Friday, 20 November 2009

Culture gap

Talking on the phone in my place is like being inside a Faraday cage and I tend to say yes and no in what I think are the right places as attempting to explain the line is breaking up only makes matters worse. I live under 3 high tension power cables, the house seems to have more steel than concrete so any phone call is fraught with problems. This assumes of course that the phone system is working, that the network is not busy, the line is not engaged and the phone battery is not about to die. With all these potential traps, any call seems like a minor miracle.

S had phoned the previous evening to invite me to visit his home and have lunch. Next morning I waited for him to arrive. Unusually he turned up 20 minutes early instead of hours late. Is H coming to my home as well he asked. Consternation as I had just left H and not invited her. Somewhere in the previous nights call that piece of information/invitation had gone missing. Doubting that H had actually gone anywhere in the 5 minutes since I had left her, I called. Faraday had gone AWOL and all 2009 telephonic systems were go. She would be pleased to have lunch and would be there in a few minutes.

Now assembled I asked S how we were to get to his place. I had been there once before on a fleeting visit and knew it was not far but lunch would be cold if we walked there. I will take you both on my bike he replied. H and I looked at each other. Locals often travel five in line on motorbikes (Indian fashion) but somehow we doubted that our sponsor would be very happy with that arrangement. One at a time he quickly explained having insight to our expressions. H goes first as I had to lock up and locking up my place is no quick and easy task. As I completed Fort Knoxing, S returned and the final piece of the plan fell into place.

S lives on the outskirts of Koraput, just off the main highway through Orissa and up a dirt and stone track. At the end of the dirt track are loose and very sharp stones and the odd, inevitable, cow. The choice is clear, hit the cow or leave the track and venture onto the track verge. Fortunately it has not rained here for a few weeks so mud was not on offer so leaving and re-entering the main track presented no difficulties. The house is on three floors and owned by a member of the judiciary who only lives there during the weekend. He works 120km distant. In India, that is too far for a daily commute.

We are introduced to S’s father (a title of respect rather than fact, his biological father had expired 17 years earlier), his brother and, later, the house owner. Brother cooks the meal and we eat, sitting around the bed. H is brave and determined to obey local customs and eats, messily, with her hand. I, on the other hand am a declared prol and request a spoon. Not taking offence, or at least I observe none, S brings a spoon. Adjourning after a fine meal of chicken curry and vegetables to the balcony we sit and exchange pleasantries about our respective cultures.

The topic of formal greetings comes up. It is common practice that locals greet with two hands in a prayer position towards the face and a slight bow. Handshakes you already know about. Thus, when the two cultures meet, each attempts to respect the others culture by using the greeting of the other. This of course leads to confusion. One attempts to shake hands whilst the other has both hands raised towards their face. I suggest a compromise. Each raises a single hand to the face and the other hand extends to the handshake position. This, the owner finds highly amusing.

As the afternoon wears on we make moves to leave as it grows dark very quickly, also chilly, and we do not want to walk back with giant trucks missing us by millimetres as they drive by, minus any lights. We had agreed earlier with S that we would walk back and so see more of the area. We put our footwear on (shoes would a step too far and flip flops would insult the excellent local equivalent). We start to take our leave with the formal greeting/leaving gestures. The owner offers one hand whilst raising the other in a one handed prayer. We laugh, he has adopted my idea and I think the culture gap has been closed.

1 comment:

  1. What do you mean - are you trying to say that I am messy when I eat my food? I'm insulted