This is sort of a companion piece to this post. If you haven’t read that yet, read it first.
There is a weird phenomenon about S that I haven’t told many people about for two reasons: it is bizarre, and it is also hard to describe effectively. In fact, I’d assume that this phenomenon was just a fluke except for the sheer frequency with which it happens and the fact that my siblings can corroborate it.
S has been to India four times with me. He is always at least with me, is usually with my sister, and very often with extended family. And as we roam around India, people – and I mean native Indian people – frequently go up to him and ask for directions and assistance. They skip all the brown people surrounding him and ask him for help — and usually in their mother tongue. This phenomenon where people randomly come up to him happens all the time and it is so weird. And just in case you don’t know him – he is white, as white as they come.
One of the more recent occurrences was last year, when we were travelling in Hampi, Karnataka with my brother (who is brown), my sister (also brown), and my niece (small and brown). We were waiting to meet a guide, standing on a dirt road in front of a row of stalls with vendors selling a variety of goods, and of course other people, just milling about. In the backdrop of this quintessential Indian rural road, in the middle of a reasonably dense sea of brown people, complete with a token Indian child that really offers that stamp of authenticity, stands S, who with his fair, pale skin looks like an angel from up above has descended upon us. With a Fedora.
Within a few minutes of standing there, a small tour bus full of Indians stops in front of us. I could see what was happening before it happened. The group descends, and the leader of this group looks around, seems a bit confused, and then makes a bee-line for S, his intended savior, and starts asking for directions in Kannada. I mean, he probably would have received the same level of assistance from the nearby ox.
Well where I thought this weird phenomenon might be something that was relegated to India, it is not. Just the other day, on our way to an exhibition, a Frenchman ascends out of the metro near us and walks straight to S to ask where the Assemblée Nationale is (en Francais). First, don’t you have a phone? And second, really?? A few hours later on the same day, after just leaving the exhibition, we are waiting to cross the street and I overhear a conversation that sounds awfully close me. I turn to my left and whaddya know, an Indian(!) in France(?) is asking S where the Louvre is (or as our latest friend-in-need put it “isn’t there a museum here with the Mona Lisa?”). After S provides him with directions, he then proceeds to help the guy with his pronunciation of “Louvre”. What is happening right now? Is S really helping an Indian in France with his pronunciation of a French word?
I say all this because what S neglects to mention in his tale about his solo day is the ending. As he is leaving the library, the girl sitting next to him stops him. He is freaked out because of the events earlier that day and assumes he did or is doing something wrong, but quickly learns that she just noticed he was reading a statistics book and wanted to strike up a conversation. I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence. It sounds ridiculous. So he makes small talk with a stranger about their areas of work/study and then exchanges contact information. I am amazed when he recounts this for me. So for all his awkwardness and French struggles, he is still the most popular man in France (and India) I know.
He isn’t usually that approachable, but when he is, it’s in another country.
His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man’s entire body.
~Most Interesting Man commercial