Unlike good old India – I refer to the one I was brought up in – having kids in the US means chauffeuring them to a bunch of unnecessary classes at a ridiculously young age. Quite contrary to my own liking, my kid happens to be one such victim of a couple parent-chauffeured classes – not to be confused with parent-driven classes. And in the true esprit de chauffeurs, the parents always wait outside for that measly half hour, chatting other parents up.
On one such occasion, I had a chance encounter with this interesting rady lady from Japan. I could tell from the corner of my eye that she was sizing me up. After giving her the customary 5 seconds to do so, I flashed her a the-world-won’t-perish-if-we-say-hello smile. We did, after all, have something in common – a half hour to kill.
She took me up on my offer, and with this authoritative conviction, stated, “You don’t rook Indian!” Surprised as I was, I decided that must be Japanese for ‘Hello’. Quite paradoxical, that statement. If I didn’t look Indian, maybe I wasn’t. Why then, would she even think of mentioning it?
I’ve often read, and even experienced, that the Japanese are one of the most polite peoples in the world. Given that I very obviously look Indian, I started wondering if there was a deeper, underlying meaning to that charge. Surely this must be some form of humor. Polite Japanese humor, perhaps. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself with an ignorant “Oh but I am Indian!” That’s tantamount to admitting you didn’t get the joke. I felt obliged to reciprocate in just as absurd a manner, and replied clumsily (but politely), “You must be from Croatia.” Lame! But it somehow seemed to satisfy her. “Asia, yes. But no crows, onry buildings.”
Our conversation went on to the weather, other small talk, and the coming long weekend. She asked me if we had plans, and I told her we’d be going camping. “Camping!! Indians don’t camp!” (What?! Whatever gave you that idea?). But again, the conviction was unmistakable. She must know something I didn’t. Besides, I didn’t look Indian, so even if I did know, I doubt how much it would count. My curiosity got ahead of me, however. Before I could stop myself, I had asked her why she thought so. “Oh, my neighbors are Indian,” she said confidently, “they never camp”. Aha! That explains it! Case closed.
Apparently, the case wasn’t closed. What do you know, I had more to learn about myself! “You don’t seem the camping type, my dear. You want to stay inside the walls of your home, with your comfy bed and your comfy satin sheets.” I was flummoxed. Where was that crystal ball that was telling her all this?
I didn’t even know where to begin. Should I tell her how wrong she was? But even there, I wouldn’t know where to begin. Apart from the crucial truth that I did in fact believe myself to be “the camping type”, I would find it very hard to breathe inside the walls of my home. Unless there was a hole drilled to hang a painting and then forgotten about. Besides, satin sheets are not my idea of comfort. The slippery things would keep me fidgeting all night. Do they even exist outside Hollywood and commercials for 7-star resorts? It didn’t matter. I didn’t care to know.
I was exactly at the point in the conversation where I wasn’t sure if I was losing patience or beginning to enjoy this. I decided to give her what she’d like to hear. My cheap thrill in doing so would only be a harmless by-product. “We’d be taking my husband’s truck,” I played along shamelessly. “We always take the bed, mattress, bedding set, heater-fan, microwave and our little TV. And the generator, of course. But that’s all we take. What’s the point in camping if you take along conveniences like washer, dryer and the Jacuzzi? We’ll buy dinner from Olive Garden to take along.”
I doubt she actually bought that, but by now she was visibly convinced I was outlandish enough to actually do it. I could tell she was debating whether to believe me. She opened her mouth to say something, but thankfully, her son was out just then and she had to leave. She muttered a good-bye, which I acknowledged with a we-must-do-this-again nod.
In the course of our interesting conversation, I failed to notice this fly on the wall all along – a partly amused, partly embarrassed American lady. As she watched Miss Cleo leave, she leaned towards me and almost apologetically said, “That’s not really how all Japanese are, you know. I spent three years in Japan; they’re wonderful people.” It was nice of her to say that. “Yes, I do know,” I assured her briefly, with a smile.
Of course I knew. It wasn’t so much where Miss Cleo was from, it was what she was about. That’s just how it is with some people. They are simpry beyond expranation.