La Bise : Culture shock in Europe

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First experiences are special. First experiences of living in a new country can result in serious culture shocks too. Not in a negative way, but in a funny, ironic way. When you leave a country like India to go live abroad, the first experience can be full of eye-widening, thought provoking experiences. One of the major culture shocks for me, was La Bise: The cheek-to-cheek greeting that is so common in France. Growing up back home, I had only seen films stars do the cheek-to-cheek kiss, or maybe others belonging to the ‘elite’ class. Chez moi, when greeting an elder, say Namaste or Sat Sri Akal. Sorted. Look at the person, bow your head a little and say it. With friends, just a ‘hey’ or a side hug works. But in France, there was a completely different thing going on.

It took me a while to understand that the bise is a part of the everyday life, and it can be taken very, very seriously. One person would enter the room, and would do muah-muah to everyone sitting there. Sweet, I thought to myself. After a few days of observation, I realized that they also do it while leaving. Sweet again, I thought to myself. Such an intimate way of greeting and saying goodbye! And now, I thought I was ready to greet in the French way too! But then, I forgot to notice which side you have to go to first. The initial weeks of meeting new people was a struggle in my mind. Left first? Or right first? What if I bump into their face? Should I just shake hands? Or hug? Umm, no. But they’re French – they would go for the bise! So then left first? Or right first? The left and right struggle was solved in its own time – practice makes a man perfect! But there were more mysteries of the bise yet to be solved – It is okay to do the bise with youngsters that you’re meeting for the first time, but what about people older than you? This question still haunts me! I might have embarrassed myself a couple of times by doing the bise with a much older lady that I met for the first time. I always wondered if there were rules about how to do the bise with who!

After living, working and studying in France for three years, I learnt a lot about the French culture and was quite comfortable with the greetings. I didn’t have to think left or right anymore! But outside of France, the mysteries of the bise were new, and more embarrassing! Once upon a time, I went to Belgium, and a friend introduced me to his friends. Friends of friends = do the bise. I did the calculation in my head. Went for it, but was left hanging in the air on the other side. Because, as I would learn later, they do one cheek kiss in Belgium! Ahem. One of the most awkward moments of my life, but a useful lesson learnt. ‘Next time onwards, I would be careful about the nationality before thinking one or two, instead of left or right’, I told myself. But when I met an Italian (Roberto! Yes, you!), I realized that the left or right also had to be taken into consideration: because for Italians, it was opposite to that of the French. We met so often, but never came to the decision as to which side to go to first!

After several awkward greetings and meeting people from different parts of the continent, I realized that the bise was a greeting which is similar everywhere in Europe, but distinct in its own style: quite similar to what we have in India, in the sense that the greeting changes from Namaste to Sat Sri Akal to Vanakkam to Khamma ghani, but the bow of the head or folding of the hands remains similar. However, the most annoying part of the culture shock is that it can linger on for a while, and become a part of you if you live in the place for too long. So now the greeting queries have started working the opposite way: I had never put so much thought into how to greet a person while I was living in India, but now my head starts doing the greeting calculations for handshake/hugs/Namaste on its own.

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Paint me a memory .

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Paint me a memory so bright,
Under the darkness of my sleepy eyes.
A memory so bright,
from those pages that we wrote together,
in this fast filling notebook of life.

Paint me a memory so bright,
with colors that bring feelings to life.
A memory so bright.
To light up, even for a moment,
the dullness of this lonely night.

Dependency is a killer.

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Another day without a single drop of water. The sun was shining bright ; too bright. But the more, the better. Not always though ; not when there was no water to quench the thirst. How they wished they were out in the open. Breathing in the warm summer air. They wish they could look up to the sky, and wave excitingly with the wind, as the black clouds would approach. These days they could still see the black clouds coming and going, but useless. Useless, because there was no way out. The raindrops would smear the window panes for hours, but why would they rejoice? Why would they rejoice when they couldn’t quench their thirst? They would look at the beautiful tiny raindrops. They would call out to them, and probably imagine what it feels like, when they touched. How soothing and refreshing it was. But now, the windows were a barrier. It was as if the raindrops were calling out to them too, but the barrier was impossible for them to break. They questioned why they even had to be alive, when their basic necessities couldn’t be met. They questioned God and blamed him for not making them fit enough to walk, so they could find their own sources of needs. Yes, needs. Why were they destined to be trapped in a world where nobody cared about them? Were they only an aesthetic element that didn’t need care? Or were the people around them so absorbed in their own aesthetic value, that they couldn’t care about anything else?

They wished, time and again that they didn’t have to take birth in the first place. But who was to be blamed? God certainly wasn’t responsible for their painful death. They knew they were wrong to blame him. For they could see their fellow beings rejoicing and growing up in his care, out in the open, under the blue sky and timely rains. Who was to be blamed then? Of course, the human beings who locked the doors, and windows, packed their bags, and went off for a two weeks holiday, forgetting all about them.

Dependency is such a killer. But only if they could do something about it, only if they could make decisions for themselves ; if they could choose where to be ; if they could do what these humans did : talk, walk, sing, dance, touch, jump, run!

“How lucky they are! And how happy they must be in this life!”, the dying rose plant said to the bougainvillea.

The Rain Messenger .

