Diaspora Diaries: Anecdotes Away From Home
Leaving one’s hometown for the big city life is a bittersweet experience. You upgrade to a better educational institute, better job, and better prospects, leaving behind the known. However, as you take in the new place with its foreign culture and unfamiliar language, you are bound to have quite a few encounters of the funny kind.
Most of it usually stems from linguistic differences – and while they make for a merry anecdote over dinner, it also makes you marvel at the diverse cultures around us. Whether you move to a different country, state, or even district – there is always something hilariously unfamiliar to bring on a case of the chuckles.
‘Bengalis Don’t Have Spoons’
Whenever I visited my Bengali maternal grandparents, I would always see them eat with their hands, while my Punjabi paternal grandparents never did. Till about 7, I actually believed that Bengalis didn’t have spoons! - Ramona Sinha
Right Order, Wrong Dish
We went to a restaurant in Bangalore and my uncle ordered ‘aloo bhaji’ -- plain thin slices of fried potato. The waiter nodded vigorously but what ultimately arrived was ‘aloo bajji’ -- potato fritters coated with gram flour – Priyanka Gogoi
‘All Northeasterners Know Chinese’
This was in Delhi. I had just joined university and we had to take a foreign language. We could pick from Spanish, French, German and Chinese. A local student decided Chinese would be easier for me since she thought I already knew Chinese coming from the Northeast. She asked what kind of god we prayed to. I replied, “I don't, but my mom follows this one guy that wears animal skin and and has a snake on his head for added effect. We call him Shiva. You must have heard of him?” She didn't bother talking to me for the entire semester. - Richa Devi
Milk is called ‘susu’ in Indonesia. I have been here for some five years and so now it doesn’t sound that odd anymore. But imagine the look on the face of Indian executives when they are served susu the first time! – Amitjyoti Das
Roughly 20 years ago, after we had moved to Baroda, my maternal grandmother came to stay with us. One afternoon when the grocery guy came to deliver monthly supplies, she checked the list. One item was missing. So my grandmother, wanting to know exactly when it would arrive, queried, "O-bala aayega -- Will it come in the evening (o-bala in Bengali)?". The man, looking perplexed, reacted, “Nahi, ubla nahi aayega -- no, it won’t come boiled (ubla in Hindi).” - Rohini Deb
I was on a bus with a local law student in Southern Germany. We discussed about the scores of Indian languages. Wondering how complicated communication among Indians could be, he suggested English become the uniform language. I felt it was useless to explain to him how the country could well so without experts like him and continued the rest of the journey without a word. - Debarchana Baruah
GK or Geography?
We had just about moved to Ahmedabad from Shillong. That was December 1988. The spirit of keeping in touch with friends was high and that took me to the post office located on our campus. An official looked intently at the address and shook his head saying, "This won't work. You'll need an international letter. It will go to Ceylon.” Exasperatedly, I said, "No, Shillong. It’s in Meghalaya." He seemed intrigued and asked me where I was from. When I mentioned Assam, he threw another googly: "Ah... Assam in Maharashtra." – Purba Kalita
‘The Clothes Aren’t Bitter’
My friend’s aunt, who is from Upper Assam, asked her maid from Lower Assam to check whether the clothes on the clothesline were ‘tita’ (meaning wet in Upper Assam). The maid quickly chewed one end of a hung tee and reported, “Eko eko nalge” (It is tasteless). It soon dawned on my aunt that in Lower Assam ‘tita’ means bitter. – Shahid Hasnain
‘I Do Wokkals’
This South Indian guy said he does wokkals for a band while trying to hit on me. For the longest time I thought wokkals was some sort of an instrument. It dawned much later that he meant vocals. – Sonata Parashar
I had quite a confusing time looking for saunf (fennel seeds) when I went to visit my in-laws in Silchar, a city in Assam with Bengali majority. The bemused shopkeeper handed me a soap first, then a packet of Surf, and when I kept insisting I wanted ‘saunf’, he finally gave me a packet of soup. I gave up and returned saunf-less and later found out it is called ‘mouri’ in Bengali.” – Priyankee Saikia
In India, where we have 22 official languages and over a 1000 mother tongues, things getting lost in translation are an everyday affair. Despite the funny misunderstandings and memorable anecdotes, we make it work. A billion-strong nation, we go about our everyday lives jostling each other in a Babel-like situation. And would we really have it any other way?
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