe because you are pretty?

  7. What was the unflattering explanation?

  8. Gigi

    rads is right. My Amway radar is set off when anyone is friendly in the US.
    Only people who look genuinely lost or can’t communicate in English are exempt from my Amway screen.

  9. rads: So true. In fact I think 30in2005 wrote an interesting post on being preached to on the bus. I’m also a favourite with preacher men and Hare Krishna ting-ting types. I don’t get the loud ones, just the ones that try to “gently” convert me. Aaargh. Though I feel bad about walking away – so I actually listen to them for a few minutes.

    anantha: WA is allowed.

    Grasshopper: I think it’s more likely because I look utterly jobless, and am never in a tearing hurry. :)

    mumbaigirl: WA hinted that I looked a bit like a wierdo. Or someone off her rockers. Which is why I am approached by similar people.

    Gigi: Amway radar! rotfl! I do have one of those actually. There’s this famous story in the house about how I palmed off a very persistent Amway type person over to my mom – and then went back to Bombay. That woman bugged my mom for over a year. I don’t think mom has forgive me for that yet. :D

  10. Sometimes people have an approachable air ! i guess you are bestowed with one. Well, its a package deal. You get to hear some that you like and others on mundane tea making in my brothers backyard ! ( Not forgetting the A types )

    LOL !

  11. So, talking to him like sister means he wasn’t trying to flirt.

  12. And it might also be the case that you don’t look like the “no nonsense type”, eh! :P

    *runs for cover*

  13. WA

    Sidharth – do note that he called her a sister only after realising that she is unlikely to make him cups of tea :)

  14. I

    hindu-muslim bhai behan, japan-china bhai behan, iraq-america bhai behan.

  15. It happens to me with auto drivers. All the time! They somehow pour out all their sorrows! My belief is that some people just seem talkable-to (if you will excuse the random grammar!).

    I wrote a post one one such incident a long while ago…

  16. My amma is very worried about the unfriendly vibes that I exude. We must swap notes.

  17. I: How long are you going to try and comment like Nilu? Because you still aren’t getting there. But we know you’re trying… !

  18. ithukku enga oorla — theriyadha ponnu kitta kadala podrathunnu per.

    I am sure London has more sophisticated names.

  19. Have you ever tried wearing sunglasses? All the time? Nobody can guess what you are looking at and they definitely do not approach to chat randomly. ;-)

    Oh, and not ambling also helps. My neighbour says that I walk “purposefully”. I asked him if he ambles most or all of the time. I mean, all walking is purposeful – even if it is to ogle at a pretty garden or stunning building or get exercise or to go somewhere. No?

  20. perhaps, there was something about you that just made him feel comfortable talking to you! :)

  21. “I like to think I am a stud at directions.”
    The jury’s still out on that one.

    Approachable? Maybe it’s the Yodi vibe?

    J.A.P.