Archana Jayakumar has studied French at the Alliance Française de Bombay before working there as a teacher. She is now a language teacher in Valenciennes University, in France. This article was first published in the online magazine IDiva where Archana writes a weekly column. Namaste, Bonjour : 5 similarities between Us Indians and ’em French
Last week, I wrote about the differences in the attitudes, behaviour, receptiveness, leanings and stereotypes that one tends to come across in India and France. However, despite all the disparities associated with the East-West divide and the developing-developed country syndrome, we share quite a few things in common. Some obvious, some not so obvious! Here goes:
Man, do you feel like a woman? Many people in France often ask me about the condition of women in my country of origin. Are they allowed to enter the professional world? If yes, do they have equal rights at the workplace? If it is taken for granted that the domestic chores are their responsibility, irrespective of whether they’re financially dependent or not, I tell them there isn’t one answer to the above questions, just as there isn’t one India. A lot depends on various factors— the social milieu, the family’s conservativeness barometer, the particular field of work and of course, the individual/s in question. We’re a society in evolution — some positive, some negative — just like any other. And let’s not forget that discrimination between the sexes on a professional level exists in France too. According to this article, women earn an average 27 per cent less than their male counterparts in France and pensions for retired women are on average 40 percent less than for men.
I’m also asked to confirm on how one ought to greet Indians. Must one shake hands with men and avoid touching women or go for the “Namaste” with folded hands? To that, again I say it depends on the milieu… urban/rural, workplace/everyday life, wedding or festive occasion, etc. And I can’t help but point out the glaring difference between the manner in which people greet each other in France based on their gender. Men usually shake hands with each other but greet women with one kiss (cheek-to-cheek or lip-to-cheek) or two, three or four kisses. The latter fashion is how women greet each other as well. Not just in the professional world but in day-to-day life too. Talk about treating the gals like objects and somewhat dainty creatures meant to be patted on the back, head and whatchamacallit.
Pressure on singles: In India, the fact that you’re single (unmarried) above a certain age could well be a certified reason for cardiac arrest. In France, the fact that you’re single (currently unattached, not living with your partner at age above, say, 15) is much as an anomaly as having two heads or eight arms. We’re obsessed with matrimonial websites, they’re obsessed with dating/mating websites. The questions we ask: “Are you married? Have you got children?” The questions they ask: “Have you got children? Are you single?” Necessarily in that order in both situations. But absolutely identical.
Me, racist? Despite all the spiel on national integration, communal harmony and caste equality, a teeny-tiny, minuscule part of us can’t help but believe that we are better than our friends, neighbours and colleagues thanks to the caste or community we belong to, thanks to the state we come from, thanks to the language we speak. If that wasn’t the case, why would the afore-mentioned matrimonial websites get you to painstakingly fill in all the gory details about your mother tongue, caste, sub-caste, gothra, rashi and all that jazz? Well, the French aren’t very different. If the cliché must be believed, all Parisians are snobs. And people from the capital city categorically consider the rest of France as “province” (meaning small town/countryside). In the north, people are usually considered poor and simple but warm and welcoming; in the south, they’re seen as unfriendly, closed and anti-tourist/anti-rest of France.
Paper caper: Now, here are two countries that swear by their paperwork. Piles of documents with bureaucracy and red tape written all over, especially in government offices! Whether it comes to administrative formalities related to banking, insurance or taxes, we definitely share a passion for “paperasse”.
Live to eat: We’re both big on gastronomy. In India, it’s all about variety — of dishes, of spices, of regional specialities, of elaborate platters a.k.a. thalis. In France, it’s all about pairing the right foods — wine and cheese, wine and main course, main course and sauce, liqueur and dessert, with the result that we spend considerable amounts of time in the kitchen and at the table. And yes, guilty as charged, during lunch breaks at work/otherwise. Bon appétit!