Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Culture Surprises

June 1st, 2009

For someone whose idea of life outside India for the first thirty six and half years of his existence restricted to occasional corporate junkets with glimpses of airports and star hotels, the last six months in London as a resident has been a completely new experience. This is my short preface to five new and unique experiences I have had and I wish to share now. I assure dear reader, that none of this is profound and you should take this more than a mere scribble in my diary at your own peril.

#1 Tube Face
The indispensable London Underground seems to have one undesirable impact on its users. I am yet to meet a smiling face in the tube. People simply don’t smile when they get 24 meters (average depth of the tube) below the ground. My rotten arrogance surfaces once in a while and I try to break this by smiling at a stranger with a hope of setting a new record in the tube. The best response I have received so far is a nod that lasts no more than a nano-second.

#2 Ear-shattering blow
An average Londoner is a perfect gentleman/lady. There cannot be two opinions about this. Why then do they blow their noses so loudly in public places is something I am yet to understand. Take this literally. When a Londoner blows his nose, he ensures that people five meters on either side hear it. The saving grace is that he/she always, always uses a tissue.

#3 Week-end frenzy
Life during weekends, starting from Friday evening goes on the fifth gear. There is a manic planning that precedes this. What am I going to do this weekend is an essential question that every self-respecting Londoner seems to be asking himself. While the average answer to this is not very creative, it is just another harmless side of the simple-minded Englishman. Get ready to see miniature barbecue stoves on the balconies of garden-less apartments like the ones I live in!

#4 Beer and ale guzzlers
This my favourite. A pint of beer bang in the middle of the day? This is a futile question only a narrow-minded (and hypocritical) Indian like me can ask. I remember being petrified of being caught by my boss every time I had a beer with lunch when I was in Delhi. God knows how many cartons of “Centre Fresh” must have covered my darker side. Here and now is my chance to lead a guiltless life. You will be the odd one if you order your lunch without the beer. Cider for the ladies.

#5 Queue crazy
Actually this my real favourite. It almost seems like my English-speaking friends love to stand in the queue. Something tells me its part of their religion. Why else would there be so many queues all over London. From smallest roadside newstand to the plushest of plush malls have innumerable queues. The queues only seem to grow as the the shops add more tills. Just draw a yellow line with the words “stand behind this line” and you will have a dozen folks ready to fall in line. Memorize this one. It will save your life some day. I once walked up to a newstand which seemed deserted to buy a pack of cigarette. The vendor gave me a cold stare and then I heard a booming hello (not greeting definitely) behind me. A solitary customer apparently was waiting in the “queue” for the vendor to say “next please.” I almost gave up smoking that day.

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