Saturday, May 25, 2013

Shock and Awe

I stumbled upon this and it made me think of my own experiences with people who are shocked at our English skills.

We were in Atlanta, Georgia for 13 months between 2009 and 2010. It was April 2010 and I was visiting family in Santa Maria, California. One evening, we were tending to my cousin's backyard when his neighbour joined us. The neighbour and I start talking and he asks me if it was my first time in the US. (Some history--> As an adult, it was. But I had lived in Chicago for two years between 1987 and 1989.) So I tell him it wasn't my first time and that I had lived here from when I was 5 till I was 7. That's when he said, "Oh! No wonder your English is so good!" I was shocked at his ignorance and I don't think I registered what happened next. I think I started playing with his dog.

Fast forward to May 2013 in Marseille, France. We were enjoying a street festival near where we live. We had decided to sit by the water and eat our packed dinner. D realised he had forgotten to pack the bottle opener. So he walked around and found a bar-owner who agreed to do the needful in exchange for a glass of the wine D was carrying. When the deed was done, this is what ensued.

Owner: "Spanish? Italian?"
D: "No. Indian."
O: "You come from London?"
D: "No. India."
O: "Oh! You speak English!"
D: "But you don't seem to be from France." (The Marseillaise are infamous for not knowing their English!)
O: "Yes. I am from Italy."

So then why do people who chance upon Indians who speak English treat them with surprise?

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