Indian in England

Musings of a student

Monday, December 27, 2004

I, Englishman

IN the year gone by -- I have been an Englishman for one year and one month now, thank you very much –- I have acquired a measure of civility that is frightening. I don’t push past old ladies anymore (well, only when they don’t move out of my way), I don’t jump queues, and I at times even apologise when I cut into conversations (“I am sorry, but you are talking absolute rot”). Honestly, how will I survive in India?

That’s the trouble with the English. They are so bloody civil they turn even people like me into paragons of politeness. A friend of mine renowned for his multi-coloured linguistic talents -- once I heard him detail the logistics of someone’s birth to that someone in a single luminous sentence culled from five Indian languages -- says he has never said so many ‘thank-yous’ and ‘excuse-mes’ in his entire life as he has since arriving in Manchester last year.

Neither have I. And frankly I think the English take things, not to mention themselves, a bit too seriously. In my opinion there is no reason for you to apologise if you elbow someone in the face while getting off a bus. Even the English can understand it is an accident. So the elbowee should move on, leaving the elbowed to rub his face. That’s the intelligent way to go about it.

Alas. The English haven’t evolved sufficiently for that. So they make a song and dance of it.

The elbowee will first beg the elbowed’s pardon for placing his elbow where it didn’t quite belong. The elbowed will then beg the elbowee’s pardon for placing his face where it didn’t at all belong. Then the elbowee will ask the elbowed whether he has hurt the elbowed’s face with his elbow, whereupon the elbowed will want to know whether he has hurt the elbowee’s elbow with his face. Both will assure the other their elbow/face was fine, and anyway it was their own fault.

Having finally satisfied themselves of each other’s welfare, they will proceed to attend to the little business that had started it all. Namely, getting off the bloody bus. At which point they realise the driver has driven some four miles from their stop -- the driver being, of course, a sensible Indian.

These English. When will they ever learn?