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Photo credits : Instagram @armaanmehra

.. 5 am in the morning. She sits at the doorstep of her house. All-nighters were not a choice; insomnia is a disease when one awaits the return of a loved one. She had tried to fall asleep all night, twisting and turning in the bed. But she finally gets up at the sound of the early morning temple bells, and settles down at the doorstep. Her eyes are full of sleep and dizziness. She wants to fall asleep for once, peacefully, like in her mother’s lap. The peace that she had known only for a little while. Since as long as she could remember, she was told every day that she was a girl, and girls don’t belong to the homes they are born in. She was told that she would be sent away to her husband’s home, and that is where her real life would begin. She cursed the childhood version of herself, for getting the gudda-guddi married as a part of a game. “Maybe that’s why they got me married – because they misinterpreted a childhood game as a wish of little girl”, she thought to herself – an eighteen year old dressed up as a bride. But little did she know – this was the game the elders liked to play.

At the doorstep, she lifts her drooping eyes. Black clouds are settling in the predawn sky. It is easy to see them coming in the light of the day. But when it is dark, and the sun is still going to take a while to show its face, you feel the black clouds of rain ; like an army of soldiers ready to attack while the town is still asleep. The goose bumps start appearing on her skin, and her saree ruffles with the wind, as she gets up to breathe in the new day. Thunder and lightning scowling; the temple bells responding equally. Not a drop of rain on her body. She waits; she waits to get soaked in the morning rain. Before the neighbors are awake, and before the rules bound her again. She waits, her arms stretched to the infinite sky. She waits, as she has been waiting for a while now. For an year now, in vain. No news of her husband.

Tears course down her cheeks, even before a raindrop could make its way to her barren body.

Contemplating on the couch .

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Her eyelids were heavy, at the peak hour in the afternoon. Her eyes full of sleep and dizziness, wanting to fall asleep on the couch. She lived in a house with an attic, and watched the raindrops falling on the window, that gave a view of other houses: the houses that she was taught how to draw as a child. Triangles and parallel lines, a road leading to it, mountains in the background, a river flowing from the valley, and the sun setting or rising: you’d never know. The houses were the same, but they were too many. More than she could have drawn in one scenery. Of course, it was when she grew up that she realized that the houses that she drew along the river, were fantasies turned into standards of happiness, that generation after generation would fight all their lives for. Just like the girl with the golden locks and rosy cheeks that she learnt of in stories and recited as poems, would define beauty standards. The world was full of so much bullshit, she thought to herself. She wondered who would shed a tear, if she took her last breath at this moment. She closed her eyes for a moment and pictured herself sitting by the sea. The waves washing her feet, coming and going away, just like her fluctuating feelings about living in this world full of so much bullshit. She wished to stay there a while longer, and understand why the waves did what they did. She had learnt about it in the science textbook at school. But she did not want science to answer her questions about this world full of so much bullshit. Because she knew science could give reason to so much that humans go through in life, but it could never answer the questions that are common to every breathing body: why do we fall in love? What is this pain that the heart feels, when you part ways with someone you loved? What happens to those who die for love? And what happens to those who die anyway? Where are the people who once wiped away our tears? And which lifetime will we meet them again in? … She wants to stay by the sea for a little while longer and watch the waves dancing to the shore and then disappearing on the sand bed. One after the other, with all its force and passion, dancing towards the sand bed, only to mingle with it and then rest in peace.

She wakes up at the sound of her phone notifying her of an email. A deadline for her next assignment. She gets up from the couch to make herself a cup of coffee. Steaming hot liquid pouring out from the machine, turning to froth and bubbles in the blue mug. She sits on her desk to begin with an all-nighter. Meanwhile, the sun dries up the raindrops, and the bubbles disappear in her coffee mug.

To every person I see on social media .

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Image source : weheartit.com

 

Hello,
I never got to know you in person – maybe we texted once or twice – about something that concerned you, or me. The small talk that is now saved in our inbox for many, many years to come.

Maybe we smiled a little at each other’s post, as we scrolled through thousands of lives as part of our mundane routine. Maybe in a moment where you were crying yourself to sleep, I was envying the life you chose to show in photographs. Or maybe vice versa.

Maybe we wondered what it would have been like, if we knew each other. Not like we know each through our job titles and degrees and the places we visited. I’d rather ask you about the job you wanted to get and tried hard for ; the course that you really wanted to do at university ; and how you saved up for that hard earned trip to the mountains.

Maybe we wondered what it would be like – if I knew you, and you knew me. Maybe there was potential in us, together, to laugh together and wipe away each other’s tears. Maybe I was waiting for you to take the first step, and you were waiting for me to say hello.

Maybe we did, and we ended up with the small talk that is now saved in our inbox, for many many years to come.

Just wanted to tell you – that I appreciate you, and the way you’re keeping up with this life that can get so difficult to deal with at times ; I know. But remember, in this world so closely, yet loosely connected, I am just a text message away. Because hey, anyone with that blue badge on messenger – can be reached instantly!

Smiles and love to you!

Simran

Our Cups of Tea .

They say you’ll never come back.
That my words won’t find their way to you.
And yet, I send them out into the universe.
I ignite your soul with my thoughts
and bring back to life
the fading memories of my childhood under your wings.

They say you’re gone, but only I know..
How you haunt my cups of tea.
How you paint your smile into my eyes.
How you take me on a ride back home.
To you, and me, and our cups of tea.

I close my eyes;
breathe in the fragrance I know so dearly.
And there, for a moment,
we melt together into the secrets of invisiblity.